Laura Harvey

Talking with our team: Laura Harvey

In this series, we talk with the people giving their time to help animals in need. Today we chat to SPAW’s Veterinary Nurse and Board Member Laura Harvey, and her involvement with SPAW.

Laura studied her undergraduate veterinary nursing at Unitec, in Auckland, and her postgraduate veterinary nursing at the University of Glasgow. She has worked as a companion animal veterinary nurse and clinic manager in Auckland and in the UK before entering education in 2013. She is now the programme manager for veterinary nursing at Unitec.

How did you get involved with SPAW?

My first involvement with SPAW was through a collaboration with SPAW and Unitec in 2013, where I led a group of veterinary nursing students on a vaccination and desexing trip to Tonga – what was to be the first of many. We have done this trip every December until 2019. Covid-19 prevented the 2020 trip from proceeding.

I have been on each of those Unitec/SPAW collaboration trips (seven in total) and supported almost 100 veterinary nursing students to experience veterinary nursing in a pop-up clinic in Tonga, and all that brings.

The ongoing collaboration with SPAW has also meant that Unitec has been able to undertake some research in Tonga, looking at animal health and behaviour in this isolated population.

What do you find rewarding about volunteering?

There are two aspects to the SPAW trips that I value.

Firstly – seeing first hand the difference these trips make to the local community and animal populations. The decrease in unwanted litters, the improving general health of the animals, and the reduction (anecdotally) in dog/human injuries, and flea bite in children, is a very satisfying thing.

Secondly – these trips provide a valuable opportunity for veterinary nursing students and they will learn both technical skills and compassion and empathy that will hold them in good stead for their future animal health careers.

And what have you found to be challenging?

The heat! On a more serious note, the lack of regular veterinary access in the pacific means we often see animals during SPAW trip that are chronically unwell and have been unable to receive much care until a team arrives. With Covid-19 having put a stop to any teams visiting the islands, SPAW is providing a much-needed phone support to various on-island contacts, but we know there will be a lot of work to do when we can travel again.

Another challenge is the lack of supplies on-island. It means taking everything you think you will need and a bit extra. If you run out, there is no contacting a supplier to pick some more up the next day.

After nine years of working with SPAW, what are you most proud of?

Visiting Tonga every December for seven years in a row, it has been amazing to witness the changes happening through the work SPAW is doing with the local community. The improvements in animal care and welfare have been obvious.

My link to Unitec is a key driver for me, as I see how both SPAW and veterinary nursing students benefit from this collaboration, meaning that the work SPAW is doing is also spreading benefit to the New Zealand community.

What would be your advice to others thinking of volunteering?

It is a rewarding experience, and one you won’t regret. I highly recommend you give it a go.

We are a New Zealand based organisation founded because of our strong historical and cultural connections to the Pacific plus a very real need to provide this service. Quite simply, animals need our help – to be a voice to better their lives in whatever way we can. Welcome to our journey.

Contact SPAW
Telephone   + 64 27 527 3642


South Pacific Animal Welfare is a registered charity in New Zealand.

Our registration number is: CC46408