Dr Hilldidge Beer launched EberVet Community Veterinary Care (CVC) in 2006, offering free pet sterilisation and basic health care to pet owners in underprivileged communities across the Helderberg, Overberg and Karoo. This was in line with a South African Veterinary Association initiative which called on veterinary surgeons to donate their time and skills to impoverished pet owners, many of whom have no access to veterinary care - either because they cannot afford it, or because there is no resident vet in their town.
“I retired from private practice in 2006 but not from being a veterinarian, that I will always be. I needed to return to the reasons I became one in the first place. Welfare work has been the most enjoyable part of my career”.
Working with local animal welfare organisations, usually under difficult conditions, Dr Beer and her nurse sterilise up to 30 dogs and cats per day as well as vaccinate against killer diseases like parvovirus and distemper, deworm and apply parasite control. Clinic conditions are rough: abandoned buildings, school halls and farm outbuildings - whichever provide shelter from the elements - and Dr Beer and her colleague carry all of their own equipment, including portable operating tables and instrumentation.
To date, Dr Beer has sterilised more than 6000 animals in these towns.
In addition to the clinical work, Dr Beer encourages local village children and pet owners to watch her operate so that she can teach them more about responsible pet care. Under Dr Beer's guidance, volunteers are also encouraged to nurse anaesthetised animals until they wake up.
“The CVC concept was something that appealed to me straight away,” says Dr Beer. “The need in South Africa for such services is huge and I have the time, the skills (I love surgery) and temperament, I suppose, to be able to respond to these needs.”
Says Jill Gauntlett, chairperson of Prince Albert Dieresorg/Animal Welfare (PADS) in the Karoo: “Without Dr Beer’s support we are unlikely to have ever launched our welfare organisation and now we have several vets supporting us with sterilisation. This has had a profound impact on animal numbers and on the general health of our animal population. Their enthusiasm for the work that they do in often uncomfortable and unpleasant circumstances inspires and motivates us to keep going and to do more.”
In response, Dr Beer recites a favourite quote:
‘We make a living from what we get, but we make a life from what we give’.”
While Dr Beer willingly donates her time and skills to these clinics, she relies on donors to fund the medicines needed like anaesthetics, dewormers, and inoculations; transport to and from the clinics (she covers thousands of kilometres each year) and a salary for a nurse. Often Dr Beer will also be asked to assist with emergency cases in towns where there is no resident vet, supplying additional drugs, sutures and surgery time.
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