Meet The Couple Who Sails Around The World Helping Animals

"I love that we never have to turn an animal away."

Sailing around the world with a loved one, stopping only to provide veterinary care to adorable animals, might sound like a dream, but for Sheridan and Joel Lathe it's just their everyday reality. 

"We both love to travel, and during veterinary school, I had to complete compulsory placements. I decided I wasn't going to use all my holidays working at local veterinary clinics so applied to do a volunteer stint in Rarotonga (Cook Islands)," Sheridan Lathe told A Plus via email. After she was accepted into the program, she and Joel stayed there for four weeks. "That inspired us even more to continue traveling after I graduated," she explained. 

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From there, Sheridan volunteered in Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam before going on to work for Animals Asia, a charity that rescues bears in China. Having been together for 10 years (married for four) ever since they met at a university in Townsvillle on the eastern coast of Australia, it was only natural to find a way to combine Sheridan's passion of helping animals and travelling, with Joel's desire to own a boat. Though it seemed nearly impossible at first, the couple one day decided to take the plunge and bought their current boat, Chuffed (which means "very pleased" in British English). They set up a mobile veterinary clinic in the boat and, with that, declared themselves "Vet Tails' Sailing Chuffed," which also became the name of the couple's website and YouTube page, chronicling their adventures and offering animal care advice to readers. 

Joel spends most of his time manning the boat while Sheridan womans the operation table, and they often work together with Joel as an honorary vet nurse and Sheridan as an honorary handywoman. Partners to a fault, they follow each other's leads whenever need be.  Joel is at the helm, both literally and figuratively, with all things boat related, such as fixing engines, leaky windows, and bad wiring. Working together on the boat has provided the couple with some of their most treasured memories. "The first time we got the sails up properly, turned the motor off, and just let the wind take us was such an amazing feeling for us both," Sheridan recalled. "And it didn't happen that quickly because there were so many repairs to be done first!" 

When it comes time to dock and do veterinary work, however, the roles are reversed. "Joel always tells the locals, I'm the Hefe (boss lady)," Sheridan said. According to her, Joel "has a natural affinity with animals," who are similarly "obsessed" with him. No matter who's in charge at the time, the couple are always each other's biggest cheerleaders. "If I am getting stressed in a difficult surgery he [Joel] will tell me, 'Hey, you've got this. You've done worse surgeries than this before," Sheridan said. "And if an animal is having a bad anesthetic, and Joel is trying to manage it, I reassure him, too." 

Outside of work, the couple's overall unique lifestyle has enabled them to deepen their bond in a way they never could on land. On the boat, they don't have a television or many other distractions. The first time the couple went to the remote Islands in Panama, they were the only boat in the entire area, which felt a bit strange. 

"There really was nothing to do but sit around and talk. We would play cards, chess and just reminisce about our pasts and talk about our futures," Sheridan recalled. "I never realized how easy it is to ignore your partner in day-to-day life — you both get home from work at 6 p.m., someone's cooking dinner, then you put the TV on, and it's just so easy to not have a real conversation for days at a time. Whereas on the boat, we have actually gotten to know each other even better. And nothing is secret on a 37-foot boat!" 

Sheridan was quick to note that while their relationship has grown stronger and deeper through their experience, it's certainly "not always sunshine and rainbows."  Working and living with someone all day, every day in a small space can be hard sometimes — no matter how much you love each other. "If you are feeling a bit cranky, it is really easy to step on each other's toes, literally sometimes," she said. "And there is no escaping each other after an argument. But it means we resolve issues quickly, which is nice." With what little room the couple has between them, they've learned how to give each other space when they need it. While Joel might opt for listening to music downstairs, Sheridan will steal away to the deck with a good book. 

Though it's not always smooth sailing, the couple both feel healthier, more in tune with the world, and happier since embarking on this adventure together. "Instead of worrying about traffic or which brand of milk to buy, we worry about 'real' things like if the storm will come over our boat, or if our engine will fail next to a rock (which it did!)," Sheridan said. "There [are far fewer] day-to-day stressors than you encounter in 9-5 jobs, and we get to choose when to do work and when we need a break ... It really has made us 'Chuffed'!"

Whatever sacrifices and successes the couple has encountered on their journey, for them, every second has been worth it. "I love that we never have to turn an animal away. It doesn't matter if the owner has no money or if the animal doesn't even have an owner," Sheridan said of the most rewarding part of her work. "They can be any species, from any background, and we can help." This wouldn't be possible working in a traditional veterinary clinic where, Sheridan added, "Money is, unfortunately, an issue, and we can only do so much for free." She and Joel, however, can offer as much as they can in every case they see. 

The couple plans to continue helping animals as the integral part of their permanent lifestyle, though they may eventually venture back on land to continue their veterinary work in new locations. "Either way," Sheridan said, "it will still be Chuffed Adventures, and we still will be travelling around helping animals in need!"

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