Lisa Shriver, DVM, and her fellow Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association-Rural Area Veterinary Services program (HSVMA-RAVS) volunteers were practicing at San Carlos Apache Reservation in San Carlos, Ariz., when they met Mini, their last patient of the day. Upon examining her, they made the startling realization that her chain-link collar had become embedded in her neck. (Click here to see more photos of the procedure.)
“The skin on the neck had actually healed through the links, so it looked liked she had chain-link piercings,” says Shriver, a nonprofit veterinarian based in Columbus, Ohio. “The owners felt very bad when they found out—they genuinely didn’t know because of the amount of hair on this German shepherd.”
After Shriver and her team shaved Mini and gave her pain medication, they cut each chain link out of her neck with bolt cutters. The volunteers were able to remove the collar without any trauma to the patient.
“Not only did Mini receive preventative care—vaccinations, deworming, physical exam and flea prevention—but we were able to assist with this injury and educate the owners,” Shriver says. “Without RAVS, who knows how long it would have been until the collar was discovered?”
Given that there aren’t any veterinary clinics near the reservation, Shriver says it would have been extremely difficult for the pet owners to remove the embedded chain and treat the wound on their own. In hopes of preventing these types of risks for pet owners, HSVMA-RAVS volunteers treat more than 8,600 animals like Mini every year. Shriver says their mission is to provide veterinary care to pet owners who don’t have access, either due to their rural location or financial situation.
“For a lot of people it’s a combination of the two issues,” Shriver says. “The nearest veterinary clinic might be two-plus hours away and they don’t even have the gas money to get there.”
She says the program provides high quality care, often in less-than-ideal field environments, e.g. local schools, gyms and Boys and Girls Clubs of America. All surgical patients receive presurgical exams, IV catheters, and intubation and IV fluids during surgery. Anesthesia students stay with these patients from the moment of induction until they leave the recovery area. They monitor pets’ heart rates, respiratory rates, mucous membrane color, capillary refill time, temperature and other anesthetic depth indicators.
Shriver started volunteering with HSVMA-RAVS in 2006 when she was a student at The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine. She had the opportunity to get comfortable with anesthesia and other surgical procedures—an experience that she says was invaluable to her career.
“Our teaching programs include training in medicine and surgery as well as community education and recognition of animal health problems in economically disadvantaged populations,” says HSVMA-RAVS director Windi Wojdak, RVT, based in Felton, Calif.
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In 2012, RAVS will operate approximately 23 weeklong clinics. The U.S. teams work in remote and economically challenged Native American reservations in Arizona, South Dakota, North Dakota and Washington. The small animal international teams work to improve veterinary training in resource-challenged veterinary colleges, primarily in Latin America. The international equine teams provide care to horses in remote communities in Guatemala, Peru and Nicaragua.
Though volunteers travel the globe, Wojdak makes it clear that HSVMA-RAVS trips are no vacation. She says the days start early and end late, sixteen-hour workdays aren’t uncommon and accommodations generally consist of camping on the floor of a high school gym—often without hot water or showers.
“A typical one-week small animal reservation clinic might perform around 200 spay and neuter surgeries, in addition to providing vaccinations, health exams and other wellness care for another 250 or more pets,” Wojdak says.
Shriver agrees it’s hard work but says it’s always worth it. The clinics are first come first served, and often there are lines and lines of pet owners waiting for the doors to open at 7:30 a.m. “We try to be efficient but sometimes there are so many people needing care that they’ll wait several hours for their appointment,” Shriver says. “The pet owners love their animals and are very dedicated to getting care when the have that opportunity.” She also takes the time to educate pet owners on proper veterinary care as much as she can, mainly because it could be her only chance. Although HSVMA-RAVS visits each reservation at least once a year, the goal is to increase these opportunities.
“In an effort to address severe animal and human health issues on several Arizona reservations, we have increased our presence in these communities and are returning several times this year to provide additional vaccine, wellness and public health education,” Wojdak says.
These reservations have been infected with diseases such as parvovirus, canine distemper virus, sarcoptic mange and tick-borne diseases. Shriver says every trip is a learning experience—and not just for the students. She saw her first case of Rocky Mountain spotted fever last month.
“On the last trip to Arizona, I heard a student say they were taught that there was hardly any canine distemper virus around any more,” Shriver says. “Perhaps that’s true in some areas where dogs are well-vaccinated, but in reality there are many areas where these diseases are not uncommon.” She’s thrilled to go back to Arizona with HSVMA-RAVS this year. “It’s really nice to know that the animals who needed follow-up care were actually going to receive it,” Shriver says.
Click here to see more pictures of these nonprofit veterinarians in action.