Veterinary rehab nurse Sheree Smith (nee Elliott, Harington 1999-2000) is on a mission to educate those in the industry about managing pain among animals – the natural way.
It was while working in the UK, that Sheree discovered nutraceuticals for animals. Seeing first-hand the benefits of Nutravet, a natural supplement, prompted her to bring the product back to New Zealand.
“Most vets and pet owners, prefer to combat pain with drugs. I checked the market before moving back and there isn’t a lot available here in the way of nutraceuticals or if there is, it is very pricey. I wanted to ensure I could supply an effective product that would be affordable.”
Trading under Kinesis Veterinary, Sheree started Nutravet NZ in June of last year. She now has nearly 40 vet practices throughout the country as stockists.
“Nutravet has a unique combination of ingredients – glucosamine and chondroitin, which help lubricate and support the animal’s joint capsules; boswellia, a natural inflammatory that plays an important role in maintaining smooth joint movement; as well as an extract of turmeric, which as we all know has many health benefits.”
“It is also a product where one size fits all – from cats up to large dogs. If they do still require drugs, they can half their dosages when combined with Nutravet, which is good for animals who get upset stomachs from certain medications.”
For Sheree, educating vets about this natural alternative is key and in her short time doing so, she can already see a shift in mindset. “It is awesome to see changes like this happening in New Zealand in the animal world.”
“Natural products are becoming a more effective way to go in terms of combatting pain and giving the body what it needs to not only recover quickly but maintain a healthier state as the body ages.”
Growing up on a farm in Morrinsville, Sheree has always been around animals.
At school, Biology was one of her interests, but having failed a fifth form exam at her previous high school, she knew she needed a “kick up the bum” academically. “I came to St Paul’s in Year 12 and Dr Etheridge, my science and biology teacher, was a huge inspiration to me. She knew I needed to catch up so took extra time to help me regain my focus. This is also what sparked my passion for studying animals at the cellular level.”
Going on to complete a Diploma of Veterinary Nursing at Unitech in Auckland, Sheree then landed her first job at a nursing practice in Mt Wellington, Auckland. During this time, she appeared on the ‘SPCA Rescue’ TV programme. “We were filmed for a couple of episodes, one which included tracking down the owner of a cat that had travelled from one side of Auckland to the other – it had been missing for over a year!”
“My time in my first practice was a little daunting. You soon find that while you were taught one way, the reality of the job is quite different. We were also located in an area where we would see a lot of fighting dogs that had been held up at gunpoint. It really threw me in the deep end, but was a great way to learn how to deal with a variety of cases.”
After taking some time off to travel, Sheree took a role at a children’s holiday camp in England, it was here she met her now-husband Lee.
“I thought I would give working with children a go as physical education was another career path I had considered after being involved with sport (netball and rowing) at school. It was also a good stepping stone for securing a visa to live and work in the UK.”
Working with children however, wasn’t for her – her passion remained with animals.
“My Diploma came in handy when applying for jobs as it is equivalent to the UK nursing degree. I did some locum work all over the UK from small practices to large.”
This experience led her to one of the highlights of her career, a role working for one of the largest referral centres in the UK – the Willows Veterinary Referral Centre – a practice that performs large-scale surgeries including spinal surgeries, hip replacements, eye surgeries and chemotherapy.
“My two years there were amazing. The nurses get to do so much, from the initial admittance through to the post theatre procedures. I am more of a hands-on person, so this was perfect for me.”
Amid frequent trips back and forward to New Zealand, Sheree decided to shift her line of work to hydrotherapy, helping cats and dogs to walk again through water.
She completed a Diploma in Hydrotherapy and helped run a small centre alongside a veterinary hospital in the UK.
“Buoyancy helps take pressure off the joints and warm water helps with natural pain relief, so combined you get a better range of motion.”
It was here she was first introduced to nutraceuticals.
“We stocked Nutravet at the clinic and part of our rehab plan was to ask if the animals were on any kind of joint support – most weren’t.”
“I remember one 12-year-old Labrador that was skin and bone. The owners just assumed it was due to old age but it was apparent the dog was in pain. We put him on the Nutravet joint support and the next time I saw him, which was a week later, he was a completely different dog – walked in wagging his tail and he had so much more energy.”
Following that, I started to do more research into nutraceuticals. Animals are living longer and being treated more like members of the family, so for me it is important to be actively looking for ways to ensure we are supporting their ongoing health.”
Having moved back to New Zealand in March last year, Sheree and Lee are now based in the Bay of Plenty with their three young daughters and a Cavalier King Charles named Charlee. On the side, they operate a passionfruit orchard – one of only 50 in New Zealand.
While educating vets and others working in the industry about Nutravet takes up most of her time, she does continue to do some rehab work and recently published her first article in the New Zealand Vet Nursing Times.
“It’s a rewarding industry to work in, yes there are many sad moments, but also plenty of good ones, especially when you see an animal walk out happier and healthier than before.”