Madison Stahle travels to Thailand to work with elephants

Thu, 02/06/2020 - 10:00am

    This winter, 2017 Boothbay Region High School graduate Madison Stahle, 21, of Orono, Maine, spent two weeks in Thailand helping animals and learning hands-on what it’s like to be a veterinarian. Traveling with study-abroad organization Loop Abroad, Madison was selected as part of a small team that volunteered giving care at a dog shelter and spent a week working directly with rescued elephants at an elephant sanctuary.

    The veterinary service program brings students to Thailand for two weeks to volunteer alongside veterinarians from the U.S. and Thailand. For one week, Madison and her team volunteered at an elephant sanctuary outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand to work with the giant animals and learn about animal rescue and conservation on a larger scale.

    The elephants at the sanctuary have been rescued from trekking, logging, or forced breeding programs. Many of them had been abused and suffer from chronic injuries or blindness. At the elephant sanctuary, they are cared for by volunteers from all over the world. Madison helped to feed and care for elephants, as well as learn about their diagnoses alongside an elephant vet. The sanctuary is also home to over 1,000 animals, including cats, dogs, water buffalo, horses, and cows, and is sustained in huge part by the work of weekly volunteers like Stahle.

    For the other week, Stahle volunteered at a dog rescue clinic in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The shelter is home to dogs who have been rescued after being abandoned, beaten, or abused.

    While she studied under the veterinarians leading her group, Madison and her team made a difference in the lives of these dogs. By providing check-ups and cleanings, diagnosing and treating ear and eye problems, taking and testing blood, administering vaccines, cleaning and treating wounds, and helping with sterilization surgeries, the students were able to help support the health and well-being of these dogs.

    By following a study abroad model instead of a voluntourism model, Loop focuses on educating its students so that they can contribute and serve in meaningful ways. It also works with locally run animal welfare organizations so that students contribute to long-term improvement on the ground in the countries they visit. With programs in Thailand, South Africa, Australia, Belize, and the Amazon and Galapagos, Loop Abroad is able to support animal welfare and conservation around the world because of its students and their dedication to helping animals in need.

    The program’s managing director Jane Stine says, “Loop Abroad students come from all across the U.S. and around the world, and from all different backgrounds. But over 11 years of programming, what our students continue to share is their eagerness to learn more about their world and to build their own skills so that they can make an informed, positive impact in their communities and beyond. We love seeing students use what they learned during their program to shape their education and reach their professional goals.”

    Loop Abroad has animal science, marine biology, and veterinary programs for students and young adults age 14 to 30, and offers financial aid and fundraising help. Programs range from two weeks in summer or winter to a full semester abroad, and college credit is available. Interested participants can inquire or apply at

    Admission to veterinary programs is selective and Stahle was selected based on her transcript, admissions essay and professional references.

    Of her trip, Stahle says, “This trip was a once in a lifetime experience for me. It has opened many doors for me in furthering my career, from connecting with veterinarians around the world to learning techniques such as blood draws on elephants. In addition, I volunteered my time scooping elephant poop which is a very humbling job. Lastly, I was able to immerse myself in a new culture which was unlike anything I have experienced before. This trip has confirmed my love for veterinary medicine and encouraged me to continue pursuing my goals.”

    Stahle is a junior at University of Maine, majoring in animal veterinary science with a minor in equine studies.