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Written By

Mykala Wright

College

College of Public Health, Medical and Veterinary Sciences

Publish Date

27 July 2021

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An appetite for adventure

From rescuing bears in Asia to de-sexing dogs in Mexico, JCU Alumni Dr Sheridan Lathe is making the most of her Bachelor of Veterinary Science all across the globe. Aboard her sailboat Chuffed, Sheridan combines her many loves of travel, sailing, and animal care into life’s ultimate adventure.

Sheridan has had a passion for animals for as long as she can remember. Growing up in a small beachside community in North Queensland, she spent her childhood rescuing frogs in her backyard and hand-rearing baby birds.

“I’ve always loved animals, so as soon as I was old enough to know what a veterinarian did, I decided that was what I wanted to do,” Sheridan says.

Following her graduation from JCU in 2011, Sheridan began her career working as a small animal veterinarian in Bundaberg, where she quickly discovered her passion for wildlife health. After two years doing clinic work, she moved to South Australia and found herself running a wildlife hospital.

“I was there for the 2015 Sampson Flat bushfires in Adelaide. That was obviously not a nice experience, but it was good to be a part of that kind of emergency response,” Sheridan says.

“We ended up saving about 20 koalas, and while that might not sound like a huge number, when you’ve got 20 burn patients at once, with daily anaesthesia and bandage changes, you learn a lot pretty quickly.”

A selfie of Sheridan with a dog in Central America
Sheridan bottle feeding a baby bear while working with Animals Asian
Left: Sheridan with a dog during her time in Central America. Right: Sheridan bottle feeding a baby black bear while working with Animals Asia.

When a dream job takes its toll

Sheridan’s life transformed a few years later when she landed a job in China with Animals Asia, rescuing black bears from bile farms. Bear bile is used in traditional Chinese medicine, and in order to avoid the hunting and killing of bears for their gallbladders, the Chinese government legalised the farming of bile through live bears.

“Technically, the farms aren’t doing anything wrong, which of course makes it even harder to rescue the bears,” Sheridan says. “You have to basically convince the farmers that they can make money in different ways.”

After the bears are rescued, they are often in poor health, requiring extensive veterinary care and rehabilitation. They are unable to be released back into the wild, so they live out their lives in sanctuaries.

“It was a really, really good job. I learned a huge amount, and I loved working with the bears. They have dog-like personalities and they’re quite playful. They love to swim and play with balls, and we’d give them industrial-sized Kong toys.”

But working in such a confronting industry eventually took its toll, and Sheridan began suffering from burnout.

“For all of the amazing times, you’re also seeing the very worst of animal cruelty. You’re losing bears from liver diseases or severe arthritis from being kept in cages,” she says. “After a while I felt like I was getting a bit of compassion fatigue with the job, and my emotions were making it hard for me to make quality of life decisions.”

Sheridan sailing on her sailboat, Chuffed
Sheridan performing surgery on a dog in Mexico
Right: Sheridan and her sailboat, Chuffed. Left: Sheridan performing surgery on a dog in Central America.

Setting sail

Sheridan’s husband at the time was an avid sailor, so when an affordable boat became available in Panama, the pair packed up their stuff and invested in Chuffed – a 37ft aluminium sailboat built in 1990.

Although the marriage did not work out for Sheridan, sailing did, and she has since assumed the role of Captain. Now living aboard, Sheridan travels around the world with her partner offering free veterinary care and education to underserved communities.

“Our mission is to set up long-term improvements for animal welfare and health,” Sheridan says. “Sometimes that’s through education programs with local vets, or helping rural and regional vets form connections to improve their skills. Instead of just coming in and performing tasks for them, like orthopaedic surgeries for example, we want to give them the resources and teach them how to continue the work once we leave.”

Because Sheridan moves locations frequently, paid veterinary work is not possible due to registration requirements in different countries, so she keeps her dream alive by documenting her adventures through her non-profit, Vet Tails, and sharing them with a global audience.

“When I first started with the charity work I realised I was going to need funding, and at the time YouTube was coming into being all of the rage. So we started filming our adventures, and it grew from there.

“YouTube itself doesn’t generate much income, but it gives us a platform to connect with people, and our audience sees what we’re doing and they want to help, so they donate,” she says.

Sheridan is currently traveling around Central America, where she performs specialised surgeries, runs spay and neuter campaigns, provides lectures to wildlife groups, and works to improve the processes and treatments of local animal clinics. Her adventurous life provides a glimpse into one of the many potential pathways for a veterinarian.

“I think the great thing about JCU’s vet school is that it opens your eyes a little bit to other things you can do with your degree, besides the normal clinic work. Because it’s a bit more rural, you get exposed to a variety of different people from different backgrounds,” Sheridan says.

“Although working as a farm vet or a small animal vet with cats and dogs is great, it’s important to be aware of other possibilities. There are lots and lots of opportunities to do some really cool things, like become involved in research, or helping form new policies for the government in regards to wildlife and the environment. It’s definitely not a one-pathway career.”

Want to know where Sheridan is heading next? Keep up to date with all of her adventures.

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