Dog Talk: More healing hands for furry friends

Chong Su Via with a client, Ollie. She is working towards her Associate of Applied Science Degree in Veterinary Nursing via distance learning. Photo: Dr Mellissa Aw

The first time I took a pet to the vet here in Malaysia, I was roped in to help with the operation. Standing over my unconscious kitty, staring straight into his insides, was a bit of a challenge. Admittedly, that was 25 years ago.

Today we live in the city, and two out of our three favourite vets have assistants. So, I drop off my pets and collect them an hour or two later. But when I visit a smaller practice, helping out is routine.

If Chong Su Via has her way, vets will have trained veterinary nurses.

"When we humans go to a doctor or hospital, there are nurses who support doctors," she points out. "When our pets go for medical care, it's the vets who do everything. If they have trained, registered nurses, we can improve the standard of medical care for animals."Chong's passion for animals has ruled her heart and her career.

"I've dreamed of working with animals ever since I was a little girl," she admits. "Back in the 1990s, there were two choices: Vet or zookeeper. I wanted to be a vet."She took a foundation course at Taylor's University and was all set to go to Australia to sign up for a vet course when there was a hitch.

"My dog gave birth to puppies," she says calmly. "My sisters were abroad studying, and there was nobody to look after Fifi, so I cancelled my plans."

Her intention was to wait it out for a few months until the pups were big enough to adopt out, but Chong took a pet grooming course, "to burn time". However, she had a good mind for business. Before long she had a lot of clients, enough to start a salon. Then she added a mobile grooming truck to her enterprise.

The years went by and the dream of being a vet faded into the background.

Then, in 2016, her dog Kapi had a seizure.

"I was standing in the animal hospital in the early hours of the morning, holding my dog's paw, and talking to the vet, when it all came rushing back," Chong remembers.

She left pet grooming, volunteered as a vet assistant in the hospital, and realised she'd returned to her passion.

"I did think of taking a veterinary degree," she admits. "It's not impossible at 29 but when I was working, I realised there is a gap in animal medical care because veterinary nursing is not recognised here."

There are no courses in Malaysia but there are various educational paths abroad.

Two years into her voluntary animal assistant job, Chong signed up for the Veterinary Nursing Distance Learning (VNDL) programme in the United States. When she completes the course, she will have an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Veterinary Nursing.

In addition, Chong is one of the founding members of Malaysian Association of Veterinary Nurses and Assistants (Mavna). Founded in 2021, by vets and animal support staff, the group intends to foster veterinary nursing skills in Malaysia.

The fledgling group has 185 members who are veterinary support staff like Chong and 40 associate members who are vets. Interestingly, there are no certified veterinary nurse members yet.

"We can't describe that class of membership yet because we're waiting for a bill to be passed in parliament," Chong says. "It was tabled and debated some years ago so we're hoping they will pass it by the end of this year."

As five Mavna members have completed a certificate in veterinary nursing, the timeline for improving veterinary care is bound to take some years, perhaps even decades.

"If you go abroad and do a full-time veterinary nursing course, you can graduate in two to three years," Chong notes. "Long distance and part-time, like my course, will take up to six years."

While courses vary, a typical course involves classroom or textbook study, followed by practical training in a veterinary clinic or animal hospital. To complete the course, there is a practical exam.

"For distance learning, you can do the practical over video," Chong notes. "But some people choose to travel over and do it in person."

Training is expensive. A typical Australian course costs around RM40,000 while US courses cost more than double, at roughly RM95,000.

"The UK offers two-year diplomas and three-year bachelor degrees but they typically involve local internships," Chong notes. "As they're way more expensive, you have to live there for some years. I don't know anyone who's taken that route."

Clearly, there is an opportunity here for local universities to add in suitable training courses.

"We want a local school to start a course so we can have local training, scholarships and education loans," Chong says. "Overseas education fees make it an unaffordable path now as staff wages for animal support staff run at about RM2,500 a month."

For now, enthusiasts like Chong are taking up courses, and some clinics help out with some sponsorship. In addition, Mavna offers free webinars to help animal medical assistants upgrade their professional skills.

It's a distant dream for now, but Chong has a vision. "If we can have trained veterinary nurses, routine animal care will improve. Also, vets will be free to pursue advanced training. Together, it should give pet care a boost."

And for pet lovers, it may mean the next generation of pet lovers will not have the experience of staring into their pet's insides during vet trips.

Adopt Me

Yuko is eight months old, spayed, and fully vaccinated. This little lady was born in July, on the cusp of Cancer and Leo, so she's intuitive, loyal and loving.

Yuko is also a bouncy girl who loves people. There's nothing she enjoys more than being with her humans. And like a true Penangite, she is a foodie.

Photo: SPCA Penang/Lily Leng Photo: SPCA Penang/Lily Leng

She's only been at the shelter for a month, and is eager to get her own forever home. Interested adopters, please contact SPCA Penang (04-281 6559/ Jalan Jeti Jelutong, 11600 Jelutong, Penang/ website:

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