Erin the Animal Welfare Officer Committed to Care at APOPO

Erin Sackett, APOPO’s dedicated Animal Health and Animal Welfare Officer

Meet Erin Sackett, APOPO’s dedicated Animal Health and Welfare Officer in Siem Reap, Cambodia. With a background in wildlife and domesticated animal care spanning nine years, Erin brings a huge amount of knowledge and passion to her role. At APOPO, she ensures, monitors, and provides guidance on the well-being of HeroRATs and HeroDOGs across various countries, including Cambodia, Angola, Azerbaijan, Senegal, South Sudan, and Ukraine.

While all members of staff at APOPO are fully committed to providing the highest level of care to our scent detection animals, it is Erin’s job to ensure that guidelines are followed and that everyone understands what they need to do to keep our heroes in excellent health and that their physical and mental wellbeing is being prioritized.

Erin’s commitment to animal welfare guarantees that APOPO’s scent detection animals receive excellent care, whether they are actively working in the field or enjoying their well-deserved retirement. Dive into our interview with Erin and find out about the essential work she does to support APOPO’s mission and how much she enjoys working with our animals.

What is your name and what do you do at APOPO?

My name is Erin Sackett. I am the Animal Health and Welfare Officer here at APOPO for the rats and dogs living in Cambodia, Angola, Azerbaijan, Senegal, South Sudan, and Ukraine. 

What is your background in animal welfare?

I have nine years of experience working with wildlife and domesticated animals in zoos, wildlife rehabilitation centers, and dog shelters. Much of my work has revolved around evaluating welfare in one form or another – it is intrinsic to daily animal care whether we think about it or not. Welfare is essentially quality of life. Good animal welfare is based on quality nutrition, suitable and engaging environment, health and behavior, and mental engagement. My role here is to make sure that all of these needs are met for all of our animals, regardless of whether they are “off the clock”, working in the field, or living in retirement. 

How did you come to work in the field of animal welfare?

Almost every child wants to be a zookeeper at some point. I just never grew out of it!

How did you first find out about APOPO? What were your initial thoughts?

I first learned of APOPO when someone gifted a HeroRAT adoption package to a friend. I have always been fascinated by the ethical application of animals and ecosystems to address human issues. The interplay between animals and humans is fascinating. APOPO is a perfect example of that. 

What are your responsibilities?

I am responsible for making sure all animal protocols are being followed, updating and writing new protocols, managing medical records and attending medical appointments, and implementing changes as needed. My job is essentially to make sure no animal is left behind or overlooked in terms of care.

What are the challenges of keeping the HeroRATs and HeroDOGs in the best possible conditions, shape, and welfare?

The biggest challenges for our rats are environmental. As our rats are from Tanzania, the differing climates of varying countries present different problems. We do a lot of preventative care. The rats cannot work outside of a specific temperature range and, being largely nocturnal, we keep their working hours very early in the morning. They get sunscreen on their ears and tails to help protect against the sun. 

The dogs are a bit more adaptable to the different locations where APOPO works, but they have their own array of health predispositions to be conscious of. The dogs are so eager to work that the handlers need to be hyper-aware of each dog’s physical limit. The work is essentially a game to them. They would work to the point of self injury if left to work until they lost interest. They’re absolutely incredible. It’s our responsibility to be aware of that and do right by it. 

How well would you say APOPO is doing in terms of animal welfare? What’s already good and what needs improving?

APOPO genuinely cares for the health and welfare of their animals. That’s a rare and lovely thing. They are not treated like tools and their health and happiness is a priority. It is fantastic to work with an organization that wants the best for their animals. Any differences past that can always be worked through and found solutions for. There is always room for improvement in that we should always be open to learning and to new ideas.

Animals’ – and people’s – performance is so closely linked with welfare. No one is going to do their best work when they are unhappy, hurt, or stressed. It’s not only in our best interest to give our animals the best care for ethical reasons, but also in terms of the end result. The better any of us are emotionally, physically, and mentally, the better equipped we are to clear the world of landmines.

Have there been any surprises about working with APOPO and our scent detection animals?

I have worked with other rodents in the past, so I thought I would be prepared for some big rat personalities. I was not. They are even more delightful than they seem. Each HeroRAT has a lot of loud opinions that they are not against sharing. You do not know guilt until you try removing an unauthorized banana from an African giant pouched rat

Is there anything else you’d like to tell APOPO’s supporters?

If you are ever in the area, please do not hesitate to stop by the APOPO Visitor Center and meet some of our rats! I can be found checking them all every morning. I am lucky that my career here at APOPO revolves around animals; it makes for endless opportunities to work with some wonderful four-legged heroes.