Dr Sy Woon
Sentient Social Media Cordinator
Sy Woon is a University of Sydney veterinary student currently completing her 4th year of the degree at the Camden vet campus, after last year undertaking a BSc(vet) research year. She is recognised amongst the animal welfare community for her active involvement in the animal welfare field, and is regarded as one of the Veterinary Faculty’s most energetic and committed individuals; described by her professors as “one of the most visible, passionate and highly effective organisers of veterinary student activities to promote animal welfare at Sydney University, [pursuing] every opportunity to extend her knowledge, networks, influence and contributions to the cause of promoting welfare around the globe during her time in the Faculty”.
Ever since she can remember, Sy has been imbued with a love and passion for saving and protecting animals, including the baby birds she would find at school and the insects she would capture as a child and keep “safe” in jars. She soon realised the harm she was causing these latter substitute pets she sought to protect. However, her avid interest in animals remained and motivated her childhood aspiration to become a vet; a role in which she hopes to acquire the skills and influence to protect the most voiceless of animals, and benefit their health and welfare.
After her first year of entering the course, Sy was elected as president of the then “Veterinary Science for Animal Welfare”. As advised by her predecessors, she and her new executives changed the Society’s name to, “The University of Sydney Animal Welfare Society”, for the purpose of opening membership to the rest of the university community, “We wanted to reach the wider university community; one of our major aims is to promote awareness of animal welfare in order to provide people with appropriate information and evidence so they can enact change in their own lives as well as the larger community.” Her role, over the three year long presidency, involved organising myriad events and seminars highlighting animal welfare issues and fundraising for various causes. The society’s regular guest seminar series saw a plethora of prominent experts invited to present a variety of topics. Guests ranged from Animals Australia’s Lyn White discussing issues behind live exports, to Prof. Paul McGreevy presenting on the use of whips in horse racing, Animals Asia’s Director, Anne Lloyd-Jones discussing exotic animal circuses and moon bears, Voiceless: The Animal Protection Institute, WSPA, RSPCA, Greyhound Rescue, and many others.
The Society’s annual RSPCA Cupcake Day became a popular event for the entire university community, raising sums of thousands, and other advocacy activities they pursued included, screening animal welfare documentaries, hosting dinner gatherings, participating in WSPA’s Humane Chain Campus Challenge, supporting the campaign for a Mandatory Desexing Policy at Blacktown Pound, co-organising the highly successful Not-the-Melbourne Cup Champagne Celebration, and more.
Sy describes, “I’d always considered myself a devoted and informed animal lover, but my role in the society required educating myself about welfare issues that often remain glossed-over, and made me realise my ignorance. It taught me so much more than I’d anticipated about an array of important issues concerning farm animals in particular; as in many vet degrees, we are often taught from an industry perspective, which vet students fail to question because we become quite desensitised and simply abide by the status quo. So my exposure to other viewpoints in my position was incredibly valuable and I think helped me to remain receptive to other ethical stances.”
Sy has pursued a number of endeavours during her time as a vet student. After submitting a proposal on rabies control for the Davis Projects for Peace program in 2010, Sy received a $10,000USD grant to carry out her project in Kanchipuram, South India. Her project involved funding an Animal Birth Control – Anti-Rabies program (ABC-AR), as well as creating a dog bite prevention/rabies awareness program, which she presented to thousands of children at rural schools across the district, in addition to holding a village public awareness day. “It was a confronting experience as I learned the suffering that can entail no-kill shelter policies. However, it was an incredibly life-changing journey, and emphasised the importance of education, further inspiring my passion to teach children”.
Being selected as the invited student speaker for the 8th World Congress on Alternatives and Animal Use in the Life Sciences in Montreal alerted Sy to her own desensitisation as a vet student. In preparation for the conference, she conducted a study examining the use of cadavers in veterinary education and its impact upon student moral attitudes. “To my surprise, I discovered during my own research that the ex-racing greyhound and pound dog cadavers we routinely dissected were not regarded as ‘ethically sourced’ by peer-reviewed standards; this definition implies the cadavers procured were from animals euthanised for medical reasons, or that died naturally or in an accident.” Sy presented her research at the conference and published her paper on, “A veterinary student’s perspective on educational animal use and the potential for humane alternatives” (link: http://www.altex.ch/resources/377385_Woon3.pdf), which she also presented to audiences at the Human Animal Research Network’s Symposium at the University of Sydney last year. Sy also continues to work as Project Officer for Medical Advances without Animals (MAWA) Trust, an organisation promoting innovative alternatives and replacement of animals in medical research.
After delivering her rabies control project, Sy liaised with Vets Beyond Borders and assisted in establishing the Sydney University Vets Beyond Borders Student Chapter, of which she also served as president last year. The position involved fundraising for the Vets Beyond Borders organisation, and raising awareness their work overseas in dog and cat population management, rabies control and volunteering opportunities. She also presented the outcomes of her India rabies control and prevention project for the Global Alliance for Rabies Control’s 2nd Annual World Rabies Day Webinar.
Amongst her involvement with university societies, Sy has also been a representative on the Faculty’s Animal Welfare Advisory Committee, composed of Faculty representatives and ethics officers. In addition to processing animal welfare matters, the committee organises the annual Dr Robert Dixon Animal Welfare Memorial Symposium in which Sy was a 2012 panelist representative, along with Dr Adele Lloyd (Sentient’s Vice President). Sy was also invited to present on animal welfare topics to residents at the Cobham Juvenile Justice Centre, and directed annual fundraiser events at the University of Sydney International House, where she worked as the Environment and Welfare Coordinator.
Most recently, Sy has been awarded a scholarship, by the Alliance for Contraception in Cats & Dogs (ACC&D), to attend the 5th International Symposium on Non-surgical Contraceptive Methods in Dogs and Cats in Portland, Oregon, where she will also partake in an exclusive training to become certified to administer the revolutionary Zeuterin, an injectable sterilant for male dogs. She is excited about the prospects of this new technology, and hopes to convey the vital information she gains from the conference to Australian shelters, vets and ABC-AR programs. She will also be representing Sentient by presenting on the topic of “Welfare and Ethics Entailing Breed Specific Legislation” for the upcoming Australian Animal Studies Group Life in the Anthropocene conference at Sydney University in July.
As for the future, Sy has an interest in all areas of veterinary medicine relating to animal welfare and advocacy, but has found a passion in teaching. Hence, in addition to working in the research field and dabbling in shelter medicine, she intends to pursue work involving cultivating a love and compassion for animals in children and disadvantaged communities through education.
About this photo ...
This was one of my favourite moments during our time in Nepal....sadly we saw a lot of donkey/pony abuse during our trekking venture - it's part of the everyday life there. We’d hear some metal bells clanging from a short distance, and then the herd of beaten-down donkeys would arrive (bells around necks), making their arduous way up or down the rocky steps, single file, burdened with heavy loads, straps tied so tightly around their waists it often caused bleeding wounds..worse still, being yelled at and threatened with/hit with sticks by the herders, doing their job..
..when we passed by this village, I encountered a lone donkey plodding along slowly towards me, without the usual load nor accompanying ropes around his abdomen..he looked almost free..but wore the same despondent expression and posture as all the other donkeys/ponies I'd seen...and close behind him was a child - barely visible above the donkey's own short stature - twisting and pulling the donkey's tail, and hitting and punching him in the buttocks for apparently no reason; simply learned behaviour. As usual, the donkey made no attempt to defend himself, simply submitting to the child's customary treatment..
..I tried to gently reprimand the child, shaking my head and pointing at his hands.. our trekking guide translated my meaning.. the child looked at me curiously.. I smiled at him, and began patting the donkey instead - making sweeping strokes along the donkey's mane, and gesturing for him to copy me, and smiling to encourage him, whilst remarking at the donkey's loveliness.
And sure enough, after seeing how much I seemed to enjoy patting the donkey, he began reciprocating, gently stroking the donkey's mane as well, looking up at me for reassurance, and - in this transient moment - seeming to realise the benefits of causing pleasure, not harm ..I was so happy
..i gave him some cookies before I had to rush off, as a kind of positive reinforcement ..and he happily took them, and watched me as I left, from afar.. I hope he learned something in that moment too. ...this just makes me yet more passionate to work with children and animals ...every minuscule positive change to another's perspective makes a difference.