Volunteer work

The dream of traveling with wilder motives.

By  Flávia Berredo de Menezes

Dr. Heather Reid

Imagine the feeling of getting away from the daily grind while being able to care for abused or mistreated animals. Perhaps you might volunteer with turtles in Canada, India and Guatemala, stray dogs in Nepal and Mexico, elephants in Thailand, or bats and flying foxes in Australia, among other species. Sound like a dream-come-true?  Well, it can become your reality!

The AEI (Animal Experience International) is an association that has two objectives: to connect organizations throughout the world, with adventurers of all ages interested in expanding their professional development with numerous animals, and to offer people opportunities to volunteer in assisting sustainable projects. This incredible organization was founded by two Canadian women with one spontaneous idea.

Doctor Heather Reid is a veterinarian with more than 15 years of experience who has worked with more than 200 native species of wild animals in the busiest wildlife hospital in Canada.  Nora Livingstone is a a born traveller and specialist in environmental studies and cultural anthropology, who has plenty of volunteer experience.  Nora has worked with animals in such places as Nepal, Thailand, New Orleans and Costa Rica.  She is in charge of training people to live out their dreams and travels while helping animals.  These are just a few reasons why we are interviewing her in this edition of Wave.  Read on for more information on volunteer work in Canada and in all AEI partnership locations throughout the world.

What is the main objective of AEI?  Are there plans to expand animal protection to other parts of the world, in addition to the places the organization is currently working?
Livingstone – Our purpose is twofold.  We want to create ties between organizations throughout the world with sincerely dedicated volunteers, as well as offer people breathtaking volunteer opportunities.  We want those interested to be able to expand their hearts and minds while travelling and volunteering in assisting these positive and sustainable projects.  And yes, expansion is happening every second.  We are in direct dialogue with a several organizations throughout Africa, Central America and South America.

How does AEI, having been born from a spontaneous idea between two friends, influence your life?
Livingstone – I worked with my business partner (Dr. Heather Reid) for years in a wildlife centre in Ontario.  I was the Volunteer Coordinator and she was the Chief Veterinarian.  After I left, I had a few jobs but there was no passion and I didn’t exactly know what I wanted to do.  We were chatting at a barbeque and she told me that she had a business idea.  She always had millions of people asking her about volunteering with animals and she knew I liked the topic and, in order to continue motivating other people to volunteer, we joined forces!  We can inspire people and give them the opportunity to live out their dreams that they never thought would be possible.  It’s the perfect partnership.  I am the dreamer whose job it is to inspire and have fun!  I couldn’t be happier with this crazy idea of hers!

 How would you describe your business in comparison to other animal protection organizations?
Livingstone – We are the only organization operated by a veterinarian and a professional volunteer coordinator.  We support those who want to inspire people and want to recruit volunteers, but our business is a little different because the inspiration for all this was obtained based on my travels and mutual workplaces.  We work and offer our services to organizations that fight on behalf of animals, with no discrimination whatsoever, without knowing what kind of help our partners need to carry out sustainable projects. And the fight goes on!

Surgery. Photo: animalexperienceinternational.com

 What difficulties have you come across in the fight for better living conditions for animals that have been mistreated?
Livingstone – Our positioning with our partners is fantastic for education.  It is not just about helping injured, sick or orphaned animals, but it is about educating people on co-existing with other beings, that is – wildlife.  We support our clients in the best way possible, explaining to them the effects of the abuse on animals that they may witness.  We also interview them when they return from their trip.  They are all given a manual with information about mental health, such as fatigue and post-traumatic stress disorder.  I am a crisis counsellor and I think that compassion is truly important to fight the stigma of talking about mental health and the suffering that we can experience along the way.  Treatment is available and that is how I help them.  Lots of animals that we see have suffered quite a bit and that’s why it is important to focus on how we are treating them, so we can stop the suffering they’ve experienced.  The most important is to be inspired and happy with the help these animals are getting.

What message would you like to leave for people who might be thinking about volunteering to help AEI?
Livingstone – It doesn’t matter who you are, you can make a difference.  We provide the training and support, the insurance, the travel guides and advice that provide you with the best experience possible for you and the animals.  We really want to show people, it doesn’t matter who, that they can live their dreams, travelling the world and volunteering with animals.

For more information about Animal Experience International, visit the site animalexperienceinternational.com or by Skype: Animal Experience International, address: P.O. Box 22001 Barrie, Ontario Canada L4N 0Z5.