I got Accepted to Veterinary School in Nicosia

Here is my story

My path to veterinary medicine has been a long time coming. I knew I wanted to be a vet since I was very young. It really did begin with James Herriot. I think I was about three when my mother first began reading me stories from All Things Bright and Beautiful, by James Herriot. Herriot is perhaps one of the most well known inspirer of veterinarians to date. James Wight was a British veterinarian who practiced in the 1940s and later wrote about his experiences under the alias of James Herriot. If you’ve never read a Herriot story I highly recommend his work. His writing is compelling and takes the form of a compilation of short stories from his days in practice which for me as a child, painted an alluring picture of rolling fields, grazing cattle, and the clean country air. His words were embodied a love for animals from the perspective of someone privy to the most intimate of moments.

From there, and from a love of my own animals, my desire to be a vet intensified. I grew up in a rural community. While still in town, a reasonably short walk would bring you the sent of horses, hay, and large expanses of fields. There were also many feral and semi-feral cats. As my fellow Canadians are very much aware, winter is a difficult time to turn away animals. My wonderful, if somewhat softhearted mother, took it upon herself to rescue just about ever stray that came to her door looking hungry. We’d take them to the vet, get them spayed or neutered, vaccinate them, and often I’d help with their care. Some kids take out the trash when they get home from school, I scooped litterboxes and administered medications.

When I was 10, I got my first dog. As a child of a single parent mother, money was tight. Having 10+ cats made it tighter. If I wanted money I worked for it. I was about 9 or 10 when I got my first paper-route and earned about $50-70 a month for delivery of about 200 papers every Thursday. One of the families on my route had just had a litter of puppies. Their mother was a husky and their father, a lab/collie cross. The runt of the litter was a little black dog with a white leg like a cast. I fell in love. They’d already named her Angel, so I kept it the same. I saved up my wages and came home one day and rather arrogantly in hindsight told my mother. “I’m getting a dog. She’s mine.” By the good grace of my mother Angel joined our household on Aug 20th 2009. I paid $50 dollars for her. I remember the day I got her vividly as it coincided with the day my town experienced a Tornado just 600m from where I lived. Shortly after the storm had passed, Angel’s former owners dropped her off at my house while debris from local businesses still littered the yard. I paid for her spay surgery, and her vaccinations, and every subsequent part of her care as I grew up through my own labor. As I said, “She’s mine.” I have loved every animal I have ever had in my life, and my heart has broken for every one I’ve said goodbye to. By the time I turned 23 I had said goodbye to over 20 cats who were euthanized to relieve the suffering of natural terminal illnesses. Every time I felt a sense of helplessness, and a deep pain like my insides were being removed, turned to glass, shattered, and shoved down my throat. It killed me that I was powerless to help, or to even know what was wrong. Every death spurred me to pursue veterinary medicine.

When I was in 8th grade, our vet had come out to the house to vaccinate our clowder of cats. My mother had mentioned that I wanted to be a vet, and so one thing led to another and I began volunteering at the local clinic every Saturday. There I saw some of the most heart-warming things I’ve ever seen, and some of the saddest. I’ve seen the most macho looking folks turn into piles of putty for their pets. Often times when witnessing a euthanasia I am moved to tears. Not as much as I would be for my own, but enough to need to blink furiously in an effort to remain professional, and to have to dab a tissue when the client isn’t looking. Prior to Covid-19 restrictions, euthanasia was a family affair. Often parents, relatives, and kids stood together in a small cramped space shaking with sobs as they said their goodbyes. After they left I would bring out the plastic bag and wrap it around the body, close it with a label and zip-tie, and we’d place it in a backroom freezer to be picked up by the crematorium. The ashes would come a few weeks later in the earn of the client’s choosing and be picked up soon after. Every time I have handed someone their pet’s cremated remains and seen them walk away, I feel a sense of satisfaction. They are together once more, and a cycle of love has been completed. Once, while working a summer job in a factory, a coworker came up to me. He said, “I recognize you, you’re the little girl who works at the vet clinic.” I blinked and said something like, “oh yeah, that’s me.” while wondering who this person was and how we’d met. He continued, ” I just wanted to tell you how much your staying in the room with us meant to me, you were so kind it made my dog’s passing so much better.” I was touched, it was the first time I had felt the impact of my presence on the lives of pet owners.

Fast forward to University, I was volunteering at a clinic just outside of Guelph. I was in my second year, and I was struggling. I was despairing for the difficulty of getting into vet school, knowing I’d never make the cut for interview at OVC. At the time, I was going through a lot. I had a herniated disc, and walking around campus was painful. I couldn’t allow myself to stop going to classes, or volunteering as any time off would affect my chances, but my grades were tanking. Additionally, coming from a low-income family that couldn’t give me much financial support, I was hungry and too embarrassed to tell anyone. By this point, my meal plan had run out. I had a bag of frozen peas, a little rice, and a large bag of potatoes to last me the remaining 2 months. I used to stake out campus events in hopes of free pizza and snacks. I was miserable. I remember looking forward to my volunteer time, in part, because this clinic had a snack table. After working hard scrubbing kennels, I could get a free cookie. That particular day, one of the vets warned me that the room I was about to see could be “a bit disturbing” I walked in and found a room that looked like a scene from a horror film. Blood and feces was splattered from floor to ceiling. It pooled in a rank disgusting film on the exam table. I didn’t know what happened, and I didn’t ask. I took my mop and scrubbed the entire room until it was beautiful again. Then I went about my business cleaning kennels, preparing vaccines, feeding recovering animals, and my usual duties. At the end of the night I got my cookie, and the vet came over and told me he appreciated my cleaning the room and just wanted to check in with me. I admitted I was having my doubts about vet school, I didn’t think I stood a chance. He looked at me dead in the eye and said, “In all my years in this profession I have seen many students come and go. Some get in and some don’t. Believe me when I say that you will find a way.” Those words picked me up from the depths of hell that night.

Volunteering is a huge part of the admissions process in Ontario. As such, many students try to volunteer at as many clinics as possible. While most vets like are awesome like the one’s I’ve mentioned above, there are those that exploit students as free labor. I volunteered for one such vet in Guelph who’s clinic was run mostly by students. She treated me like I was an incompetent fool. Yelling if I was remotely too slow in any capacity. Once she claimed I didn’t know how to use a mop, so she ripped it from my hands and scrubbed with such force she broke her own lab computer. Another time she told me I was too slow and physically pushed me through a doorway. I left and never returned.

My next three years of school passed in a depression. I had spinal surgery in the beginning of my third year. My disc herniated further to the point that I could no longer walk properly and was in extreme pain all the time. I needed a cane, crutches, or someone supporting me to get out of bed and go to the washroom without falling over. All my exams got deferred, I spent the first weeks of classes heavily dosed on opioids without which I would’ve been a wailing heap on the floor, and barely making it through a day, opting to work mostly from home based off of lecture notes. Thankfully I got surgery that January. However, having just had spinal surgery, I was still on considerably strong drugs and moving rather slow. Amazingly, I muddled through midterms and my deferred exams but didn’t do as well as I’d hoped. The thing about being in class on opioids is that everything kind of gets all fuzzy and glazed over… including the notes. But luckily for me just as I was experiencing premium burnout, the pandemic hit Canada and the university announced a two-week shut down while they got their crap together for online learning.

My education became a blur of zoom calls that had more to do with animal interruptions than animal sciences and which were difficult to cement within your mind. With the pandemic also came lay-offs, reduced hours, and reduced volunteer opportunities and broken promises. It seemed every other semester there was talk of returning to campus in person. My master’s was supposed to have been in person but with very little notice it turned out to be remote. Regulations kept changing, emails went unanswered, phone calls met empty offices and were never responded to. I must confess I had never felt so ignored by my institution. By the time we actually were to return to campus, I was struggling to support my family financially after a combination of several unfortunate lock-down and Corvid-related events, and I was unprepared to move back to campus because I never thought we really would. They’d cried wolf one too many times for me to believe it. When I finally walked across the stage and received my degree, I had mixed emotions about what it meant to “Improve Life” as I reflected on my experience. It seemed to me that I’d graduated with more debt, trauma, and insecurities, than the smiling happy future one would imagine. I was discharged into the world of few opportunities in my sector, when googling jobs for people with my degrees I found lists that included “dog walker” or “assistant”. Imagine spending 5 years in school, and accumulating 30K in debt to be a dog walker. I felt worthless and a little bit scammed. I felt like I had suddenly skipped to the end of what a university experience was supposed to be and was now lost in a maze of what I’d learned behind a screen.

My time at Guelph was not entirely negative, however; it taught me resilience. I’d worked throughout my masters and was capable of looking after my own affairs. I’d overcome adversity and brought my grades up considerably from 1st year to 5th year. I’d learned a lot about what I wanted and what I didn’t. With certainty, I knew as I entered the workforce that I’d either become a vet or die trying. There were no alternatives, no backup plans, other than perhaps, suicide. I struggled a great deal with depression during my time at Guelph. The feeling of insurmountable hopelessness plagued me. I was constantly worried about not being smart enough, being able to stay awake long enough, not being able to afford school or food. I was caught in a vicious cycle of doubt and despair. Oddly enough a psychologist I saw once told me something, that while cruel to say, did pull me out of my funk.

I confessed my fears about debts, poverty, and international school. She in her privilege proceeded to tell me that ,”People like you aren’t supposed to go to school. It’s not meant for your kind of people. Just get an average job and I can help you learn to be happy with it.” I knew exactly what she meant by my kind of people. She meant poor. University is a moneyed world where the rich go to get richer. It is not the great equalizer it proports to be. She was implying that I should give up on my dreams and accept a life of mediocrity, poverty, and sadness. In her mind as a Caribbean educated doctor whose parents paid her way for her, I was a poor commoner who dared to step out of my lane and now needed to be put back. In fact, when she hear herself she had to clarify, “I know how that sounds, but that doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to live or anything.” My anger at her judgement of me snapped me out of it. I would earn enough money on my own, I would do anything, to prove her wrong. When I got my chance to go to vet school I jumped on it.

In an almost poetic turn of events I was accepted to the University of Nicosia’s first ever veterinary program. A program that sported lower costs comparatively to other schools, and a rigorously designed curriculum, in a beautiful English-speaking tourist destination. When I get back I will have to take several exams, but really after you’ve been in school almost 10 years what’s another few tests? The University of Nicosia gave me the chance to dream again. Being a veterinarian is all I have ever wanted, and now provided I can fund it, I will achieve my dream. I suppose that it goes to show that if you never give up, you can achieve your goals. For the first time in a long time, I look forward to waking up in the morning, because I know I have a future I can be proud of. A future where I can spend my life relieving suffering and promoting public good, helping all creatures great and small.

If you wish to support me, please consider following me on Facebook or LinkedIn, or on tiktok @chat201home. Thank you so much for reading.

Till next time.

-Cait. Your future DVM.


Published by Caitlin

Hi, I'm Caitlin McAllister, author of PetiScience. I hold a BSc. in Animal Biology from the University of Guelph, ON, Canada. I also have experience working with animals in a veterinary setting and am currently pursuing graduate studies with the hope of one day becoming a veterinarian. I decided to start PetiScience because I have a passion for animal science, and veterinary medicine, plus I wanted to continue to learn and share the knowledge I've gained with the general public. With my blog, I hope to effectively bridge the divide between the pet owner and the scientific community. As such, I intend to cover topics in basic animal anatomy, diseases, and common practices in the veterinary and agricultural industries. All of my posts will be scientifically informed and referenced for your benefit. I also have several wonderful cats, a dog, and a fish. They may also come up in my blog from time to time. If you have a question you’d like answered or a topic you’d like me to cover please head over to the comments section. Thank you for visiting PetiScience, I hope you enjoy!

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