Dr Belinda Oppenheimer
Sentient Veterinary Member
"I graduated from veterinary school with honours in 2013, but it was my university life that I'd say was the most formative and defining period in my veterinary career, and life in general. I was excited to start working with the university's canine bloodbank greyhounds and their behavioural rehabilitation program, but quickly learned that not everything is sunshine and roses when it comes to how animals are treated, even when we assume there should be a gold standard approach. Advocacy for welfare improvements and adoption outcomes for the dogs housed there kept me invigorated throughout my studies, and lead me down the path of questioning the 'status quo', and the place of animals in our society. I was also lucky enough to see some successes in my efforts for the bloodbank dogs (not least of which was adopting my two fabulous boys and advocacy partners!), which I think spurred me on to future endeavours!
Having worked and volunteered at a local animal shelter throughout university, my first veterinary role was with that team as a welfare clinic surgeon. My friends questioned how I didn't get bored; to me, every spayed cat was just as satisfying as the last, knowing the welfare impact that it made! My interest in exotics was able to bloom there, as much as I thought it couldn't given my limited facilities; as soon as word got out a vet in a welfare clinic was happy to see the more unusual species, the clients found me! Despite being a vet who always planned to work predominantly with birds and reptiles, I found a niche in dealing with the shelter rabbits and guinea pigs: the exotics who needed an advocate the most. I was also lucky enough to find a newly forming greyhound rescue who came to use the shelter desexing service, and would have an excellent relationship working with them as their chief veterinarian until their closure, giving me a regular greyhound fix and allowing me to continue working for the breed with a strong anti-racing stance.
As years went on and it was time to see what more the veterinary world could offer beyond my shelter home, I spread into working in referral exotics practice (my present practice) and a rabbit exclusive practice. This allowed me to hone my skills, always with the intention to bring what I learned back to the welfare world. This would eventuate sooner than expected: within a year of leaving, I was back at my shelter on the Board of Directors, then transitioned into the lead veterinarian role. Despite having parted ways for now, to this day, I still know that I'm a shelter worker at heart, and will return to the world I love someday! I decided to formalise some extra study and received my Membership of the Australian and New Zealand College of Veterinary Scientists in the field of Unusual Pet Medicine and Surgery in 2019. Today I continue to work in referral exotics practice, thankfully with near-daily interactions with the local species-specific rabbit and guinea pig rescues, keeping me sane!
Of course, this is my 'day job'; to me, the power of the veterinary degree is the voice it gives us to try and accomplish change in animal welfare legislation, and the power to assist using our specific skill set. I have tried to pepper my job with assisting where I can, especially where my degree and interests can be of the most value (the less 'sexy' jobs!). This has seen me off on adventures with Pets in the Park (volunteering veterinary services for those that are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless), Beagle Freedom Australia (veterinary adviser), Greyhound Equality Society (veterinary adviser - with success on our primary objective of repealing compulsory muzzling legislation in Victoria!), Coalition Against Duck Shooting (triage veterinarian at the opening of the Victorian duck shooting season), Coalition for the Protection of Greyhounds (veterinary adviser), and Humane Research Australia (advisory panel member), as well as less officially giving advice to multiple other rescues and welfare groups. As much as hands-on veterinary work is satisfying, the power of making more comprehensive, long term change for more animals via legislation is where my passion lies. Resultantly, I have submitted to many Parliamentary Inquiries, legislation reviews, etc., and have been involved in the formation of Codes of Practice, both independently and with my volunteer groups. I have also published and presented to veterinary and non-veterinary audiences on exotics husbandry and gold standard care in animal shelters.
I continue to draw inspiration from the fiercely passionate people I have worked with over the years (many of whom I am lucky enough to call personal friends!), my little flock of rescue creatures (while my bloodbank boys have sadly both passed now, they continue to be my muses...while I know a greyhound or seven will find their way to me again one day, I'm kept busy by my two amazing cockatiels, blue tongue lizard, two goats and cat in the interim!), and the challenge and thrill of being able to make change for the better.
If everybody commits energy to a welfare cause they value the most, the future is a much less scary place."