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Meet animal vet Sam Kovac, founder of Southern Cross Veterinary Clinic and passionate force driving Project HoPe to see pets of the homeless receive adequate care despite their owners’ financial disadvantage.
What inspired you to become a vet?
I’ve wanted to be a vet since I was three years old. I remember my mum’s friend asking me at home while I was driving around on a toy tractor if I wanted to be a farmer when I grew up. I barked back, “No, I’m going to be a vet!”
I’ve grown up with a menagerie of animals – guinea pigs, rabbits, mice, goats, dogs, chickens, crabs, fish and even a ferret named “Max”, and have always been a natural animal lover.
Being able to help animals is such a passion of mine, and I love the feeling you get when you see a sick animal looking up at you as the person who can potentially diagnose and treat them back to full health. This, however, requires a great amount of respect as you’re dealing with a sentient being that has feelings, needs and wants, and is not just a set of symptoms.
It always amazes me to see how trusting most patients are with vets as their pets cannot possibly consciously know that the touching, poking and prodding, in the absence of their parent, will ultimately relieve their pain, extend their life or even cure their disease. This is why it is so important for vets and baby vets like I was to empathise with the animals whose parents have entrusted us with their care and treat them with compassionate hearts, gentle hands and kindly words.
What has been the most rewarding part of running the Southern Cross Veterinary Clinic?
Leading the development of really incredible innovations that are shaking up the veterinary medical industry has been most professionally satisfying to me. We’re bringing techniques that (up until now) have only been used in human medicine, to animals.
Even two years ago, no-one would have heard about keyhole surgery in dogs and cats or arthroscopy for knee procedures. These procedures are important to offer as compared to their 50-year-old surgery alternatives, as they reduce pain and improve recovery to common disorders like ACL (cruciate ligament) tears.
We’ve also improved the welfare of many pugs, French bulldogs and other flat-faced breeds through the skills we’ve developed in performing “nose jobs” and other operations that improve the breathing of these breeds in summer.
Animals have been involved in testing new equipment and methods so that humans can benefit from this knowledge. It’s been really satisfying to see the animal world finally benefit from these technologies that they were part of the testing of. It’s almost like having a feeling of justice being served at last.
Also on The Big Smoke
- Pets: Refuges needed for the other victims of domestic violence
- Black market pets: How I accidentally became a dealer
- Pet detectives: Five brave pets who helped solve crimes
Can you tell The Big Smoke readers a bit about your work with Project HoPe?
The crux of Project HoPe (Homeless Pets), is the feeling that no companion animal should suffer due to the financial disadvantage of their owners. The bond between homeless people and their pets is so strong and it’s often the only reason these disadvantaged people have to live.
Aside from raising funds to ensure you can carry out the work, what do you hope the overarching message will be about this initiative?
First, to challenge people’s thinking when they see a homeless person with an animal companion. These people aren’t trying to score more donations. These pets are always better looked after than the owners. I was at a soup kitchen in Kings Cross once and saw this homeless man with his Jack Russell dog. He walked up to get some soup, but instead of eating it, gave it to his little friend first!
Having experienced many interactions with the homeless and spending hours in conversation with them, I’ve learnt that anyone of us can be homeless so easily through a major life trauma, poor business decision or just bad luck. If I, G-d forbid, ever found myself in that situation, I would really appreciate the help of the community.
It has been said that pets are often the silent victims of domestic violence, what has been your experience dealing with families in this situation?
Not everyone knows this but many people are stuck in situations of domestic violence because they don’t want to leave their companion animal friends behind for fear of them being abused and used as an emotional bargaining chip. There are women’s refuges in Sydney who cater to victims of domestic violence, however, none of them are pet-friendly. In 2012 we worked with Jewish House (an incredible crisis prevention centre in Flood St, Bondi, that provides accomodation and support to the homeless and those at risk of homelessness) to become pet-friendly! We constructed secure and sheltered kennels in the back garden so that people in these bad relationships could have somewhere to flee with their pets. It’s now one less reason to stay in an abusive relationship.
What is it about your work that inspires you to move away from the typical trajectory of the veterinary industry?
The love of animals. Companion animals give us so much, they give us company, love, loyalty and teach us about all of these things. So if we can offer them the best medicine and surgery and give their owners the best service, that is a win for all.
To support the work that Sam Kovac and Project Hope does, please visit www.southerncrossvet.com.au/project-hope