More than just a cat lady

Faolain Barrett CLAW visit 2017

Staring at the restaurant menu, visiting student vet Faolain Barrett looks tired but happy. She has had a busy two weeks volunteering at IFAW’s Community Animal project CLAW, based in Johannesburg South Africa with very little rest.

Today, she was out with the mobile clinic team, providing veterinary care to pets and communities that can’t easily reach CLAW’s HQ. It’s school holidays, which means the turn out for the mobiles is way higher than normal, and long queues of community members and children have lined up to seek help for their much loved pets. Add to the mix the icy nip of the southern hemisphere mid-winter winds, and plenty of dust, mobile duty is no picnic.  

Yet, when asked about her time in the clinic Faolain’s smile is broad. “Working in the townships has allowed me to see and assist with a HUGE variety of veterinary procedures. From assisting with basic spay/neuters to helping the large number of poisoned dogs coming into the clinic, I’ve learned an unbelievable amount and gained so much more confidence in my clinical skills,” she says.

Hailing from Albany, New York in the United States, Faolain decided to study abroad at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. When asked what inspired her move across the pond, she says: “I’ve always loved travelling and always regretted not studying abroad during my first degree so I figured I may as well give it a try! Also I just felt that by studying abroad it would open up many more doors and opportunities and introduce me to people from all over the world”. Faolain also has Irish heritage so her decision to choose to study close to the Emerald Isle only made the decision more special.

When not attending classes Faolain, works at a cat “café” called Maison de Moggy where customers can enjoy the company of 12 resident cats with their tea and cakes. Faolain particularly adores a cat by the name of Guillaume (a Chinchilla Persian).

Faolain has taken a keen interest in ensuring that the felines more complex needs are taken care of. Designing enrichment projects and understanding how each of the cats prefer to be fed has taken a great deal of time but ultimately has led to their welfare and overall health being a top priority. Maison de Moggy promotes the local SSPCA (Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) as well as other local cat shelters and regularly does fundraisers.

With her recent time spent at CLAW, her future career path has become increasingly undecided. “I am not sure what I will end up specialising in. I enjoy working with soft tissue and orthopaedics, yet everyone knows I adore cats and specialising in feline health and behaviour would be perfect (she was awarded the most likely to become a crazy cat lady by her fellow students!).

“But working at CLAW the last two weeks has really made shelter medicine that much more appealing. Every day is different and rewarding and you are making a difference,” says Faolain.

At the end of a busy two weeks, Faolain would love to visit the project again. She has also expressed an interest in visiting additional IFAW Community Animal projects should the opportunity arise.

When Faolain left, the CLAW staff held a small going away party with some typical South African treats. The wonderful multi-cultural staff wished her “Totsiens, hamba kahle, farewell” to thank her for her hard work during her stay; they are all looking forward to her next visit.


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