From saving bears in China to treating hundreds of animals in rural Mexico, Dr Sheridan Lathe has
plenty of tales to tell. And she’s bringing a global audience along for the ride with her online platform,Vet Tails. By Shane Conroy
Dr Sheridan Lathe has dreamed of adventure since her childhood spent climbing rocks, navigating mangroves and exploring the ocean in a small beachside community in Queensland. She has loved animals for as long as she can remember, and felt a strong calling to help from an early age.
“I had a lot of freedom to roam and explore the natural world,” she says. “I read giant encyclopedias about animals, and was known to carry around frogs in my pockets from as young as three. I decided I wanted to be a veterinarian when I was five. Something deep inside me wanted to help animals and being a veterinarian was the obvious choice.”
After graduating from James Cook University in 2011, she jumped straight into the deep end with a job at a Bundaberg vet clinic. But it’s not surprising that the girl who worshipped Jane Goodall and David Attenborough soon felt a craving for something more.
Dark days in deepest China
So it was off to South Australia where she found herself working as the head of a wildlife hospital at just 24. She learnt how to detect sexually transmitted disease in koalas, fix fractured turtle shells and run wildlife rehabilitation and release programs.
The experience ignited her passion for charity work, and Dr Lathe soon looked further afield—to China and a job saving bears with Animals Asia. However, the harsh reality of the mission took a heavy toll.
“The work was extremely emotionally draining,” she says. “We were exposed to the very worst animal cruelty you can imagine; bear bile farms, baby bears caught in snares, teeth that had been cut off so bears couldn’t bite, the tiniest cages for a 200kg animal. I truly loved and was inspired by the work we were doing, but it was breaking my heart every day.”
Setting sail with a new mission
So when her ex-husband suggested a sailing adventure, Dr Lathe jumped at the opportunity to embrace something new.
“I moved from my room in the middle of China to a boat in the Panamanian Pacific Ocean in less than a week,” she says. “I had never set foot on a sailboat before moving aboard Chuffed.”
But this was not just a holiday. As she travels the world, Dr Lathe is providing free veterinary care, education and training to local communities, and documenting her journey at Vet Tails.
She has run neuter campaigns in the Las Perlas Islands and Costa Rica, provided free vaccinations, treatment and surgery to more than 150 animals throughout Nicaragua, and is currently working to improve the health and welfare of animals across Mexico.
“We went to a rescue centre in Guerrero, Mexico called Surfers for Strays where we helped establish protocols and guidelines on the management of the clinic,” she says. “We have also begun Mission Mexico, which aims to establish and set up spay and neuter clinics in underserved rural regions, so that the local veterinarians and the community can continue after we have left.”
Adventures in the archipelago
However, it was her time in Las Perlas that is perhaps most memorable for the intrepid vet.
“The archipelago of Las Perlas is a famous rearing ground for humpback whales,” she recalls. “Every morning we would awaken to their noises echoing through the boat. Then we would pack our veterinary equipment and head to shore, which was beautiful in itself. There were lots of colorful shanty houses along a tropical mountainside. The kids would come during the school lunchbreak and play reggae music while I would do surgery.
“We treated more than 118 animals in Las Perlas over a few weeks. It was very fulfilling and really felt like I was living the dream of sailing, exploring, and treating animals.”
But a sailing adventure doesn’t come without some tense moments.
“Probably the scariest moment was on anchor in El Salvador when we got hit by a giant squall that came out of nowhere,” says Dr Lathe. “We had 60 knots-plus winds, and had anchored very shallow so the waves were lifting up over the bow. The dingy got blown up the mast and the anchor chain kept pulling through the windlass, so we were dragging slowly but surely towards the beach and breaking waves. I had to put the motor on and push into the wind. It was cold, and dark, and horrible. Life aboard is a real roller-coaster!”
Steps towards a sustainable future
Despite the challenges, Dr Lathe has no plans to return home anytime soon. She hopes to stay in Mexico for another year, then head to Vallarta and into the Sea of Cortez. And while providing care to animals will remain her principal focus, Dr Lathe also wants to spread a higher message to a global audience through her Vet Tails platform. “I have been very lucky to have worked with so many of the amazing species in the world—from elephants and polar bears to sloths and spider monkeys—but through my work and travels I have also been exposed to just how much damage we as humans can do,” she says.
“We as a species need to start ensuring education and healthcare is available for all, and move towards a more sustainable future. I hope that what I do helps inspire other people that they can live a fulfilling life, with very little material things. Individuals really can do their part to make the world a better place. I don’t think any dream is too big or too outrageous anymore.”