MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- When disasters hit, like the earthquake in Japan or flooding in Thailand, relief organizations always spring into action to help the victims. That includes the Fargo-based nonprofit World Vets, which is focused not on helping people, but our four legged friends.
They aren't the belongings you'd expect to take on a trip to the Dominican Republic, but for Ryan Finley every item is crucial. He'll spend the next week helping animals as a member of World Vets.
"I saw that World Vets was doing a good thing, and, I guess, I just wanted to jump on board," Finley said.
The international aid organization started as a hobby for founder Cathy King. She saw a need while on a trip to Mexico. Stray animals are often poisoned as a population control method. She wanted a more humane approach.
"I was a private practice veterinarian and thought this was something I'd do in my spare time," King said.
Six years and 36 countries later, her hobby has grown to a team of 900 veterinary volunteers. Nearly every week a team is sent to a developing country to treat animals.
"It's really an amazing experience," King said. "Some of the things that we see on projects you would never dream of that you would see in the United States."
Niki Larson, a World Vets volunteer veterinarian technician, said she sees a lot of emaciated animals.
"It's sad, but I see the full picture. I see why we're there," she said.
Larson can only guess what she'll encounter in the coming weeks when she heads to Belize for her third World Vets trip. Her previous trips have included everything from leg amputations to severe flea infections.
"I think it's really rewarding," Larson said. "It's an adventure."
The vet teams typically focus on education or spay/neuter projects, but they don't shy away from difficult surgeries or disaster relief. Volunteers spent several days in Thailand when the floods hit last year. They helped some of the 60,000 stray dogs left to fend for themselves. Many were trapped on roofs of cars or had infections from breathing in the flood water.
"That was the first time I was thinking, 'I'm actually doing something' and it felt good," Finley said.
Animals may be an afterthought in other parts of the world, but for those at World Vets, they are worth the effort.
"It's heart breaking but heartwarming when you help them," King said.
World Vets runs solely on donations. If you'd like to help or volunteer, go to its website.
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