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In 2013, veterinarian Erika Sullivan kissed cold Canadian winters goodbye to take advantage of sun-splashed opportunities in more tropical corners of the globe. Today, she's living la vida vegan in Australia, helping animals in need and having a blast while following her dreams. Her exciting story is full of inspiration for others who interested in embarking on a creative, compassionate, adventure-filled life.
What prompted you to leave Canada and set off for Southeast Asia and Australia?
I have been a veterinarian for almost 10 years now. My goals as a veterinarian are the same from graduation as they are now, just in a new context; to help animal suffering and promote animal welfare. As time has gone by since graduation, the difference for me is that I have become more eager for life knowledge and incorporating more balance in being able to help animals while leading a positive life for myself.
I was offered an opportunity to work for a dog shelter in northern Thailand, and leaving the day-to-day life I had in Toronto and moving to live in a treehouse and help previously neglected elephants, dogs, cats, pigs, water buffalo, all in the company of like-minded travelers and volunteers, sounded like the perfect thing for me.
I spent eight months in the beautiful mountains of northern Thailand. I learned challenges facing different cultures and animals, while also the hardships and emotions of working with rescued animals. Leaving Thai temples, glorious food, and peaceful Thai people, I embarked on a new opportunity in Australia. Transitioning to Australia took longer than it did in Thailand, however, an opportunity to visit Australia--a country teeming with wildlife so different than anything else I have seen, with a schedule that permits travel outside of work, and opportunities to broaden my skills in sports, travel, education, and animal conservation--I don’t think I’ve ever felt so “at home.”
What was the motivating force behind your decision to become a veterinarian?
I grew up with a Siamese cat named Max, who I remember taking to the veterinarian with mother. My mother was a nurse, so my love for Max coupled with my interest in medicine and care-giving helped develop my path towards making a career of helping animals. I started working in a veterinary clinic in high school everyday after school. I learned the realms of the profession, seeing aspects of the profession that I had never considered before. In my veterinary class, I worked hard to graduate 2nd in my class, because I knew the more I focused on my studies, the more knowledge and competency could be used to benefit animals and people with their pets.
Describe a day in your life.
I am mostly working overnight at an emergency clinic. Emergency clinicians are notorious to the general public for being uncompassionate. Since most emergencies involve advanced trauma or illness, I feel there is more need to be understanding of owners’ grief in the loss or illness of their beloved pets. I take pride in being the same clinician I am day or night. I also perform acupuncture and practice Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine with pets. This encourages me to think holistically and offer treatments options without some of the side-effects of drugs, to painful animals.
Working shift work, in a new country like Australia, allows me to work three to four shifts per week (versus the standard 6 days per week most veterinarians work), and enjoy three to four days off per week. After working 12 hour night shifts, I go home, cook, edit photos or work on home projects, sleep, then rise in late afternoon/early evening to practice yoga, read, or walk along the beach. On my days off, I have been exploring Down Under through travel, and learning to help Australian wildlife by visiting wildlife rehabilitation parks, studying a marine mammal veterinary medicine course, and scuba diving, after which I write articles on interesting sea creatures encountered, in order to educate others on their risks and challenges for survival. Wildlife conservation has become an important passion for me, and I like to use my curiosity, knowledge and experience to promote it. While socializing, I attend vegan Meet-Up groups to discover new vegetarian cuisine and meet like-minded friends. I function well on little sleep and I think my enthusiasm for life, adventure, doing things passionate to your heart, and travel are what keep me focused on the life’s next chapter or event.
What does “wellness” mean to you, and what steps do you make to stay healthy?
I perceive wellness as a holistic (encompassing) approach to one’s physical health, mental health and lifestyle choices, and achieving positive balance amongst the three. I try to eat a healthy vegan diet, buy organic produce when possible, avoid stress, exercise and practice yoga, and make time and opportunities to do the things that excite me and I look forward to, such as travel, scuba diving, overseas volunteer opportunities with animals, and coexisting with like-minded people.
What’s your dream vacation destination?
I want to go to Ethiopia. I love Ethiopian food. I have a potential opportunity to help teach veterinary students in Ethiopia basic surgery and medicine on companion animal species with the humanitarian group International Fund for Africa, as veterinary schools there primarily teach food animal production without focus on dogs. I have never had the time allocated off work, nor funds to make such a trip. I have been fascinated by Africa since I was young and should I decide to raise kids, have always wanted to adopt. I have heard more and more recently about the number of children in orphanages in Ethiopia, with more than half of them there as a result of their parents falling ill to HIV. I have always wanted to volunteer at a children’s orphanage. If I ever went to Ethiopia, I would also be sure to enroll in a local vegetarian cooking class as well!
What do you do for exercise?
On a weekly basis, I like to go for power walks or light jogs. I used to run in the past with a minor injury during a half-marathon forcing me to slow down a little. I have always been a sports participant; in Canada I played baseball and hockey, in Australia and Thailand I scuba dive in the ocean. I practice yoga in classes or on my own, taking time to breathe and focus my mind with intent. Besides--let's face it--physically yoga is the best way to stretch, regroup, and cool your body off after a work-out.
Do you have any specific beauty products you are faithful to?
I was given a bottle of The Body Shop’s Tea Tree oil facial and body scrub as a gift for Christmas one year and I love the way my skin feels and smells after. I also prefer products from companies like the Body Shop because they do not test on animals nor use animal products.
Describe your personal style.
I like to dress smart casual with items of clothing in bright colors, my favorites being blue and pink. I am tomboyish at times, and prefer modern styles that also offer comfort.
What is your favorite drink?
I like a good coffee, however since moving to Australia, gone are the days of percolated drip coffee, and in are days of fancy soy espressos and cappuccinos. That being said, my new favorite hot drink is the dirty chai, a hot soy chai latte with a shot of espresso. Delicious!
What are some of the usual items we might find in your grocery-shopping basket?
Nutritional yeast, salsas (fresh, corn, green, spicy), seaweed-flavored rice crackers, firm tofu (plain or teriyaki marinated), brussels sprouts, mushrooms, Bragg’s liquid amino, raw saurkraut, red and green cabbage, green chilies, dried or organic canned white cannellini beans or red kidney beans, brocolini, veggie burgers, or fresh baked vegan pastries.