An Exclusive Interview with Dr. Cecilia Boklin, fellow Sabahan, founder and one of the panel vets at Kinabalu Animal Clinic about juggling work and family, behind the scenes of a vet’s life to benefits in having pets for families.
ON HER BEGINNINGS
As with any inspiring story, Dr. Cecilia shares her humbling beginnings and aspirations on how she began pursuing a career in the veterinary path, “I have always loved animals big and small. When I was young we had dogs and cats as well as chickens and ducks in our backyard. My late grandfather had buffaloes and geese too.” She adds, “my eldest sister brought me to ride a horse during one of the Sabah state veterinary department open day, with all these exposures, I became more and more nurtured into animal caring.”
However, it was a visit from a vet during career week at secondary school when she was 17, that served as a catalyst that propelled her into her current line of work. “He shared about his interesting experiences in treating animals, and this had actually enlightened me to become a veterinarian myself,” she recalls, “I actually persuaded my father to send our dogs for a checkup at the veterinary clinic just so that I could get a glimpse of how the veterinary clinic looked like.”
Rolling fresh out of secondary school and with a steadfast ambition in mind, Dr. Cecilia wasted no time in pursuing her dream. She went on to study Matriculation at Kolej Ibu Kota Kinabalu and applied Veterinary Medicine as her first choice in the UPU form. “It was by God’s wonderful grace that I received the letter to study exactly what I really hoped for.” She went on to studying veterinary medicine at University Putra Malaysia in 2001 and graduated with a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine in 2006.
ON INGREDIENTS TO A MEANINGFUL CAREER
Upon graduating, Dr. Cecilia worked in a variety of settings from Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in Sandakan to a referral animal hospital and as a lecturer of Diploma in Veterinary Biosciences in Singapore. After working abroad over the years, Dr. Cecilia decided to return to her beloved hometown and has been treating the pets and animals of the people of Sabah since 2015.
Even with more than a decade of experience under her belt, she establishes that the same spark and fervor is still the driving force behind her work. “The same passion still moves me, but with 13 years of experience in treating different types of animals and meeting people in different positions and fields such as senior veterinarians, colleagues, researchers, students, tourists, pet owners and so on,” she says, “I’ve come to realize that passion is just one of the many layers that make up a flavorful lasagna. Hard work, resilience, humility, and determination make up other contents.” Dr. Cecilia mentions that above all, it’s always the love to teach people regarding the knowledge of treating and saving the lives of animals that burns the brightest.
ON HER REWARDING AND HEARTBREAKING MOMENTS
As her profession requires her to work closely with animals, Dr. Cecilia has encountered many rewarding experiences in her line of work. “I experienced many unforgettable moments being a vet. I had a first-hand experience to rescue a baby Orang-utan from a plantation. I watched it grow, treated it when it got really sick with transient malarial fevers until it recovered enough to be sent back to the wild primary forest where it belongs.” She recollects proudly.
“I also had the opportunity to share these moments in Among the Great Apes with Michelle Yeoh which was filmed by National Geographic in 2009. Such bittersweet feelings to see the Orang-utans leave the centre but indeed very rewarding to see them back in their natural habitat!” With highs of highs comes lows of lows too. “For me, the most heartbreaking thing working as a vet is performing euthanasia on an animal.” She mentions with sadness. “Recently I had to put to sleep an 11-year old dog with multiple lymphoma cancer. While I was doing it, the owner, a senior lady and the dog looked into each other’s eyes without a single blink till it’s last breath. I really had to pull myself together and maintain my composure. Owner hugged me afterwards and thank me for ending her dog’s suffering. It was indeed heart-wrenching.”
Link to Among The Great Apes: https://www.revolvy.com/page/Among-the-Great-Apes-with-Michelle-Yeoh
Link to Among The Great Apes: http://natgeotv.com/asia/among-the-great-apes/about
ON JUGGLING HER CAREER AND MOTHERHOOD
Between working full time at her thriving animal practice and being a mom to three wonderful children, Dr. Cecilia shares her secret to juggling working and motherhood. “I spend time with my children very early in the morning before work, during lunch hour, and after work till their bedtime.” While she works she adds that her husband takes hold of the household responsibilities. “Sometimes I get really exhausted after a long day with many surgical procedures and meeting clients’ needs, but when I reached home and I’m greeted by them I feel happy and in ‘full-charged’ mode again.”
With having a heavy work schedule, how does she cope with working mom guilt?
“I have two special needs children, and a toddler at home who need their mother to be with them all the time. I feel guilty going to work and being away from them. This is the main reason my husband and myself made the big move from the super hectic Singapore back to Sabah, so we can have a more flexible time to spend with the children.” In line with this, Dr. Cecilia wastes no time as all her time off-work goes straight to the kids. “Most, if not all of my non-working hours everyday are allocated for my children. Sundays and Public holidays are all spent with the kids.” She states. “I love doing crafts and artworks with the children and singing nursery rhymes with my toddler. During holidays, my husband I always bring them to local resorts so they can play safely in the pool. They also enjoy brisk walking under the bright morning sun with sand under their feet!” She adds excitedly.
ON PET LIFE WITH HER FAMILY & ADVICE TO PARENTS
In terms of pets, it comes as no surprise that Dr. Cecilia and her family is a proud owner of an adorable mixed breed Japanese dog named Sky, whose siblings are Ocean, Moon and Cloud have become the clinic’s official pets. “Animals are intelligent and most of them can be trained to perform many tasks. Some dogs have very gentle and loving personalities and these dogs are suitable to become service dogs for senior citizens, physically disable people and also the blind. Some have laid-back personalities and can become comfort pets for young children and also special needs children” she says.
Deriving from her family’s relationship with their pet Sky, Dr. Cecilia believes that having pets benefit the entire family, “Having pets can help build family bonds. Most children and parents consider their pets as part of the family. Animal often becomes the focus of activities that families do together and this helps families grow stronger and closer.” This example can be perfectly illustrated in Dr. Cecilia morning routine, “My husband and I will let the children play with our dog, Sky, in front of the house. We feed him, clean him and the area where he stays, and during this time the children will play with our dog.” Drawing from personal experiences, she also believes having pets playing a crucial role in child development. “Animals offer a special kind of bond with children, with companionship and often delights. Caring for animals teaches children responsibility and empathy.
Along with these, presence of animals in and around the house helps foster my children’s emotional, cognitive, social and physical development.” For families considering adopting a pet, Dr. Cecilia offers some solid advice in bringing up a pet within a family. “The benefits of pet ownership come with responsibilities. To be a responsible pet owner, all family members must be able to give a full commitment.
Keep only the type and number of pets for which you can provide appropriate food, water, shelter, health care and most importantly, companionship.” She goes on to add, “If you have a child with allergies, it is beneficial to get allergy testing done to determine the substances that might trigger an allergic response in your child, and it will help to rule out additional allergies which could be caused by a pet’s diet or bedding. This will also help a family to make an informed decision about what type of pet to have. When selecting a pet, choose a pet that is suited to your home and lifestyle.”
Lastly, have any of her kids expressed interest in following the footsteps of their mom? “My youngest child, she is only 2 years old, but she already knows the names of over 50 animals because her favourite show is Wild Animal Babies in TVIQ and Cute Alert! on Nat Geo Wild. She has a genuine love for animals – so who knows maybe one day she will develop the interest to be a vet like her mother!” She laughs.
For more information on Kinabalu Animal Clinic and the services they offer, you can find them on Facebook at Kinabalu Animal Clinic or you may log onto their website at https://www.kinabaluvet.com. To set up an appointment, they may be reached at 088-385 804.
Interviewed and Written by Eve Bandusena, Editorial Assistant