St. Clair Vet Tech Grad Cares For Elephants In Thailand

vet trip

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This summer, Nikki van Brugge, 21, of Listowel, Ontario, spent two weeks in Thailand, helping animals and learning hands-on what it’s like to be a veterinarian.

Travelling with the study-abroad organization “Loop Abroad”, the St. Clair Veterinary Technician program graduate was selected as part of a small team that volunteered to provide care at a dog shelter – and spent a week working directly with rescued elephants at an elephant sanctuary.

The Veterinary Service program brings students to Thailand for two weeks to volunteer alongside veterinarians from the U.S. and Thailand.

For one week, Nikki and her team volunteered at an elephant sanctuary outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand, to work with the giant animals, and learn about animal rescue and conservation on a larger scale.

The elephants at the sanctuary have been rescued from trekking, logging, or forced breeding programs. Many of them had been abused, and suffer from chronic injuries or blindness. At the elephant sanctuary, they are cared for by volunteers from all over the world.

Nikki helped to feed and care for elephants, as well as learn about their diagnoses alongside an elephant vet. The sanctuary is also home to over 1,000 animals, including cats, dogs, water buffalo, horses and cows. Its work is sustained in large part by the work of weekly volunteers like Nikki.

During the other week, Nikki volunteered at a dog rescue clinic in Chiang Mai. The shelter is home to dogs who have been rescued after being abandoned, beaten, or abused.

vet trip

While she studied under the veterinarians leading her group, Nikki and her team made a difference in the lives of these dogs. By providing check-ups and cleanings, diagnosing and treating ear and eye problems, taking and testing blood, administering vaccines, cleaning and treating wounds, and helping with sterilization surgeries, the students were able to help support the health and well-being of these dogs.

By following a study-abroad model instead of a volun-tourism model, Loop focuses on educating its students so that they can contribute and serve in meaningful ways. It also works with locally run animal welfare organizations so that students contribute to long-term improvement on the ground in the countries they visit. With programs in Thailand, South Africa, Australia, and the Amazon and Galapagos, Loop Abroad is able to support animal welfare and conservation around the world because of its students and their dedication to helping animals in need.

The program’s Managing Director, Jane Stine, says, “This is our tenth summer of providing engaging field courses around the globe, and we continue to be so impressed by our students and their eagerness to learn about the world around them, and have a lasting, positive impact. By partnering with locally-run, leading conservation organizations, we help our students to learn from the experts, and to understand the connection of conservation and culture. We’re always so proud to see what they go on to do after their study abroad experience.”

Loop Abroad has animal science, marine biology, and veterinary programs for students and young adults aged 14 to 30, and offers financial aid and fundraising help. Programs range from two weeks in summer to a full semester abroad, and college credit is available. Interested participants can inquire or apply at

Admission to veterinary programs is selective, and Nikki was selected based on her transcript, admissions essay, and professional references.

Of her trip, Nikki said, “Working alongside rescued elephants has opened my eyes to want to do more.”