Q&A with Disaster Response Vet: Juan Carlos
Juan Carlos in between treating animals at a mobile clinic in Aklan Province, Philippines
Dr. Juan Carlos Murillo deploys at a moment’s notice from his hub in Central America to travel to war zones, hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis and tornadoes, providing veterinary care to thousands of animals affected by disasters.
He’s our longest-serving Veterinary Manager in fifty years of Disaster Response work, and is one of the front-runners in the recent BBC Documentary, Vets in the Disaster Zone, which follows our work with animals and communities in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan.
We caught up with him to ask about his work with animals in disasters and his involvement in the Philippines last November.
What first interested you in working with animals?
In many parts of the world, including Latin America, animals are not yet thought of as sentient beings. When I was young, my friends used to bother and disturb animals, but I could not take part. I would watch animals from afar and if they let me, I would pet them! I was transfixed by natural history documentaries and the more I watched the more passionate I became.
While studying to become a vet, I refused to take part in vivisection practices or any kind of animal experimentation and the traditional animal handling techniques being taught. I began working for World Animal Protection in 2000 and had the opportunity to study animal welfare at the University of Bristol. This confirmed my beliefs about what veterinary medicine should be.
Why do you believe it is important to help animals?
Helping animals makes you a better person, it helps develop kindness, care and love for other living creatures, including human beings. It is uplifting when you hear of owners doing their best to keep their animals safe or risking themselves for an animal that has become part of the family.
Can you tell us about your day to day responsibilities?
In the field we provide veterinary care, access to food and water and training in animal handling. In some cases we build shelters to prevent animal fatalities in future disasters. We always have to think fast and respond quickly to what we find. We work to a master response plan but, when debriefing on the day’s activities, we’ll often find that we need to change our approach and the operations director will take the decision to quickly turn things around.
Tell us about your role in the Typhoon Haiyan response work:
I travelled to the Philippines in November with disaster staff from four World Animal Protection offices across the world. We began by providing immediate veterinary treatment to the animals affected by the typhoon and identifying areas that were in need of vaccination campaigns when suitable. Ensuring that animals are protected from disease is a crucial part of emergency response, vital for the health of both animals and people.
After attending to immediate needs we began thinking long-term. We ran emergency management workshops at the Aklan State University and the staff of the Provincial Veterinary Offices of Aklan and Antique. We shared ideas about how to protect animals in the event of another disaster. Because the Philippines are regularly hit by typhoons, it’s crucial that people know how to protect their animals in emergencies.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
In every operation, the most rewarding thing is always the hope and relief that we bring to animal owners by administering veterinary care. Though they may not understand the finer details of our work, the smiles on the faces of these families show how much of a difference we’ve made by helping their animals.
Don’t forget, you can catch Juan Carlos and his team in action in Vets in the Disaster Zone, available to watch on BBC iPlayer now! (Not available in all regions).