Dr Sarah Toole
Sentient Veterinary Member
I announced my intention to be a vet when I was 5 years old, and never deviated from that path. Through my childhood we had many dogs, cats, horses, orphaned kangaroos and possums, cows, pigs etc. I always felt a great affinity and empathy towards animals and wanted nothing more than to be able to fix them or stop them from being harmed. I graduated from UQ in 1993 and commenced my first job in a very mixed practice in Warwick SE QLD. Following that I moved to mainly small animal practice in NSW for a few years before returning to work in various locations around Queensland.
Being a vet and looking after animals has always been my passion and until about 5 years ago, I worked happily in GP small animal practice; however, like many others I began to suffer the effects of burn out and fatigue then some chronic health problems and an injury at work forced me to rethink my career direction. I really struggled when faced with leaving the profession, as advocating for animals was all I had ever known and wanted to do. Fortunately, I found a position working on a project at Sydney Uni where companion dogs with dementia were being recruited to trial a novel treatment, and this was a stepping stone to my current role - one I had never even contemplated, as the Animal Welfare Vet, at the University of Wollongong. I remember the day I read the position description in the advertisement and thought "wow that sounds interesting", followed immediately by feelings of panic and anxiety about being involved in "animal testing" and recalling my attempts to read the Plague dogs by Richard Adams as a child. However, my husband encouraged me to apply and thankfully I did as I now am in a position where I really can make a difference to the lives of animals that are used in research, both biomedical and conservation.
In my current role I work with a small team of dedicated animal technicians, as well as the administrative staff and animal ethics committee to oversee the use of animals in research and teaching activities at the university. In the biomedical research area our researchers use small numbers of rats and mice to investigate human health conditions. I am able to improve the lives of those animals by training the technicians and researchers and ensuring the procedures that are performed are done to best practice standards, that endpoints and interventions are implemented that prevent unnecessary suffering, and that the use of analgesics and enrichment are utilised to ensure the animals have the best possible lives. I have also been able, with the assistance of the animal care staff, to implement a rehoming program so that whenever possible animals that have been used in research can go on to live happy lives as pets in the community. This year I was also able to facilitate the introduction of a small grant at the University for researchers who wished to address one of the 3R's in animal research (Replacement, Reduction or Refinement) and am very happy that the University has been able to provide two research teams with small grants that will allow them to investigate the use of analgesics in their animal models of human disease. UoW also has a number of researchers working in Marine science and conservation fields with frogs, lizards, dunnarts, quolls, birds etc and whilst I don't often get to go out in the field, I have been able to use my veterinary skills and knowledge to ensure that the procedures they are doing meet best practice standards, provide training, troubleshoot difficult procedures such as how to get blood for a 15g mammal in the desert safely, without causing harm, and investigate and provide solutions to ensure the best outcomes for the animals and the science.
I really feel that in this role I am using my skills and knowledge to advocate for the animals used in biomedical research and helping the conservation biologists as they investigate the effects of things like climate change on biodiversity and develop programs to breed and conserved endangered species.
Working in the field of Animal research and ethics has opened my eyes to a whole new way of advocating for animals. In my off time I enjoy spending time with my hubby, kids, geriatric rescue dogs and observing animals in their natural environment whilst paddle-boarding, hiking and bike riding. I also participate in and support as much as possible the activities of Anonymous for the Voiceless, an animal rights organisation with a focus on educating the public about the plight of animals in the agricultural system, and the damaging effect of industrial animal agriculture on the environment and health.
I joined Sentient because I believe that groups of educated professional have a stronger voice than individuals. I also feel confident that the materials presented on social media by Sentient reflect real situations and not those “adjusted” to suit either the agricultural industry or the more passionate animal rights advocates who, whilst having my support, sometimes display historical and/or international images to stir emotion in the Australian population.