Senior DVM student pursues passion for animals around the world

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Friday, April 8, 2022


Bre holds Bartolomé, a broad-winged falcon, before releasing him into the wild.

“If that doesn’t scare you, your dreams aren’t big enough.” This is the statement that has guided the life of senior Purdue veterinary student Bre Wilson and her incredible journey around the world over the past few years. Bre recently returned from a study abroad trip to Costa Rica, where she learned invaluable lessons about the importance of appreciating differences in culture and perspective – but her collection of baby steps and steps leap towards a career in veterinary medicine didn’t start there.

Raised in Bend, Oregon, a mountain town in the Pacific Northwest, Bre enjoys running, playing soccer, hiking with her dogs, paddle boarding, and participating in any other outdoor activity. Her life revolved around football growing up, so much so that her devotion to the sport led her to play Division 1 football at the University of Idaho on an athletic scholarship from 2010 to 2014. Bre dreamed of becoming a veterinarian from a young age, but as soon as she entered university, she was drawn to the social sciences and decided to pursue another passion.

Global aspirations

After four years at the University of Idaho, Bre earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Anthropology and a minor in Psychology. Her desire to understand human behavior and different cultures led her to travel abroad alone. Immediately after graduating in 2014, Bre spent a month in Cusco, Peru, working in a children’s hospital with physically and mentally disabled children. When she wasn’t working, she immersed herself in the local culture. In 2015, she traveled solo for six months through Australia and Southeast Asia. Upon her return, she enrolled at an Oregon State University satellite campus in her hometown to complete her veterinary school requirements. There, she coached high school football and worked as a veterinary assistant before finally taking the next step toward her dream: applying for admission to Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine.

“To be honest, the main reason I didn’t do pre-vet originally was because I was terrified,” Bre recalls. “I was terrified that I wasn’t smart enough and terrified that it was too difficult. While I don’t regret for a second the path I took, I’m also grateful that my dream of becoming a veterinarian never ended.

Sure enough, Bre’s passions remained true even as she traveled the world. In Southeast Asia, Bre found herself with just a backpack, a heart full of curiosity, and what she achieved was a unique opportunity. The elephant sanctuary in northern Thailand was looking for volunteers and soon Bre was spending her time with hundreds of rescued dogs in the park. “I lay down every night in the heart of the park falling asleep to the howling dogs and started each morning running through fields of water buffaloes and elephants, trying to catch the dogs that had somehow escaped from their enclosures,” Bre said. But while her nights were filled with magical moments, her days were filled with heartache. Bre worked as a veterinary assistant, treating rescue dogs diagnosed with parvovirus. The majority of the dogs had not been previously vaccinated, so the park declared a state of emergency. Bre spent twelve hours a day devoted to their care. But where there was difficulty, there was also hope. Each dog fought and survived. “I had never seen such resilience and such strength,” recalls Bre. “It was my moment. I knew I was there for a reason and I knew I wanted to dedicate my life to fighting for animals. Bre ended up adopting a dog named Mia rescued from the elephant nature park – a pet who now reminds her daily why she wants to become a voice for the voiceless.

Gain new perspectives

After his freshman year at Purdue, Bre studied abroad in South Africa, learning about wildlife capture, relocation and conservation. Then, just recently, she returned from a trip to Costa Rica, where she worked at Kids Saving the Rainforest (KSTR). This experience spoke to her deeply as she continued to hone her knowledge of treatments and conservation efforts while learning more about wildlife rehabilitation, handling and advocacy. His favorite experience of studying abroad came from a company with a broad-winged hawk named Bartolomé. Bartolome was hospitalized for several months at KSTR while being treated for chlamydia and suspected head trauma. After working for a time with Bartolomé in his large enclosure, Bre learned to capture, restrain, give intramuscular injections, administer subcutaneous fluids and oral medications, and feed him on her own. Prior to his departure from KSTR, Bartolome healed and Bre was honored to release him into the wild.

a sloth sleeps in his hammock
Señor Dona, a two-toed sloth at KSTR, basking in the sun in his hammock.

One of the things Bre loved about studying abroad was the ever-present opportunity to explore diverse cultural backgrounds and gain new perspectives on the world around him. During a two-day trip to the Bokeo jungle in Laos, Bre discovered what is believed to be the tallest tree in the forest. While she called him “crazy”, his guide called him “beautiful”. “His respect and love for all things was both eye-opening and inspiring,” Bre said. “To him, he was no more important than the tallest tree in the Bokeo canopy or even the land below him. If that’s not perspective, I don’t know what is. Bre added that working in Costa Rica made him realize how lucky we really are to work and live in a country with exceptional resources and high quality animal health care.KSTR depends primarily on donations for supplies and Medicines It can be nearly impossible to have enough funds to buy medicines.

Bre is also grateful for the experience she gained communicating with those who have a different language, culture and background. During his work experiences in Costa Rica, Bre often interacted with colleagues using translation apps on their phones. “I have a medical brain, but the people who work at the clinic have taught me a lot about enrichment, animal behavior, interspecies interactions, and the consequences of human interactions with wildlife,” Bre said. This valuable information sparked a flame of passion in her to raise awareness of these issues. Many of the deadly parasites found in Costa Rica are due to the blurred boundaries between wild and human life. Monkeys often become dependent on humans as a food source after being fed on trails. Other leading causes of primate death are electrocution and car accidents. “Working there taught me how to deal with the cases that came up, but also educate others on how to prevent these devastating events from happening,” Bre said.

As she looks to the future, Bre appreciates how she has grown with age and experience. As a young girl, Bre dreamed of being a wildlife veterinarian, even though her fantasies were very different from her current reality. “My vision involved a cabin in the middle of the woods where sick bears would come to visit me so I could nurse them,” Bre recalls. “While the ‘how’ of this dream makes me shake my head and smile at the thought, the dream of working with wildlife has always been there,” says Bre. After graduation, Bre plans to move to northern Colorado to work in a general medicine practice treating small animals and exotic species while educating and advocating for her patients. Further into the future, Bre hopes to own his own medical practice and work as a veterinarian in the wildlife rehabilitation industry, participate in annual international veterinary volunteer jobs, and work directly with animal shelters and disaster relief. .

Bre provides valuable advice for anyone currently pursuing their own goals. “If this is your dream, it will be worth it. It will be difficult and there will be times when you want to give up, but when you think about the lives you will help and save, that will be it. Remember not to sacrifice your well-being in the process. I have never looked back and couldn’t be more excited to get into this field.

Purdue Veterinary Medicine is pleased to welcome Bre home, and we look forward to seeing the milestones and leaps and bounds she will take in the future, both on campus and around the world.

Writers):
Madeline Brod, PVM Communications Intern | [email protected]

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