Heather Stewart – providing health care for pets and strays on La Isla Bonita

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 16, No. 8            February 22, 2006

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Dr. Heather Stewart joins the San Pedro community as the new vet for Saga Society.

The population of Ambergris Caye has grown tremendously over the past ten years with the increase in tourism and the marketing of our paradise home. Many people who have come to the island, whether from other countries to work or just for vacation, return again to stay. With them come their families and sometimes, even pets. Another growing population is the animals that are left to roam the streets and add to the number of animals needing care. This week, The San Pedro Sun is pleased to feature a person who came to the rescue of our community and its demand for veterinary care, Dr. Heather Stewart.

   Heather was born in East Rochester, New Hampshire, USA. She grew up in a small town in the northeast US, then after going to undergraduate school she joined the Peace Corps and volunteered in the Dominican Republic. She fell in love with the Dominican Republic, and the Caribbean so she decided to stay. She graduated from Ross University in St. Kitts in May 2005, and did her clinical rotations at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. She spent part of her clinical rotation time in Spain doing veterinary research, and spent several months working with the Missouri state Veterinarian for the Missouri Department of Health and Human Services – mostly with vector-borne diseases and other public health concerns. Sometime later, Heather was planning to move back to the Dominican Republic after finishing veterinary school, when she found the position with the Saga Humane Society which seemed like a job designed for her. “Working for a Humane Society allows me to combine some of the aspects of veterinary medicine that I have enjoyed most: shelter medicine, public health, and public education, among many other things, into one career,” Heather stated. Her position at Saga is a full-time shelter veterinarian. Her responsibilities as the main veterinarian are quite a handful, which include: full-time veterinary care of all of the animals at the Saga shelter, veterinary services for the public by appointment, emergency services, the development and implementation of fundraising programs for the society, and most importantly to continue with the public education programs and inform people of the importance of vaccinations, spay/neutering and other routine care of pets.

   When asked how she got to know about “La Isla Bonita”, Heather stated “I was on an overnight shift during my clinical rotations for my final year of veterinary school. The night was going pretty slowly – no emergencies were coming in – so I was surfing the internet when I found an advertisement that the Saga Humane Society in Ambergris Caye was looking for a full time veterinarian. So, I actually heard about Saga first, and then began researching Belize and Ambergris Caye when I knew that I was interested in moving here to work for Saga.” Heather is now working full time and spoke about the importance of having an on-site veterinarian, “I hope to have a big impact on the Saga society, the animal population, and the community of San Pedro. I am hoping to make more people in the community aware of our presence and services – which will be much easier once those services are offered on a daily basis as opposed to just once a week. I hope to educate the community on the importance of spaying/neutering their pets and make these services available all week. It will also be beneficial for all of the animals at the shelter to have veterinary care available to them every day of the week,” she ended.

   When asked what she does in her spare time, she said, “One of my favorite things about San Pedro is that I can go jogging on the beach with my dogs every day. I definitely missed that while I was in the states doing my clinical rotations. I love to watch the sunset in the evening. I also like listening to live music – so I go when I can to watch any of the bands - mostly at Fido’s, and I hardly ever miss a Sunday afternoon barbeque at BC’s!”

   The country of Belize is indeed blessed with the many volunteers who come to help in one way or another, and even more so from the ones who return to continue their mission. As well, the island of Ambergris Caye is very fortunate to have the services of a qualified veterinarian who will be on hand full time to help care for pets and pot-lickers alike.

   The Saga offices are open to the public, and appointments can be made from 9:00 a.m. until 12:00 p.m., and from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. House calls are scheduled for Thursday afternoons. Call Saga at 226-3266 for further information or 622-4372 for emergencies only. On behalf of the residents of San Pedro and the many animals she cares for, we welcome Dr. Heather Stewart to San Pedro.

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