2008: A Look Back At Our Success

December 8, 2008

by Eric Davis, DVM

One would normally start an end of the year report by saying "As the year winds down … " While I suppose that is true for most, for the staff and volunteers of HSVMA Rural Area Veterinary Services (HSVMA-RAVS), it is hard to imagine that 2008 is ending. The fact is that our "season" never seems to stop.

The end of this year finds Cindy McLinn returning from a very successful trip caring for horses in Mexico; Dr. Dave Turoff leaving to help a group stop horse fighting in the Philippines; and Windi Wojdak, our U.S. Program Director, putting the finishing touches on reservation trips for next year. Our group rounded out the year with the same amount of enthusiasm and almost as much energy as we had in January.

Impressive results

Dr. Monger and group
Dr. Susan Monger teaches a group of students this year in El Salvador.

Looking back on 2008, the statistics for our team were impressive. More than $1 million worth of free veterinary care was delivered to 6,500 animals by 600 volunteer veterinarians, students and technicians.

Our teams operated clinics from Mandaree, N.D., to Colán, Peru. We spayed dogs, castrated mustangs, treated cats with respiratory disease, and removed rotten teeth on donkeys.

HSVMA staff also instructed veterinary students—coming from 20 veterinary schools in the USA and Europe—in surgery, anesthesia, analgesia and humane animal handling.

Dr. Susan Monger, HSVMA-RAVS International Director, worked with veterinary students and faculty at schools in Mexico and El Salvador, and announced that in 2009, the international program will expand to Bolivia.

Rising to the occasion

These success stories wouldn't be possible without our extraordinary team of veterinary professionals, but this year our student interns—Liz Craig and Erin Updegrove—really rose to the occasion and performed far beyond our expectations.

While all of our student volunteers work hard, the HSVMA-RAVS interns are given extra duties and spend many more weeks on the road.

Liz performing surgery
Liz Craig, an intern with HSVMA-RAVS, performs surgery on a dog.

Long days consist of helping with surgery, anesthesia and general veterinary care on reservations in the western United States, as well as learning the logistics of successfully maintaining a large veterinary aid program.

Interns load our 30-foot trailer with equipment, keep inventory on supplies, enter data and instructing volunteers to follow our standard operating procedures.

Night after night, these folks slept on the floor of a gym or community building, woke up before dawn to work 14 hours in a field clinic, and then directed the packing and loading of all the equipment to move to another location.

For Erin Updegrove and Liz Craig, this went on for two months, with only short breaks between trips.

Hard work pays off

FS team at night
Field Services staff, interns and volunteers wind down at the end of a long day.

Ever energetic, ever meticulous, ever ready to do their best, ever the common thread that kept the clinics consistent from one week to the next—they worked together to make the summer's reservation clinics a huge success.

In fact, we will be taking on five interns next summer to do the job that they did in 2008.

I have the opportunity to work with a lot of cool people, who really care about animals and sacrifice a lot in this job.

To watch two students give and learn so much in a year is extremely gratifying. Such things cannot be adequately described in "year-end statistics," and it gives one hope for the future of our program, veterinary medicine and animal protection.

Dr. Eric Davis developed the HSVMA Rural Area Veterinary Services (HSVMA-RAVS) program in 1995 and has served as mentor and inspiration to hundreds of young veterinary professionals over the years. He continues his hard work in the field and is currently a consultant for the program.