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Surviving Veterinary Medicine

Koala Rehab with Dr. Kristin Doust

Dr. Narda Robinson (NR):
Welcome to Surviving Veterinary Medicine. I’m your host, Dr. Narda Robinson. In this episode, I’m going to be talking with Dr. Kristin Doust. I’ve known Kristin for a long, long time. She had taken my Medical Acupuncture for Veterinarians course way back when. And now, it’s about 15 or more years later. And we met up again to talk about her work with koalas in Australia.

So, she moved from Colorado, where she’d had a robust integrative medicine practice on horses and dogs, and then thought she’d be doing pretty much the same when she moved to Australia. Lo and behold, she set up a koala rehabilitation center. Listen and enjoy. Remember, you can survive. You just have to find out what’s right for you.

Dr. Kristin Doust (KD):
Well, thank you so much for having me. I am looking forward to this. This should be fun. My name is Kristin Doust. And I received my DVM from the Colorado State University in 2001. And I was a Colorado native, but my first job I took was in Arizona at a mixed animal practice, very busy mixed animal practice.

And then my dad in Colorado got sick. And so, I wanted to move back to Colorado to be closer to him. And we ended up in a little mountain town outside of Colorado Springs. And that’s where we stayed for the next 16 years.

And it was there that I established an acupuncture and chiropractic business. Half and half dogs and horses with the occasional cat and llama and goat and various things thrown in there. And I thought it was wonderful; it was a great place to raise kids – I had two daughters. And we just went from there. And I thought everything was great.

My husband is Australian. And about the time we’d been married, I guess, 19 years, he was starting to say, “Wouldn’t it be a great adventure if we moved to Australia?” And so, I looked into, of course, transferring my veterinary license and seeing how that would go. And we just decided the kids were at a good age. They were middle school and high school. And it was sort of one of those, “Let’s just jump in and do this and let’s move before one of my daughters hits their senior year,” because that would be hard to move at that point.

And so, we just did it. We had four dogs. And so, that was a big part of moving, was making the decision on how we get our animals over there. We had horses as well. We did consider bringing the horses over. That is a very difficult, very expensive thing to do. And in the end, we found loving homes for all of our horses with friends that we knew. So, the horses that we had all got placed in wonderful homes and we still keep tabs on them. So, that worked well.

And the most geriatric dog actually ended up staying with my daughter’s boyfriend and is still doing very well. So, that was sort of a hard decision, too, but they were really good pals and they played together all the time and it was a good fit.

So, we took three dogs and packed up what we could fit into one shipping crate and cleaned out. It was kind of very therapeutic cleaning out. You know, a home that we’ve been in for 16 years, starting from scratch and just getting down to the nitty gritty, and came on over here.

I arrived in January of 2019. So, we’ve been here just over two years now.

NR:
Wow.

You purchased the land, did you go and look at it and everything or how did it go?

KD:
We came off the plane. My husband and kids arrived first with their suitcases. I was still in Los Angeles. I’d taken the dogs out to Los Angeles to put them on their plane for quarantine. So, I stayed behind a little bit to close off with our house, etc.

So, they arrived with the suitcase and absolutely nothing and drove to a rental property, sort of drove around in some neighborhoods. We did have the kids enrolled at a school. So, we at least had the town and had the school that we were enrolled in. And they just found a rental property that took dogs. And it was a six month lease that we signed.

And so, then once we were in our rental property, then we could start to look for property because the goal was to have horses again and to have a nice bit of land. And so, we started looking and we got very fortunate to find the place that we’re in.

NR:
And it has a lot of eucalyptus trees, right?

KD:
Yes.

So, the next part of my career, of course, I had every intention of doing the same thing; just doing the acupuncture, the chiropractic. I had just received both the canine and the equine certification in rehabilitation. So, I was very keen to just start the same thing that I was doing back in Colorado.

And I happened upon a job ad for a wildlife veterinarian. And I thought, “Well, that would be great, working in Australia on wildlife; kangaroos and wallabies and koalas. What fun this will be.” And I got hired for that and I started doing that full time. So, that was my first full time job that I had here.

The place where the wildlife hospital was, it’s about an hour and a half drive from where we’re living. So, three-hour-a-day commuting back and forth was a little bit painful. The shifts there were anywhere from ten and a half to 12 hours, depending on how busy we were.

So, it made for long days and tiring days, very busy wildlife hospital. But it was it was very fun learning how to work on these animals; the marsupials, lots of birds – and I didn’t really have much bird experience – but, boy, we see a lot of birds at the wildlife hospital. The reptiles: again, I didn’t have a lot of exotic experience at all to be working on all these.

But the learning curve, just kind of you just go with it and you just sort of learn one thing at a time and get through. But there are some days we will get, in summer time, which is what we call trauma season, the busiest time of the year, we’ll see one hundred and fifty patients a day, easy, coming through in addition to all the ones that are hospitalized. So, it can be a very busy place to work.

NR:
Right.

KD:
But that got me into the koalas. And as you asked about, yes, we have a wonderful property with the eucalyptus. And so, I became just fascinated and just fell in love with the koalas.

So, we’ve turned our property into a koala rehabilitation place. We have fenced a big plantation of thirty eight eucalyptus trees. And so, we can offer orphaned and rehabilitating koalas a place to practice climbing, away from the dangers of the wild. They don’t have to worry about streets and dogs and things like that.

And we’ve got a small cage for the small orphans that are still on milk feeding. And then we’ve got some small trees, when they’re off milk but just learning how to climb, and then on up to the plantation, which is the final step before they get released.

NR:
That must be a hard part; the release part?

KD:
The release part is difficult. It is definitely bittersweet. It’s the goal, of course; you want to see them go back to the wild. But I can’t tell you how many times we’ve released a koala and then we see it again. They’re all chipped and tagged. So, we know who they all are.

And it’s heartbreaking when you release one and then you see it come in again, having been hit by a car or come down with chlamydia or something like that. So, it definitely has some heartbreaking parts. But it’s still, I guess, where they’re meant to be. It’s just all the dangerous things out there.

NR:
Right. Right.

KD:
Yeah.

NR:
Are your daughters interested in helping or do they help with that?

KD:
Yeah, so my oldest daughter graduated – the school year here finishes in November. So, she graduated from high school in November. She wants to be a veterinarian, but she’s taking a gap year right now. She took a couple of horses and went out into the outback, living this totally crazy Australian adventure out in the outback, working on a big, huge cattle ranch. So, she’s going to do that before she starts her vet education.

And then my younger daughter is in 10th grade this year and she loves the koalas and she helps me so much with them. She just adores when we have the babies. And she’s very helpful, very interested in it.

She doesn’t enjoy the medical side of things. She doesn’t enjoy hearing about any of the trauma things. But she absolutely adores taking care of them. So, it’s been really fun to be able to do that with her.

NR:
So, all these opportunities for all of you, like this odyssey into Australia, that just came out of – you didn’t maybe expect it, but you’ve broadened your own and your childrens lives so much. And then does your husband still have family there?

KD:
He does. He’s got a lot of family here. And so, it’s really fun for him because he’s been without family for so many years. It’s fun for him to get real close with his siblings again.

And of course, we had no idea when we moved that a year later, we would have this world pandemic. And we’ve landed ourselves in one of the countries that has the absolute lowest rates of Covid out of any place in the world. So, we’ve lived a pretty normal life other than when it first hit here. Australia got it under control pretty fast.

Most of the time, we don’t even wear masks because there hasn’t been any out in the public. It’s helpful living on an island. So, the government does control it pretty well.

But it has been really nice. I think we got really fortunate coming when we did. We wouldn’t have been able to anticipate that. If we waited another year, we wouldn’t have been able to move. So, we just got really lucky.

And then to find the koalas, I always tell my husband, “This is a dream job, getting to work with the koalas.” I don’t know, in my career, as much as I have enjoyed everything I’ve done, working with the koalas has just been a dream come true. It’s something I never knew I wanted to do. But now I can’t imagine not having the koalas in my life. It’s just–they’re wonderful.

NR:
And they seem really magical to me. This rarefied being.

KD:
They definitely are.

NR:
Yeah.

KD:
Sometimes we look at them, it’s like, “How can this be?” But, yeah, the cuteness factor. And then they have such great personalities. They’re all so different. And you get some that are just little love bugs and then others that want to shred you apart.

NR:
Can they do that?

KD:
Oh, yes, they have such big claws.

NR:
Oh, that’s true.

KD:
So, there’s so much fun, though. But it’s just been amazing getting to work on them. That’s just been the highlight of living here, for sure.

NR:
Yeah.

And it seems like talking to various people about surviving veterinary medicine and life and all that. It’s just interesting to think about just the thought process. Like it’s not even a thought process. I don’t know if you feel like maybe you were like, I don’t know, that it called to you or – I mean, because obviously you didn’t say, “I want to work with koalas. We’re going to live here.” You know–something happened.

I mean, just the sense that perhaps if we allow ourselves to be open to new experiences. Like what was that feeling initially that got you out of your comfort zone?

KD:
Right.

It is weird because I have done a lot of things in my career. I’ve done general practice, small animal, mixed animal. I did emergency medicine for a long time and then some relief work, when the kids were little. And then the acupuncture and the chiropractic fit me really well with wanting to be there for my kids and all of their activities.

It worked well because I was my own boss. And it worked well because I was helping animals that were suffering. Talking about the compassion fatigue and things like that; when you have a business like that, with acupuncture and chiropractic, the only people that call you are people who really love their pets.

So, that was a relief, too, after some of the things you see in general practice that can be hard. And so, I really did enjoy the niche that I had found for myself. I was very happy with my career that I had in Colorado. So, to come here was so scary to think starting that again.

I’m still pursuing that because with the drive to the wildlife hospital and the hours and things like that, I have cut back to just doing that one day a week.

And so, now I’m back to growing the acupuncture and the chiropractic stuff again, because I do like doing it so much and I feel that I’m good at it and I want to do it. I still love working on the performance horses and helping the geriatric horse, or the horse who has a bad saddle fit; I still love all that.

But adding the wildlife was, I don’t know. I went into it blindly, not knowing how much I didn’t know, not knowing how difficult it would be. And especially working on avian and reptiles. And I still don’t always have a clue what I’m doing on those species, there’s so many different species. Every now and then, I’ll see a bird species that I haven’t seen before.

So, it’s just all been really crazy getting to have that experience, especially 20 years out of vet school, when you think about starting something totally new that far out.

But that’s what I like about veterinary medicine. I think if you’re not happy with what you’re doing – I tell this to my daughter all the time, too, because she doesn’t know how she wants her vet career to go. And she shouldn’t, she’s 18.

But you know you’re passionate about this as a career, but if you don’t like one place, there’s so many different options. If you’re not happy, say you’re working corporate or you’re working for a practice that maybe you feel overwhelmed or you’re not liking the species you’re on or something, or you don’t like your hours, there’s so many different branches you can go into.

So, I’ve sort of taken the wildlife and everything that’s, you know, it is tiring to go to my shifts doing that; we’re so busy there. But then I also have these koalas back at my house that I’m caring for, on my property. And that’s just  peaceful, it’s great. I go out hiking every day for an hour, finding leaf for them. And those are things that are important to me and keep me grounded and keep me finding a lot of job satisfaction, just helping these animals. So, that’s been really fun.

NR:
And you’re such a good teacher. I mean, do you think that you would expand? I mean, I don’t know how many koala rehab centers there are, even. Like, are there any others?

KD:
So, with me having the fenced area of trees to offer koalas proper-sized trees, there’s not many of those. They have it at Australia Zoo. There might be a couple more carers in all of Queensland that maybe have something similar, but it’s not much. There’s not a lot of it out there. So, there is a need for that.

The government is strict. You know, you have to have a koala license. It’s not something anyone can do. You do have to have a lot of experience to be able to care for koalas. They want you to start on easier species; opossums, kangaroos, macropods, things like that before you get to koalas. And I’ve watched some people that I know that want to do koalas going through the learning curve.

And for me, it was a big learning curve, too. They are a very difficult species. They can turn sick really fast. And you have to absolutely be on top of it.

So, they’re a difficult species to work on. But it has been very rewarding. So, I’ve certainly enjoyed that. I do like the teaching, though. The teaching is good.

NR:
Yeah.

I think, number one, National Geographic should do a thing on you. And then people should just come and learn at your place; like that would be good. They’d learn a lot.

KD:
You know, before the pandemic, I actually – The summer, your summer, my winter, that June and July, I actually had a vet student from Colorado State University. She wanted to come and spend the summer, working with my koalas. But then the little pandemic came along and shut that down.

But that’s what we envisioned, is being able to have people come. We’ve got a cute little guest house bungalow. And we did envision being able to have people come and help out, because it is a lot of work getting the leaf and all that and cleaning enclosures. And so, that was something that I wanted to be able to share.

And I still have a lot of American friends who say, “Oh, I can’t wait. When we can travel again, I want to come over to Australia and help you with the koalas and get to work with the species.” So, I do think it’s a species that the world looks at and everybody would love to have an experience with them.

NR:
Aside from the burnout and depression and suicide in veterinary medicine, but it has always seemed to me like a profession that everybody wants to be a vet. I mean, the human acupuncturists, you know, they want to work on animals. And a lot of my physician colleagues have wanted to be veterinarians, but they didn’t because, at least, back in the day, you could hardly get into vet school and everything.

So, we’re so fortunate in so many ways to be veterinarians. But then to be a koala veterinarian, like that’s a tip top right there.

KD:
There’s not that many people in the world that can say that.

NR:
Right. Right. Right.

KD:
So, that is true.

NR:
Yeah.

I was just going to mention that, I guess, another thing on top of a veterinarian that does koalas, that also does acupuncture, because you had said how that is an important resource for you to be able to treat them. And it’s very effective in the species.

KD:
It really has been; it’s just been amazing. And I can’t wait to get feedback when you have your exotic course and see, are there other people out there doing acupuncture in koalas. I think it works so great on them.

But obviously, it combines two very different types of training. And so, maybe sometimes the zoology, exotic person may not be the person who’s doing the acupuncture. And so, it combines a couple of different, totally different, totally opposite spectrums to be able to do that.

NR:
Yeah.

KD:
I never in a million years would have thought I would end up working on wildlife. Back in vet school, I didn’t take any of the modules about exotics and wildlife. I knew people who did. And I just didn’t think that that was ever going to be place my career went. And that just goes to show how different you can find your career path when it actually happens.

NR:
Right.

It’s still how you can work. I think on basic science principles, I mean, especially with acupuncture being scientific, that we think about nerves and muscle groups and everything. But yeah, I actually spoke at the AAZV, American Association of Zoo Vets meeting, talking about acupuncture and rehab and integrative medicine. This was a few years ago. And we already do have some zoo vets signed up for the course. So, they’ll see your presentation.

KD:
Nice.

NR:
And then we have one of our graduates, she’d had a news story that was on a koala that had a lot of back pain and arthritis. And so, we have a video, too, of her of this news story.

KD:
Oh.

NR:
Yeah, I think it was in Virginia.

KD:
Oh, you’ll have to send me that. That’s amazing.

NR:
Yeah. Yeah.

But nobody has a plantation. I mean, you are in the place and on the land that have the facility.

KD:
Right.

NR:
Really great.

KD:
Right. Right.

Here in Australia, I haven’t come across anybody using acupuncture from the places that I work and the people that I’ve gotten to know from, whether it’s Australia Zoo. I’ve met people from some of the other big wildlife places and I haven’t come across anyone who has ever said, “Oh, yes, we’ve tried that.” But I do think it is a very important thing. And the species just responds so beautifully. It’s just wonderful to have for that.

NR:
I see a doggie. Or else it’s a person crawling around.

KD:
No, it’s a dog.

NR:
Okay.

I know that with the hours and the amount of euthanasias that they do and everything and just the hard life of the wildlife and zoo vets, that might be something that breaking into a science-based integrative medicine approach can help them feel more satisfied with their career like you have, because you can offer things and you don’t run out of options and you still want to help them. And this way you can and save them.

KD:
Right. Right.

And the one thing koalas have taught me, because they are such a fragile species, is you can think you’re going along great, you can think you’ve got this koala ready to be released, and then suddenly they get sick. Suddenly they stop eating and they’re very sick again and they’re losing weight and they just turn so fast.

So, it is amazing to be able to look at them and say, “Okay, so is this animal in pain? What else can I do for this animal to make them where we can still get them to the point where they can be released?”

Because that really is, at the end of the day, the most amazing thing is taking a koala that I’ve had here for a period of time and watched it grow and thrive and then being able to take it back out.

We call our rehab facility Back to The Bush. And it’s just so great to be able to put them back to the bush and to release them and watch them go back up in a tree. Because it is hard to watch an animal who came from the wild and then now is in captivity. They do get depressed. They definitely change.

Not that a koala is necessarily running wild out there and having a huge amount of interaction with a large range, but the males especially, can still have a fair bit of range. And so, they do like their space. And it is really great to be able to take that animal and to give them that opportunity to go back.

But speaking of burnout and all those issues, it is very, very hard. Some of these koalas, when you go to release them, the government requires them to be released within five kilometers of where they got picked up.

NR:
Oh.

KD:
And sometimes you look at the map and you’ve just got this little tiny square on the map of a highway on this side, of a highway on this side, houses over on this side. And you just think, “Oh, we’re putting it back into this place where it’s probably going to get hit by a car or attacked by a dog.” And then when you see that happen, it is absolutely devastating when you have a koala that comes back in.

When koalas come in here, the finder out in public is allowed to name the koala, and then that name will stay with the koalas. But sometimes we get koalas in and nobody named him. I had a female come in one time and I decided to name it after my daughter because I could tell it was healthy, it hadn’t been hit. It was going to be released, I thought, the very next day. And I thought, “What a perfect koala to name after my daughter.”

And I named the koala after my daughter and sent her through a whole bunch of photos. It went out to be released. And about two months later, it came in killed by a car. And it was so devastating.

So, it definitely gets to you as far as that; the burn out that you talk about. I don’t think I could have stuck with this full time. There’s too much euthanasia and too much sadness in the wildlife world.

I still like to have those happy meetings with the dog owner or the cat owner or the horse owner where you’re sitting with them talking about how great the animal is and you’re putting needles in and you’re making that animal feel good. I still need that in my life. I still need to see some of these animals go on and live for years and have a good quality of life.

NR:
Right. Right.

Where they’re safe, relatively.

KD:
Yeah, exactly.

NR:
And more predictable. Yeah.

I was thinking, I mean, how do we protect the planet; it’s such a big thing. And that’s overwhelming.

KD:
Yes.

NR:
So, how do you survive? Like do you have strategies that help you get back from the heartbreak?

KD:
Besides drinking wine at night? I guess that’s what your friends and family network is all about. And luckily, in this day and age, it’s easy for me to maintain my relationships with my good American friends and family. You know, it’s so easy. It doesn’t cost anything. You can FaceTime or WhatsApp chat or anything with people. And it’s super easy.

So, I stay in contact with a lot of my great friends back in America. Even though I haven’t been able to travel for so long, I can still chat with them. And then my family, my husband is so supportive. He always understands when things get to me too much. I’m lucky to have that. So, I have him.

The girls, some of the sadness, I do try and protect them a little bit when some of those things happen, because it is hard for them to see. Especially both of them being such a big animal lovers, it’s hard for them when they know of a koala that has to get euthanized or that gets killed. And if it’s one that we’ve had come through, it can be absolutely heartbreaking. So, I try and protect him a little bit when that happens. Not always though.

But it is; it’s really hard. But I couldn’t stick with it full time. I wasn’t tough enough to do. I think the hospital I work at, I think our euthanasia rate sits around between 60 and 70 percent.

But the animals that come in, there’s – and I worked at the emergency clinic, I think, six years in America. And still the trauma that I see come in with some of the wildlife here, sometimes we get these patients in and you cannot euthanize them fast enough. They’re just so horrible, so mangled from whatever it is. And that gets very hard.

But it’s still, some days I just look at it like, “Okay, my job is relieving suffering. They’re not going to be released again, but at least, we’re relieving that suffering.” And you have to look at it that way. But there’s definitely days where it’s really hard.

NR:
Do you think if the government knew the constraints you’re up against and the diminishing habitat with that five-kilometer rule, that there could –

KD:
I think that should be changed. There’s obviously a lot of politics and I haven’t gotten that involved in that. But I know a lot of koala carers who are involved in it. And I know koala carers who have been around for years and years. And it gets to be very, very difficult to be able to follow that rule.

And you can apply for extenuating circumstances. The bushfires would be a prime example. The koalas that got rescued from the bushfires, if there is nothing for them to go back to, you can apply and release them somewhere else.

But the bottom line is, if you look at the country of Australia, all the humans live around the edge and all the trees are around the edge. And it’s just how much space is left. How much have humans taken of that space? The deforestation that goes on everywhere in the world happens here just as much. And you just look at it and the koala habitat just shrinks and shrinks and shrinks as the population changes, as people need more grazing land for their animals or more housing, more highways, more cars, all that. But that’s not unique to Australia. That’s that happens everywhere.

NR:
Right.

KD:
Yeah.

NR:
And I know for several years, people in America have been looking to Australia and New Zealand as a place for refuge from America and whatever. So, we’re probably not helping them.

KD:
No.

That being said, I definitely, when we moved here, from my perspective, obviously my husband wanted to come here for family purposes. But for me, the political environment that I felt that I was surrounded by certainly contributed to wanting to come here. There is a lot here that I appreciate in regards to that. It still has problems like anywhere in the world; people are people. You’re always going to have some bad apples amongst everybody.

But I do, as a general rule, I like the way people look after each other here; I do like the environment here. I love the fact that none of the schools are locked up here. That was a crazy one for us to get used to when we first arrived at the kids school and realized that we could open doors and go where we wanted because they don’t have school shootings here. And that was great to experience as well, too.

NR:
Right.

KD:
So, there is a lot of nice things about living here.

NR:
Yeah. Yeah.

I think I mentioned when we were recording the other day that just, I mean, now I’m thinking if I go to do a supermarket pick up of groceries and whatever, I think, “When’s the least likely time that a shooter would be out there?”

KD:
Yeah.

NR:
So, it’s like from 7 to 8 am that’s for the 60 and over. So, I can go then. So, I mean short of relocating, again, with the last time, trying out Canada.

But I look outside and I just love Colorado so much and it’s like, “Yeah, well it has this little problem of we’ve had a lot of shootings.” So, I don’t know.

You know, we do hear in the news about your flooding and like today, I think, on Apple News, there was something about a venomous snake knocking at somebody’s door repeatedly, trying to get in probably from the flooding or something.

KD:
Yes.

And I did come home one time from a shift at the wildlife clinic. And I got into my house at 2 am. And I don’t turn any lights on. Everyone’s sleeping. I just use the light off my phone. And I go walking down the hallway towards the bathroom and there was a venomous snake crawling along the floor.

NR:
Oh, wow.

KD:
And it’s 2 in the morning. And I’d just finished working on all these animals. But I looked at it and I was like, “Well, I’m not stupid. I’m not going to do this all by myself.” So, I went and whispered at my husband, which I know it’s his fault, because sometimes he leaves the doors cracked.

NR:
Oh.

KD:
And everything under the sun gets; all the giant spiders and snakes and frogs and all these things. So, I did make him get out of bed to help me shepherd this snake into a pillowcase, so I could drive it down the road in the morning and release it.

NR:
Yeah.

KD:
And that’s something, believe me, Colorado Kristin never would have done any of that. Colorado Kristin usually had the husband remove the spider in the bedroom.

NR:
Yeah.

KD:
But now, I tell my husband all the time, it’s like now that I’m the wildlife vet, I’m the one who’s grabbing the snakes. We’ve had several non-venomous snakes come up by the house that are maybe in a not-safe area. And I’m the one who’s grabbing them and relocating them and getting the giant spiders out of the house and things like that. So, that was not what I would do in Colorado.

NR:
Right. Right.

KD:
That’s been a big change.

NR:
Wow.

KD:
So, yes, you’re right. You would be changing the mass shootings and some of those types of things for a different type of danger with your venomous spiders and snakes and all that.

NR:
Yeah. So, far I think I’ll stay.

So, do you have family still then in Colorado and all that?

KD:
I have family in the States. I don’t have any blood relatives for myself over here. So, I left my mother living in Colorado, but she has now moved out to Baltimore. I have a sister who’s a human doctor in Baltimore. And so, my mother has now moved in with her. So, she’s safe. They’re all doing pretty good out there.

So, when the borders finally open and I can travel again, I still want to go to Colorado because that’s where all my great friends are. But I’ll also be going to Baltimore to visit family as well.

NR:
Can you do an Australian accent yet?

KD:
No.

NR:
That’s cute.

KD:
Good day, mate.

No. I have taken up a lot of the ways of talking where most of their sentences end with an upward inflection. I find myself doing that a lot when I’m speaking to people. I do that and they do a lot of, “Yeah,” “Nah,” “Nah,” “Yeah.”

So, I’ve picked up some of the lingo for sure. I have taught myself to change a lot of the ways that I ask for things. But sometimes if I do it too much, my kids tell me it doesn’t sound right. Like if I ask for tomato sauce, the kids are like, “Just say tomato sauce, Mom. You sound stupid.”

So, the kids keep me in check, I guess, if I try and go too far outside my comfort range.

NR:
Right. Right.

Because they’re still young; they’ll be able to acquire somewhat authentic. I know that when I was in – I didn’t spend a lot of time in Canada when I was on the move to immigrate or emigrate from here and immigrate into there. So, I’d spend like a week a month. I mean, I had a whole business. I had my work permit. I mean, I was almost there. And then I just had to like as applying for the permanent residency. And then it’s just a number of factors. And I think I’ve mentioned, like, there weren’t enough Starbucks around.

But it was also the fact of moving five cats up there and how does that happen, which is not Australia, and living in a smaller house with my male friend for 20 something years. And leaving my mother here. It was just a composite of things. And I was leaving for similar reasons, like we’ve talked about with you. I mean, that why I was like, “I can’t be in America anymore.”

But on the other hand, I was up there and I didn’t know at what point I would feel at home there, where here, I had spent so many decades cultivating the community. I mean, every time we have the acupuncture course, we have so many volunteers and their animals. And we’ve seen them for generations of their animals. And now it’s like twenty five years or something.

And it was just weighing, “What am I leaving versus what am I going to.” At that moment, it was, “I’ll just deal with whatever is happening in this country.” But I have a community here; they’re suffering, too, I guess.

KD:
Yeah. Sure.

NR:
But your husband was from there. I mean, it’s like you have a different situation.

KD:
We do. But that being said, when we made the decision to move, it wasn’t straightforward and easy for me. It was a much easier decision for him. The kids were super excited; they couldn’t wait. And so that was great to see. So, out of the four of us, I probably was the one dragging my feet the most.

Because it was hard to leave. I had the best clients back where I lived, the best patients, and wonderful, wonderful friends. And it was so hard to leave all that behind. And my mother; it was it was really, really hard.

And when we first got here, it was still hard. You know, there was so much that I missed. We came in January. I left during a blizzard. And I arrived and it’s 105 degrees and I’m hot. And it was so hard.

All of that was very difficult; to leave behind the foods you know, the restaurants you know, the grocery store you know. Things here were more expensive. It’s hard to eat out as a family of four here versus we wouldn’t give it a second thought in America. And so, I did struggle for the first few months.

But I would have to say finding the koala niche changed everything for me. It was something I didn’t come here looking for. I never would have said, “Oh, I’m going to Australia. I’ll try and get a job working on koalas.”

That never would have been something I would have guessed would happen. But the fact that it did now in hindsight, I think right now I probably have just one of the most rewarding times in my career happening right now, strictly because of how I feel about working with the koalas. It’s just so wonderful.

But I didn’t anticipate that. I wouldn’t have guessed it. I thought, “Oh, I’ll scrape by and kind of do the same thing.” But having that made all the difference.

So, I think as scary as it is, you never know what happens when you make that scary jump. So, I would never have anticipated finding this little niche and turning our property into a koala place. And now we just can’t picture not having it, even though it means that we really can’t take vacations as a family. Someone has to stay here and look after the koalas and things like that. But it’s worth it to, I think, every single member of my family. But I would never have predicted that.

NR:
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

And I think it raises just some philosophical, spiritual, whatever; questions of were you called there.

KD:
Yeah.

NR:
I mean, just all these things. And for me, it helps put into perspective, like when there’s the hard things about the koalas, if you weren’t there, all those successes wouldn’t have happened.

KD:
Mm hmm. Mm hmm. I agree.

NR:
Yeah.

So, we’re so much ahead of things.

KD:
Yeah.

NR:
And still, even the ones that you eventually lose, I mean, the love that you had with them and you rescued them. I mean, there’s something in that. And we’re all going to die, anyway. But it’s just tragic when they have these premature deaths, but let’s just be in the moment kind of idea.

KD:
Yeah, yeah.

I agree. And I think when you talk about our profession and the high rate of suicide and the burnout and all of those things, which are such real issues, and if you’re living that in the moment, that’s all you can see.

And there were times when I first moved here, before I landed this, where I didn’t feel great. I didn’t have any job satisfaction. So, I’d gone from a place where I had a tremendous successful business to starting all over again. So, there were certainly times when I first moved here where I would have questioned, “Okay, so I’m not having the success as a veterinarian right now. What am I doing?”

And those are those moments where I think even though it’s so hard when you’re feeling that mentally down, but you never know what could be around the corner.

And that’s one of the beautiful things about our profession is if you don’t like where you’re at, I think you can find something that – Like what you were saying earlier. You meet all these people, “Oh, I love animals. I wish I’d been a vet.”

We all come from that as our initial reasoning. But then life gets you burned down. Or maybe you’re not in a good practice. It’s not a good fit for you. And to try and figure out how to go about making a change that’s going to go with your personality and go with what makes you happy.

I think at one point, everyone thought, “Oh, I just need to become a practice owner.” I have to say a lot of my friends who own practices find it extremely stressful. And, you know, there is something to be said for, with the acupuncture maybe, not having employees and not having to have all the overhead of a practice and things like that.

But I think that’s just one of the great things about our job as a veterinarian is there’s so many different pathways, so many different things you can do if you allow yourself to be open to finding something different that fits you.

NR:
Right. Right.

And I think that, too, through your career, I mean, you had early on the affinity to acquire, to delve into the acupuncture training and then your chiropractic and whatever other integrative, physical therapy, rehab stuff. And that has been, I think, quite a ticket to more flexibility where you had your own practice. And then with the wildlife or with the koalas that you could expand their kind of care.

KD:
I think one of the main things it’s done for me, as I mentioned before, is just the fact that you’re dealing with people who really love their pets, if they’re coming at you for acupuncture.

NR:
Right.

KD:
And I feel like sometimes people like that, those likeminded people, those are the ones who really are so passionate about their animals and want to do everything they can. And those are the kind of clients we need more of for our well-being, because so much of what we do can be sad. And the more you can see of that, the more people you meet to see the good in the world always can be so helpful. So, yeah, I agree. I think the acupuncture opened up so many doors.

It’s funny, back in vet school, I wouldn’t have even seen myself down that path. I remember my roommate in vet school – because, you were on staff at CSU when I was a vet student. And my roommate took all of the courses that you would do and joined your club and she would tell me about it. And I was like, “Huh, acupuncture.” I have never had any dealings with it; never come across it in any of the clinics I’d ever worked at. And so, it was a foreign thing to me.

But she’s probably one of the reasons that helped mold me into eventually saying, “Oh, yeah, that’s a great modality. I’m going to go get training in that so I can add that.” So, I think a lot more vet schools should embrace that with their curriculum.

I live pretty close to the vet school here. It’s about forty five minutes from me. That’s the one my daughter will go to. And we get a lot of vet students coming through the wildlife hospital. And they’re always fascinated if they see me doing acupuncture. They are fascinated by it. And I’ve said to them, “Do you have anyone at your vet school that’s teaching this?” “Nope, we don’t.”

So, speaking of the teaching, I would love to maybe get that incorporated into their curriculum or something, so that they’ll have a little bit of that.

NR:
Right.

Well, with the Covid, what we did in July, I made a decision to offer a completely remote learning option. And so, we call it eMAV, which you may know already. But it’s like twice the amount of hours instead of the on-site piece that’s now three days, which is around 24 hours. But it comes to about 48 hours.

And it’s where you find the points on a stuffed animal and then they upload videos and then they do their estim on that and then they have a live dog.

And so, now that we have almost 60 people that are in that, that I feel like they’re learning a much better–just they have so much more experience and thought that they’ve put into it, especially through the process of showing me what they’re doing and uploading it. And then doing the myofascial palpation. So, that would be perfect for those vet students if they wanted to.

KD:
It would be. It would be. Yeah.

NR:
Yeah.

KD:
Have you branched that out to international or so far, has that just been mainly for American vets?

NR:
Well, and Canadians a lot.

KD:
Okay.

NR:
But we have had inquiries from Australia, but haven’t had anybody sign up yet. But they’re certainly welcome to. And I think that that way you could be a resource for somebody to shadow and then for them to help you with the koalas.

Even with adding, I mean, we also teach the botanical and the laser and massage and rehab now as well. And just, I mean, you’d be a phenomenal guide for them to be there as an experiential kind of person.

KD:
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, definitely.

NR:
Yeah.

KD:
I would love to be active in that. Yeah.

NR:
And that’s part of my coping mechanism is that because it’s hard for me to see most anything that goes on in veterinary medicine that’s just the least bit concerning. I mean, if we’re doing a normal integrative practice, like you’re mentioning, and people come in, I mean, that’s fine. That’s what I’ve done for all these years, along with the human stuff.

But just a general practice, just holding animals down, it’s – That’s not where I can be. But that’s where the teaching; to teach others that can be out there and do some of that harder stuff. If I can help them and then indirectly and then also that the reach of that is so much broader than just –

This happened when I first got out in my human practice. It’s like here I am with a human practice that is facing the Flatirons in Boulder. I am right on the Pearl Street Mall at Pearl and Broadway in this gorgeous building. And this is as good as human medicine will get. And I’m still longing to work with animals.

KD:
Yeah.

NR:
And it’s like, “And I want to make a bigger impact.” And so, that’s where for me, teaching can be an outreach and I can still have influences, but I can protect my heart more. And so, I don’t know, like having you do some of that, I think, that is fairly almost always enjoyable.

KD:
Exactly. Yeah.

Because I think it makes you realize that you’re making a difference. You’re spreading your tendrils more. You’re making this difference. You know, if you can teach this person and now think of all the animals that person will then work on and it just goes down the line. And so, you definitely make a big impact doing something like that. So, I can see how that would be very rewarding for you.

NR:
Yeah.

KD:
Yeah.

NR:
And also, now that especially with this last year of the pandemic, to not only recognize pandemic issues, but just see how our community has been suffering from all the other stuff; the burnout and everything that’s come to light so much. That to reflect on the decades that we have been teaching and when people come to us, either knowing right out the gate from vet school, “I need to do this. This is in my heart,” or “I’m burnt out with corporate. I’m burnt out with whatever. I need something else,” that it’s like, “Oh yeah, we’ve been helping the people piece of that with their lives, with them having the flexibility as they’re raising kids, all these things.”

So, I see it not only as another layer for outreach for the animals themselves, but it’s a way to save or rescue or help the veterinarians that are such great people overall. I mean, really.

KD:
Yeah.

NR:
Yeah.

I mean, just amazing. Sometimes when I go to a human meeting, I just think, “Okay, yeah, I know why I spend most of my time in veterinary medicine.” I mean, just the quality of people. 

So, I see it as dual. It’s helping the veterinarians stay sane and safe and wanting to remain on the planet.

KD:
Yeah.

NR:
Because it is like a bidirectional thing; like as you’re working with the animals, it feels so good to do this kind of medicine.

KD:
Oh, definitely. Definitely. That’s just the best feeling when you take an animal who’s maybe struggled to stand up or struggle to get up the stairs or whatever that animal’s issue is and you make it better. It’s the most amazing feeling. And then you get this gratitude from this client who thought they were probably oftentimes going down, “Is it time to euthanize?” route. And suddenly you give this animal this quality of life. It’s just the most incredible feeling.

And I think for a lot of us, when you’re working that really busy lifestyle where maybe you get to see one animal every 15 minutes or 10 minutes and you don’t necessarily get to hold on to those simple pleasures, which we need to keep us going, to keep us from burning out. So, yeah, it is just an amazing place to be.

NR:
Right. Right.

And then again, it’s a little bit on the philosophical, spiritual thing that we’re just working with the innate natural endogenous self-healing mechanisms that we’re allowing those to express; we’re nurturing those. And the individual, the biology, the life, it has a natural direction towards healing, if we can remove the impediments and just support that.

And so, when like Gracie, when she walks again, it’s like all you did was stimulate certain nerve pathways and released maybe some compression or something. It was her own body that got well again; you helped that. And that is mind blowing as well, I find.

KD:
I agree. I agree. It’s just an incredible feeling to be able to do that and things that for all the studies and the science out there, there’s still so much about medicine that we don’t understand, whether you’re looking at Western medicine or Eastern or whatever, anything you’re looking at, there’s just still so much that we don’t understand. And the immune system and all this comes together. And you see these things that you can’t always explain and you just have to say, “This is great. We just accomplished this for this animal.”

I didn’t expect it to go, I mean, Grace was one I didn’t expect her to heal so fast. So, that was just so amazing.

NR:
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

It is an incredible life that we are here for, for whatever, however much time that we have, too.

KD:
Yeah. Exactly. Exactly.

Yeah, I think it is. It’s an amazing career and it is heartbreaking to think of how many veterinarians are under so much pressure, where they’re at that point where they’re feeling like their life doesn’t have purpose and they can’t go on.

It’s really sad to think that all these beautiful people that chose this career path simply because they love animals and then that’s what they’ve come down to and you want to do everything you can to help them.

NR:
I think if they know about there’s koalas out there that maybe….

KD:
It is hard to be sad when you’re holding a koala. I’ll tell you that.

NR:
It sure looks like it’s – Yeah.

NR:
I mean, I’ve had a koala like teddy bear since I was – My best friend, when I was sixteen, she gave me a little koala stuffed animal. And I still have that. It was my favorite thing, all these decades later.

KD:
Yeah.

NR:
And it’s like probably the real thing; just so plush and cuddly. I don’t know.

KD:
Yes. Oh, my goodness. Yes, they can be so soft.

NR:
Yeah.

KD:
For sure. For sure. Yeah.

Do you think – because obviously, my pandemic experience is so different than your pandemic experience. Other than, well, these last two weeks, we’ve had a mask mandate because I think there were six or 12 cases that got out into the public in the whole state. And that’s been the most we’ve had since it started.

So, I live a very different experience than you. You guys are so much more shut down. Do you think that has added to the veterinarians feelings, depression and things like that, with having the added stress of all that and maybe not having these face to face connections?

NR:
Yeah.

I think quadrupled or quintupled. And again, this is what I do anyway. I mean, I’m so happy to be able to teach online and to have this Zoom opportunity where I would never have been able to meet you again and in this capacity, if this all didn’t happen and made this normal-ish.

But, yeah, almost as a rule, veterinarians are stressed out beyond belief. And they’re super busy. And it’s nice how we’ve been considered essential workers and everything. But yeah, they’re so incredibly busy. And then a lot of I think the women, more so, have left the profession to take care of their kids.

But we also see people that come to us, I mean, because of that craziness, then there are those that even more so need to do something else. But it’s a pretty intensive program. And so, if you’re going crazy and don’t have a minute to yourself, then to delve deeply into neurophysiology and neuroanatomy, that requires something. But people have been really, really stressed. So, I don’t know, it’s even more important. That’s why I even started a second podcast on just things that haven’t been taught enough in school.

But there are ways out, though, still, but maybe now this year that things are starting to change, I know that there’s a lot of vets that are very excited about their vaccination.

I mean, I think that, too, the curbside practice. On the one hand, that’s been stressful for a lot of people because you can’t sit there with the client and all that other stuff. It’s like some of the clients are going bonkers, probably more often than not, just in general. And that animal is their lifeline.

On the other hand, I’ve heard many vets say the animals are much better without the client there. So, it’s a mixture.

But I enjoy the clients. I so often become friends with them. But we’ll see. It’s an adventure.

KD:
Yeah.

NR:
I mean, and then just the political whiplash that we’ve had, which I’m not arguing with.

KD:
Exactly.

NR:
But yeah.

So, I think that the message has been, not flexibility, but I guess resilience is a lot of what people say.

KD:
Yeah.

NR:
Kind of just a little bit survival and adaptability. But still so much of it too is having a vision and not being so suppressed with depression and all. So, it’s like finding what gets you through the day, kind of.

KD:
Yeah. Yeah, definitely. Definitely.

NR:
Yeah.

But anyway, this kind of thing helps sustain me. So, I like talking with you. I mean, you know, people like you. And then just offering this for others that will benefit.

KD:
Yeah, that’s great. That’s great.

NR:
Yeah.

KD:
I’m sure. I’m sure people are really enjoying having this to listen to and everything that you’re offering them. So, I love the fact that you’ve gone to the e-modalities. So, you’re doing the eMedical Acupuncture. I just think that’s fantastic. Because imagine if that was your dream and then suddenly, you’re cut off from being able to do this. I just think that’s fantastic.

NR:
Yeah.

I’m actually even having more fun with the eMAV because it allowed me to integrate these things I wanted to do anyway with a lot of, you know, just focus.

Like I mean, when our students – I’m looking for my stuffed animal. This isn’t the one we use, but this is one of my puppets. Like, they’ll send sometimes videos or pictures of how the kid immediately absconds with the animal, you know? And so, I put instructions right at the beginning of the course; like, “Protect your animal. Don’t let it disappear.” And then we send them a whole box of colored pushpins; one color for each of the channels.

KD:
Oh, good.

NR:
And then to put, you know, it’s like so the video, “Okay, give me Large Intestine 20” and all that. And it’s just so much fun. And then their own animals get into it; like oftentimes, cats; like they’ll have a little staging area for the animal, they’ll be doing the video and then the cat comes up and it’s like, “What do you think you’re doing?” And they’ll get in the picture.

So, I really learn a lot about the people.

KD:
Yeah.

NR:
So, I’ve been having such a good time with it. And I think we’ve really got some people that have graduated and they’re pretty excited. So, that is one; like that wouldn’t have happened without the pandemic.

KD:
Right. Right. Yeah.

There’s your thing. Yeah. Yeah.

NR:
I want to do more. Like if you get more koala cases, let’s record them and so we can put it in exotics course.

KD:
Okay. Yeah, absolutely. That sounds great.

NR:
Yeah.

KD:
So, this is fantastic.

NR:
Thank you.

KD:
Well, thanks, Narda.

NR:
Yeah.

KD:
Okay.

NR:
All right. Well, we’ll see you.

KD:
All right. Okay, sounds great.

NR:
Okay. Bye bye.

If you’d like to learn integrative medicine from a scientific perspective, visit us at curacore.org. Thanks for listening to another installment of Surviving Veterinary Medicine.