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Knowing she’s paying out of pocket, her friend is trying to help raise money
She has a vague idea of what she’s walking into, but the reality of it will only set in once Cheryl Laite finally sets foot in the Australian bush, she says.
Laite, a veterinarian who practises in Ontario but is originally from Mount Pearl, will volunteer with a group searching for injured wildlife, just outside the city of Wagga Wagga — about a five-hour drive from Melbourne.
“They’re basically scanning the bush for wildlife in the aftermath of all the bushfires,” she says. “You have animals that have burn injuries, now there’s maggots in the wounds, there’s starvation, dehydration. … There’s a whole bunch of factors that I’ll be stepping into.”
Laite is experienced in dealing with wildlife that aren’t native to Canada, having spent time at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. However, a lot of the wildlife she will work with on this trip will be for the first time.
“I’ll be doing a lot of reading on my 33-hour flight,” she says. “(But) a lot of the standards of care, how you treat something medically, like a burn, there’s a lot of crossover between species.”
Much of the expenses for the trip are coming out of her own pocket. She will use vacation time and move around shifts so she can make the trip. But when her friend, Valerie Michon, found out, she set up a gofundme account, knowing how much money Laite was about to spend because of her passion for wildlife and the environment.
“She’s not the person to ask for help,” Michon said. “It’s all volunteer work and I know it’s going to be very costly for her. … (I thought) I need to do something for her.”
With Laite being so busy making last-minute preparations, Michon says her friend was grateful and slightly tearful when she found out a gofundme had been put up Sunday.
Michon no longer works in animal care, but still shares her friend's passion for animals.
“She really cares about animals and the environment,” Michon says. “But it got a little bit more intense for her when she went to Ol Pejeta in Africa. … She met Sudan, the last white rhino, two years ago, right before he passed.”
Michon said that experience has propelled Laite to do more work with wildlife, and that it’s been itching at her ever since.
Laite says it’s one thing to speak about issues wildlife are facing, but when you’ve experienced an animal go extinct before your eyes, as she did with Sudan, it’s a different thing altogether.
“Now I can actually speak from experience, seeing these animals, not just (about) poaching, but habitat loss,” she says. “We’re dealing right now, globally, with major issues.
“Climate change is getting more exposure now, but hand in hand with that goes the massive extinction of all these animals that are so important to bio-diversity.”
Laite says if these animals are left to go extinct, the ecosystem will fall apart.
Trained as a firefighter, she asked about going to volunteer with that effort as well.
“But for the actual bushfires, they need people trained for that area because it’s a whole different beast,” she said.
Her trip will be over in about 2 1/2 weeks, she says, and there will be a lot of catching up on work when she returns.
“The joke is I’m going to basically be working until the morning of my funeral,” she said. “(But) I won’t get time back and I think there’s a need there and I feel the draw. So I’m just going to make it happen.”