By Jennifer Wiese, Lead Veterinary Technician |Humane Pennsylvania
I recently had the opportunity to volunteer with a nonprofit veterinary program called RAVS. The Rural Area Veterinary Services is an outreach program that combines community service, veterinary care and mentorship to bring free pet care services to underserved rural communities.
In these communities, poverty and geographic isolation make regular veterinary care inaccessible. RAVS focuses on wellness care where spaying and neutering are extremely important. They also provide intestinal parasite control, preventative medications and vaccinations, soft tissue surgeries (tumor removal, hernia repair) and urgent care issues.
My particular trip was located at White Mountain on the Apache Tribe reservation in Arizona. The majority of the community is living at or below poverty level. Often these clinics are their only source for veterinary care for their pets. The majority of the team was made up of veterinary students, as the program is geared towards those seeking certification in veterinary care. We had seven RAVS staff veterinarians and technicians and about thirteen volunteers comprised of; veterinarians, licensed, and unlicensed technicians.
The clinic ran for seven days. Day 1 was travel, set up and orientation. Day 2-6 was surgery and wellness clinic and day 7 was wellness clinic, tear down and travel. My days started at 6:00am or earlier and the day ended at 10:00pm. During this particular clinic we saw a total of 589 patients and performed over 200 surgeries.
Early each morning, clients would line up outside of the facility in order to be sure that their pets were scheduled for spay or neutering services. This list would quickly fill up and sometimes clients had several pets in need of care.
Unfortunately, the majority of the patients we saw were immune compromised making it impossible for the animal to fight infectious diseases. Mange and tick disease were prevalent as most of the pets that were brought to us live outside 24hrs a day, 7 days a week. During the day they roam the reservation returning home at night. Because so many of the pets were unneutered or not spayed, I expected to see more aggression among them or toward us, but that was not the case.
I found it interesting that some pets were anxious about entering the building or walking on the smooth floors but realized many have never experienced being indoors. However, most pets were very sweet and were happy to be handled and shown attention.
Part of my responsibility was to help the students but I also learned important things myself…
While being a vet tech can be difficult in the face of neglect or improper care, it is important not to judge pet owners in these circumstances.
Proper care can be many miles away if available at all and many find it financially difficult to provide proper veterinary care for their pets. Additionally, I learned how to come together with “strangers” to install and prepare an efficiently run clinic with the common goal of providing a desperately needed service to that area of the US. I have been asked to volunteer again and look forward to the opportunity to serve in a capacity that will enrich my skills, both in veterinary care and good will.