UF students in the veterinary division of UF’s Project HEAL (Health, Education and Learning) pose for a photo with Ecuadorian farmers. UF students are helping Ecuadorian veterinary students set up their own HEAL program to provide free animal healthcare to residents of impoverished areas.

UF students will help veterinary students in Ecuador start a program to help animals this summer.

Students in the College of Veterinary Medicine started volunteering in Ecuador in the 1990s through the veterinary division of UF’s Project HEAL (Health, Education, and Learning), which provides free animal care to residents of impoverished areas. 

This June, UF students will help veterinary students at Universidad Central in Quito, Ecuador, set up their own HEAL program to help members of local communities.

The annual trip to Ecuador costs more than $1,000, not including lodging and bus. This year, 17 students will spay and neuter animals for 10 days.

In past years, UF veterinary students have partnered with the Universidad Central to provide services for animals in Quito, said Owen Rae, Project HEAL’s advisor. 

He said students on the trip work with limited resources, sometimes performing operations without electricity.

“A school room without windows or electricity can become an exam room, a surgical preparation room,” he said.

Daniela Isaza, treasurer of Project HEAL, said students rely on surgical supplies donated by companies.

“We don’t have access to the same things we have access to over here,” the 25-year-old said.

Jennifer Katona, president of Project HEAL, said she went on the trip last year and has been planning this year’s trip since July 2015.

“We go every year to do three days of spay-and-neuter and two days of large animal health,” the 24-year-old UF veterinary graduate student said. “We see all types of animals, all the way from guinea pigs to pigs, sheep, horses, cows, dogs and cats, the occasional alpaca or llama.”

While the trip focuses on performing spay-and-neuter operations, Katona said students also perform wellness checks on animals. 

Last summer, Project HEAL provided care to more than 160 small animals and 300 large animals.

She said she is looking forward to helping more animals this summer as UF students help the students of Universidad Central start their own HEAL program.

“The people of Ecuador are lovely and they have a lot of animals,” Katona said. “But we can definitely help, and it is definitely a rewarding experience.”