Jessica Sturman - Combined Veterinary Medicine & Animal Care in Jamaica
On the 31st May 2013 after a tearful goodbye to my family at London Gatwick, I was alone and setting off on my month long adventure in Jamaica. I had never done any travelling alone before and, although excited, I was really nervous. However, I needn’t have been - my driver, organised by Projects Abroad, was waiting at the Montego Bay airport for me and made me feel at ease right away. My project, Veterinary Medicine & Animal Care, was based in Montego Bay so it was only a 15 minute drive to my host family.
My host mother, Ms Moss made me feel at home right away and was so friendly. Their home and my room were lovely, with a gorgeous view over the lush green landscape of Jamaica. In my home there was strong internet connection which was useful for contacting other volunteers and family back home. After a tiring 10 hour flight I went to bed, falling asleep to the sound of reggae music humming from the neighbouring houses, I was definitely in Jamaica!
As I arrived on a Friday my induction was not until Monday therefore I had organised with another volunteer before I arrived in Jamaica that I would meet with her and some other volunteers on my first weekend. They were volunteering in Mandeville but were visiting Montego Bay that weekend so I stayed with them in a guesthouse on the Saturday night. Everyone was really nice and I enjoyed the weekend I spent with them.
I had my induction with Shaniel, a Projects Abroad co-ordinator and another volunteer that had arrived the same weekend. We were shown around the Bay town and then taken to each of our placements. Arriving at my placement, Montego Bay Animal Haven, I was excited to start immediately, there were dogs everywhere! The director at the haven, Tammy, was really welcoming, she explained a little about the tasks I would be doing and I couldn’t wait to start work the next day.
Working with animals
Montego Bay Animal Haven is a shelter run from a private home and the animals at the shelter, mainly dogs, are all rescues. Any strays found in a horrendous condition are taken in by Tammy, treated at the vets and rehabilitated at the haven, hopefully to be rehomed to a loving owner.
First thing in the morning all of the animals needed feeding, kennels cleaned and repapered, water buckets filled and paddocks cleaned. Due to the vast majority of dogs in Jamaica not being spayed there were always puppies at the haven, which were extremely cute and all had amazing stories of recovery, so playing with the puppies was always fun!
Most days I also went out with Tammy to the various feeding stations she had established in Montego Bay and neighbouring towns, these were where every day we left food for strays or dogs where the owners could not afford to feed them sufficiently. I found this very rewarding; the dogs were always so pleased to see you!
Almost every day we went to a local stable to check the wellbeing of ex polo horses and horses that were used on tours. Having a keen interest in horses I loved this.
On my very first day we drove into the community of Pumpkin Bottom where we were returning a dog that the haven had provided vet treatment to a nasty burn. We gave out food, worming tablets, flea treatments, collars, leads, harnesses and education about the proper care of dogs. On driving out of the community Tammy spotted a puppy lying by the roadside. The puppy was completely emaciated and had a terrible case of mange.
Someone who saw us approached us with another puppy, informing us that they were siblings and asked us to take that one too. Naming them Viva and Budz we took them up to JSPCA to be treated for mange. During my four weeks in Jamaica I got to witness their rehabilitation - they were two brilliant dogs, if a little noisy! After a week at home in the UK Tammy contacted me to tell me they had been rehomed together!
A couple of weeks into my placement Tammy received a phone call from a member of a community close by who was extremely distressed and explained to us that there was a dog tied up to a tree in a poor condition with an injury to its eye. Tammy, Amego and I rushed up to the location, we didn’t know what to expect but nothing could have prepared me for what we found. Someone had tied her to a tree with a thick rope and left her with an injured eye. Her eye was completely gone and the wound was infested with maggots.
Although in this awful state she was friendly and approachable. We took her up to the vets and she received treatment for her eye and when back at the haven we nursed her back to health and she made a full recovery. I was really touched when Tammy suggested we name her Jess - I wanted to bring Jess home.
Tammy is the most inspirational person I have ever met, she does a brilliant job running the haven and always with a smile on her face.
My weekends in Jamaica were spent travelling around the beautiful country. There is so much to see and do! I spent weekends in Montego Bay, Negril, Black River and Ocho Rios. Visiting places, such as Ricks Café, YS Falls, Dunns River Falls, Pelican Bar as well as swimming with dolphins at Dolphin Cove, taking the Appleton Estate Rum Tour, swimming in the Luminous Lagoon, taking a boat tour up Black River to see the crocodiles!
During the week after my placement had finished I would often meet with the other volunteers to go to the beach or visit the craft markets or cinema.