Specialization Spotlight: Dr. Heather Reid's Journey to Wildlife Medicine

January 30, 2023

Last month I traveled to Nepal to visit two dog rescue centres supported by Animal Experience International, an organization I co-founded 10 years ago. Dr. Joshi, the Nepali vet we work with, told me how the vet school in Nepal only teaches its students about agricultural species and nothing about small animal medicine. To work with dogs and cats, Dr. Joshi had to travel abroad to learn small animal medicine and surgery skills! With this knowledge, he dedicated his career to helping community dog health initiatives and teaching vet students important skills in this field.


I could relate to what Dr. Joshi was telling me; here in Canada, veterinary schools focus on agricultural animals and domestic species like dogs and cats, but not on avian and exotic species. And students learn even less about wildlife medicine, the topic in which I was most interested! I now consider myself to be a wildlife veterinarian, and I have spent the last 25 years as the veterinary director at Toronto Wildlife Centre. But in order to master this specialty, I too had to seek out specific training opportunities abroad and learn a lot on my own along the way. And like Dr. Joshi, I have helped put in place a training program in wildlife medicine to help teach local students and veterinarians.


Wildlife conservation is what drew me to veterinary medicine in the first place. I now know that there are many paths to helping wildlife, and a career in the veterinary field is just one small way that people can get involved and make a difference. But for me it has been a good fit - I am fascinated by biology, enjoy the complexities and problem solving that comes with veterinary science, and like the hands-on, technical side of the profession. And I enjoy working with students and volunteers who are also excited by wildlife conservation. 




As a wildlife veterinarian I work with over 270 species of Ontario wildlife at the Toronto Wildlife Centre, the largest wildlife rehabilitation centre in Canada. We admit over 6,000 sick, injured or orphaned wild animals each year, many of which need urgent medical care. TWC is an accredited veterinary hospital, with one full-time, three part-time and several volunteer veterinarians, a veterinary intern and four veterinary technicians. Our hospital is very busy!


I started Animal Experience International 10 years ago as a way of not only providing support to wildlife conservation and animal welfare organizations around the globe, but supplying amazing experiences for people wanting to help and learn as well. My co-founder, Nora Livingstone, and I curate and coordinate travel experiences to more than 15 different countries. AEI volunteers help with sea turtle conservation in Costa Rica, dolphin conservation in Croatia, and wild horse conservation in Mongolia. They travel to Guatemala, Malawi, Australia and Thailand to help with wildlife rescue and rehabilitation projects. And of course AEI clients volunteer at dog rescue centres in countries like Mexico and Nepal. 


I have never been afraid to dream big, or to find (or create!) a path when it was less than obvious or easy. My biggest piece of advice would be to show up, volunteer, network, and get involved in the things that excite you. I volunteered at Toronto Wildlife Centre when I was still a vet student, and because they knew me and how enthusiastic I was, they eventually offered me a position. Some of it is luck, but a lot is being present and engaged. There are so many paths that you can take to follow your passion. Enjoy the process - and perhaps I will see you on an AEI adventure or at Toronto Wildlife Centre as a student or volunteer one day!


By Heather Reid, DVM, Head Wildlife Veterinarian, Toronto Wildlife Centre