In consultation with wildlife vet Catherine Hauw: talking about all things travel, wildlife, and business ventures

Catherine Hauw is a French and Canadian vet with a passion for travelling and wildlife. Her veterinary degree has taken her all over the world, and Vet Report sat down with her – via zoom – to hear about her experiences in the profession so far.

Interview by Alexia Yiannouli

Could you start by telling us a bit about yourself?

I’m from Paris originally, and I went to an international high school there. We travelled to lots of places such as Japan and the United States, so I always had that feeling of wanting to travel. After finishing school in Paris, I then went to study neurobiology in Canada at the University of Montreal which I really loved. 

I studied veterinary medicine in Budapest after graduating in Canada, because I wanted to have a real international university experience. Once I graduated as a vet, I didn’t want to jump straight into a job or internship after ten long years of studying. I decided to do an Erasmus+ scheme, which is a scheme run by European universities, which allows you to go travelling and work in a different country as a postgraduate student. I travelled to Italy and worked as a vet there, which was a really good opportunity for me to learn Italian. I didn’t know the language before going there, but after two months I was able to start consulting in Italian. Being able to consult in a different language really gave me a lot of confidence!

After my Erasmus scheme finished, I was ready to start a ‘proper job’’ and move to the UK. I started a small animal and exotics job in a busy hospital in Leeds, and I loved it – I saw a lot of emergency surgeries and worked a lot of nights and weekends so I got a lot of experience while I was there.

Once that year was up, I decided that I wanted to work more with wildlife, as it has always been something I’m passionate about. I left the UK for South Africa and had two volunteering experiences out there, mainly working in cheetah rehabilitation sanctuaries. I loved it, and that was when I started making wildlife documentaries. 

Since the start of the pandemic I moved back to France, which is where I’m working at the moment, but I would love to go back to South Africa and work with wildlife again.

How were you able to incorporate travelling into your career, and how would you encourage others who enjoy travelling to do the same?

Before I became a vet, I already knew that I wanted to travel everywhere. Then I became really interested in wildlife, and I realised that it was possible for me to combine my love for travelling and animals by becoming a wildlife vet. Whenever I got the chance, I took all of the travelling opportunities I was able to. 

In the second year of my veterinary degree we had to do an internship, and I went to the Darjeeling Zoo in India, and was involved with work on the reproduction of snow leopards and red pandas – I always pushed myself to focus on things I truly loved. These sorts of opportunities can sometimes be expensive, so I would always work the summer before to save up enough money – but it was always worth it. I also did an externship last year in Werribee, Australia, working with Australian wildlife and also cheetahs. 

I would send applications to lots of zoos and sanctuaries around the world – sometimes people will take you, and sometimes they won’t, but I think it’s always worth applying. I believe that people can always go after something they want if they really believe in it.

interview with catherine hauw wildlife and travelling vet

Where has been the most exciting place your vet degree has taken you?

I would say South Africa – I went there for the first time when I was 18. It was my dream holiday, as I was able to work at a wildlife sanctuary. Underprivileged children from surrounding villages would come to the centre for teaching during the week, and we would teach them biology, maths and sexual education. We would also teach them about respecting wildlife, because they were not brought up to care or respect the animals living around them. It was really interesting to see how the children would react and change during the time we were teaching them.

It was a great opportunity to be able to interact with African wildlife and African people at the same time. I was 18, so I hadn’t even gone to university yet. I told myself: “when you become a vet, you’re going to come back here and use your degree to help the community even more” and that’s exactly what I did. A few months ago I went back for the second time -I was 10 years older, I was a qualified vet, and I loved it! 

I worked in a cheetah conservation sanctuary when I went back for the second time. In the last 100 years there has been a decline of cheetahs in the wild; we’ve lost 90% of the wild population which is terrible. I was able to get completely involved in the sanctuary, doing surgeries and helping where I could, which was amazing. I also had the chance to teach vet students from around the world who were aspiring wildlife vets. It was a really interesting opportunity for me as I was only two and a half years graduated. I didn’t have a lot of experience, but I was able to teach them the basics about diseases and I really loved the role of teaching. 

“If we as a profession manage to exchange information from country to country with ease, then the veterinary world would be much better.”

How did you find practising veterinary medicine in so many different places?

I would recommend it to anyone. When I moved to the UK after working in Italy, I noticed that both countries had different approaches to some treatments. I was in a position where I could offer insight into how other countries approached cases, and it gave everyone the opportunity to learn more. If I hadn’t gained so many different experiences when travelling, as a new graduate I wouldn’t have been able to offer that kind of insight. It wasn’t saying that one way was better than another, but I think it’s so useful to see different perspectives and learn from each other.

I think that global expertise within the profession really needs to be emphasised. Sometimes people become vets and never leave the town or country that they trained or grew up in – and there is nothing wrong with that – but I really think that if vets were able to go travelling and experience working in another country, it would give them the opportunity to learn and develop in the profession  in so many ways.

While I was in Australia working with cheetahs, one of them had exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI), which is quite common in cheetahs. They had done lots of research into the condition and had all of the necessary treatment available. When I visited South Africa a few years later, some of their cheetahs also had EPI, but they didn’t really know about it or have any information on the condition. I had the opportunity to educate them on a disease I had only learnt about a few years previous, which was a really nice position to be in. If we as a profession managed to exchange information from country to country that easily, then the veterinary world would be so much better.

It’s the same with language – a lot of people are scared to learn and speak new languages. I hear so many people say that they aren’t good at learning languages, but I think that anyone can be good at a language. So many people arrive in the UK not being able to speak English, and it was the same for me arriving in Italy. When I was learning the language, the Italians weren’t mocking me – they wanted to help me learn. It’s nice to go somewhere new and try different things.

It’s the same with being a vet – every vet you meet will have their own specific set of knowledge, skills and experiences to draw from, and learning from each other can really help throughout life and within the profession.

interview with catherine hauw wildlife and travelling vet

You have been involved in creating and filming wildlife documentaries in South Africa. Has documentary making always been something you have been interested in, and how did you get involved with it?

It was always my dream to work as a wildlife vet and travel the world making documentaries.  When I got the opportunity to go back to South Africa again, I bought myself a small camera and I would go around recording things. Sometimes the staff would record me during surgeries, and I would explain what I was doing to the camera. 

I have a friend who is a video editor, so he helped me put together the documentaries. We did three episodes of a series called ‘BigCat SmallCat Vet’ and I loved every part of it. I wanted to open the eyes of people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to see those kinds of things.

There are now only 6,700 wild cheetahs left in the wild due to poaching and deforestation. The sanctuaries I worked at are trying to reintroduce cheetahs into the wild and  ensure a diverse gene pool, and I really wanted the documentaries to show people what is currently being done to protect the species. I hope to continue making documentaries after Covid, and to go from country to country learning about different species and how we can create solutions to the problems they are currently facing. 

You also have set up a business, MyDogtor, which is a platform for vets and students to interact and post content. What was your inspiration behind setting it up?

I left Paris aged 17, and I went travelling for 12 years. I love travelling and meeting new people, and I didn’t want to go back until I felt it was time for me to start settling down. I came back to France when the pandemic first started, and I kept hearing from lots of students and about the amazing groups that were online for vets across the globe. There were lots of vets who had things to say about where their degree has taken them, and lots of students who were worrying about graduating and finding jobs.

Global interaction makes the veterinary world better, which is when I thought of the idea to create a platform where vets doing something different or who wanted to teach could write articles and speak to each other online. I’m still working on it and it’s not finished yet, but currently we are publishing blogs, videos and articles every one to two weeks. It makes me happy because I’ve been able to interact with so many international vets through the platform.

I was able to get involved in the virtual Global Careers Summit in June, where I got to meet many different people from around the world. In a weird way, the pandemic has brought the veterinary community closer on a more global scale. It’s the first time I’ve been active with so many different people from so many places. Usually we go to conferences with people from the same country as us, but now we can virtually connect with people all over the world so easily. 

“Global interaction makes the veterinary world better”

How did you find the process of setting up your own business?

I think it’s easier in the UK to set up a business than it is in France. I chose to do it in France at the time because I was based there, but it was quite a difficult process. It was interesting setting up a business as a vet, as we aren’t really taught about having business mentality at vet school. I really wish that universities would teach more about business, and hopefully we will see this in the future.

I created my start-up because it was something I was passionate about, with the idea that maybe further down the line I might be able to make money from it – although I don’t think that as a profession our first goal is to make lots of money. We’re very passionate people and we just want to help. Often, we don’t earn enough money to do what we really want to do. When I created the start-up, I knew that I had the mind of an entrepreneur, but I didn’t have the means or the finance of doing so.

What are your plans for the future, and do you have any projects lined up?

I’m about to start my new job in Strasbourg, France. My plan is to make some money this year, and then to find a new destination and hopefully start a wildlife masters. It’s great working with wildlife, but it would be nice to have that background knowledge and research as well.

I’d also like to go back to South Africa and make more documentaries, but of course it depends on the political situation and also the pandemic. I really enjoyed my time in Australia and New Zealand, so I’d potentially like to go back there as well. The eventual aim is to be able to be a wildlife vet and live off my wildlife documentaries – I think that will take a bit of time, but hopefully that will be the plan in the future!

Catherine’s wildlife documentaries can be watched here.

You can find her on Instagram as Dr_catherinehauw and on linkedin.

Click here for more information on MyDogtor.