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Veterinary nonprofit tends to animals in wake of Typhoon Haiyan

As aid workers from around the world descended on the Philippines to help the people hit hardest by Typhoon Haiyan last month, Springer Browne headed toward the devastation for a different reason: the animals.

The 31-year-old Newport Beach native made the trip as a volunteer for World Vets, a sort of veterinary equivalent of the humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders, which provides urgent medical care worldwide.

World Vets sends veterinarians to work with animals around the world through various projects based on an area's needs. The nonprofit is one of just a few international aid organizations founded specifically for veterinary health.

"Most people were super-excited" to have medication and food for their pets, he said.

For many, Browne added, the emotion was about more than preserving creature companionship.

"Animals are their livelihood," he said.

Browne spent about a month traveling through storm-ravaged cities and farming villages in the Philippines, dispensing vaccines or patching up animals wounded by flying sheet metal.

But, he said in a phone interview, "a lot of it was just talking to farmers about animal husbandry."

That kind of long-term impact — achieved through education and outreach — is one of World Vets' major goals, said founder and Chief Executive Cathy King. Overall, she said, projects vary widely.

"Each country identifies what kind of veterinary health needs they have," she said. "It might be education in one country, then vaccinating water buffalo. The next might be a spay-neuter campaign."

Sure, King said, part of the organization's disaster relief work entails "rescuing puppies in crushed buildings," but response teams also make a point of addressing veterinary health issues that could become public health issues — such as controlling diseases that can be passed from animals to humans.

For instance, she said, in Philippine cities such as Tacloban, rabies was a particular problem.

King said the organization's corps of more than 1,000 vets has responded to project requests in 39 countries since she started World Vets with a donation jar on the counter of her Washington vet clinic in 2006. Although the organization receives some grant funding and donations, typically volunteers pay their own travel expenses.

Browne, who grew up with turtles, mice and "slightly illegal" chickens — along with six older siblings — on Lido Isle, said he had wanted to be a vet since he was a kid.

His studies and research have taken him to such far-flung locales as Dublin, Ireland, for school; Kenya to research diseases afflicting camels and humans; Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, to work with falcons; and St. Louis, where he did research at the zoo.

Then, having already traveled last March to Ecuador for one of World Vets' spay-neuter programs, and with plans to move to New Zealand to research E. coli for his doctorate delayed, Browne said he was "looking for something to do, frankly."

He contacted World Vets and shortly after was on a plane to the Philippines, where he teamed up with Danish vet Helle Hydeskov.

Though the level of destruction left by the storm was striking, Browne said the generosity and determination of the people in its wake were encouraging.

And for Browne, getting to know exotic fauna is always fascinating.

Carabaos, a kind of water buffalo, are "pretty neat animals," he said.

"They're so giant, but very mellow."

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