Saturday, July 27, 2013

Animals, People & Plants: Living Ethically. An interview with co founders Amanda, Graeme and Jalal.

Jalal relaxes with canine companion.
As veterinarians its easy to become buried in surgery and consultations and not consider the bigger picture of animals and the environment - I'm guilty of it too. So I am always interested to talk to people who take a "bigger picture" approach. Earlier this year I met Jalal, Amanda and Graeme, University of Queensland Veterinary Students who are keen to make a difference - not from the moment they graduate, but from right now.

Tell us about yourself. Where are you at and how did you get here?

Jalal: I was born in a small town called Woombye in the Sunshine Coast and lived there for the most part of my upbringing and also spent time living in London and Canberra too. Travelling and exploring the world has always been a major part of my life. When I finished high school I spent 3 years working odd jobs to save up for various overseas adventures. As for now I have found myself studying veterinary science at the University of Queensland in Gatton.

Amanda: I was born and lived in India for the first ten years of my life. I then moved to Oman for a few years before migrating to Canada with my family. Along the way I did a lot of traveling both by myself and with my parents who always encouraged me to have an open mind of the world around me. I completed my BSc majoring in Wildlife biology at the University of Guelph in Canada and moved to Australia to further my education in vet studies.

Graeme: I'm 23 years old, born in Winnipeg, Manitoba the coldest city of Canada (and the world!!). Growing up I was always passionate about wildlife and in particular the reptiles and amphibians around me. Given the, at times, absence of reptiles in Canada I decided to look further abroad to fulfill my passion. So, after completing my Bachelor of Anthropology I decided to get back on track with my dreams to help heal animals and the environments they inhabit. I've now come all the way around the world and am thrilled to be studying Vet Med at the University of Queensland. 

Why did you choose to become a vet?

Jalal: To be honest becoming a veterinarian wasn't on the cards throughout my schooling years. Instead I was fixed on becoming an international airline pilot. Once I finished high school though, the spark for flying planes began to wear off as my values toward life and how we live on this planet changed. I’ve always been very passionate about animal welfare across all facets of how animals serve humans (food, entertainment, pets, scientific testing and clothing) as well as a keen interest in wildlife conservation. It occurred to me one day that becoming a veterinarian could help me in many ways to aid in species conservation and to create reform in the standards of animal welfare. It could also provide me with a credible platform to educate people of how these issues have severe ethical implications as well as large-scale health and environmental consequences.

Amanda: My passion for animals, animal’s welfare and animal justice is deep rooted, to the point where I chose to become a strict vegetarian (amidst a family of carnivores) at the age of a year and a half. All my life I knew that I wanted to devote my energy and time making the world a better place for all animals (especially the non-human ones). After working at several animal related organizations/ establishments and dealing with frustrating bureaucracy I believed that being a vet was the way I would be able to successfully fulfil my goals. After many twists and turns along the way here I am now at the University of Queensland in my first few years of Vet Studies.  

Graeme with a black headed python.
Graeme: Being passionate about wildlife I worked for different organizations through high school. While working at a bird rehabilitation centre I realized how useful a vet can make him or herself in the field of wildlife conservation. Many of the birds I worked with could have been rehabilitated with the aid of a vet but because there was no one on site / no funds to bring someone in, most of the birds were euthanized. These tragic experiences, coupled with the extremely rewarding experiences of watching rehabilitated raptors fly free, helped to show me why becoming a vet was an imperative for me.

How did you get involved in APPLE?

Jalal: I went into veterinary school with the ambition to band together with like-minded students so we could become involved in projects that would aid in animal welfare and conservation. Soon after beginning my first semester however, I noticed there was a lack of any groups or societies that targeted what I was really aspiring to achieve. In my second week however I met two cool and enthusiastic students, Graeme and Amanda who had travelled all the way to Australia from Canada to study veterinary science. The three of us soon realised that our goals and ambitions of what we were passionate about were all the same and soon after we gave rise to APPLE (Animals, People & Plants Living Ethically).

Amanda: I was excited to experience all that Australian vet school had to offer me when I first moved here, not just academically but to hear peoples stories, see the passion, get involved with different groups. Graeme and I were shocked at the lack of student involvement in terms of animal welfare groups or ethics groups and were happy to meet Jalal who shared our interest and enthusiasm. Animals, People and Plants Living Ethically is the goal of our organization. We want to be involved in discussions regarding animals being used for our education from the live crayfish to the greyhounds, and even the pigs at the piggery. I'm a vet student today but I believe I am also a concerned citizen of the world and I want to take responsibility for the way animals around me are being treated for my education. This isn't an irrational concept and I was happy to see others in our first year vet class get involved with a.p.p.l.e.    

Can you give an example of the sorts of things APPLE has done to benefit the welfare of animals? 

Jalal: Our first initiative as a group was to increase and diversify the enrichment that the greyhounds at our clinical studies centre were being exposed too. We felt that as unfortunately the majority of greyhounds there are euthanized and used for our education, we could in return offer them the most exciting last few weeks of their lives through providing cool and interesting food enrichment toys. A small group of our members gathered together on campus one afternoon after collecting mounds of recycling and built them toys whilst watching David Attenborough documentaries. The day was a great success!

Graeme: Our first project was to build enrichment for the greyhounds on campus. This was inspired by one of our practicals where we saw the beautiful greyhounds without much socialization or interaction with each other. Because many of these dogs would be used in various ways for our vet education we figured we owed them our thoughts and time. This manifested itself in a project where we got a bunch of people together (a.p.p.l.e members) to build DIY toys for the hounds. We'll definitely be repeating this event. We received really good feedback and I think everyone had a great time. 

Greyhounds: many people are exposed to this breed through images in the media or by seeing them being walked with wire muzzles on. What are they like close up?

Jalal: Grey hounds have got to be one of the nicest, most beautiful and friendliest breeds of dog I have ever come across. There are an overwhelming number of these dogs around Australia available for adoption that I think would make a wonderful pet at home. I feel saddened that they have developed a negative connotation through what I think is an unethical, profit driven racing industry.

You seem keen to change the world. Who or what inspires you?

Jalal: For me there are a lot of things that inspire me to change the world. We are living in unprecedented times whereby our natural environment is being altered at such an alarming rate that many of us are rather blind to the sort of ecological consequences that will result for future generations. Whether it be working toward conservation of endangered species or creating reform in industries such as live exports and slaughterhouses, I am totally inspired and willing to do everything in my power as a veterinarian to make a positive change in this dying planet we call home.  

Amanda: My driving force is the dream that one day animals of all shapes and sizes, spiny or soft, feathered or hoofed, will be treated with respect. I think it’s sad but accurate, that as humans we have been dubbed the most destructive creatures on the planet. I believe that each of us can be conscientious of the flawed systems we propagate and take a stand to make it change. This is the dream that I will continue to chase professionally as a veterinarian and also on a personal level. 

Graeme: Growing up I always found the stories of Gerald Durrell to be inspiring. They spoke of a world which I didn't know but wanted to be a part of. His passionate and sometimes tragic accounts of wildlife drew my attention to the precarious state every animal (other than humans and the animals humans find useful) could or has found itself in. Those stories really got me thinking about the power of ecological conservation as well as single species recovery. It also inspires me to find the magical world Durrell describes and to foster its survival against ever increasing odds.