A Force To Be Reckoned With

September 1, 2009

By Eric Davis, DVM

Like a well-oiled machine, there are a number of key components to ensure that everything from the physical exams to the surgeries run smoothly in a field clinic.good trip leaders; anesthesia coordinators; surgery supervisors; and wellness veterinarians, technicians, and students all play critical roles.

However, the one position that makes it all come together, that determines the true success of a clinic and really requires special skills is the Receiving Coordinator. This person is the face of the organization and the first contact that community residents have when they bring their animals to an HSVMA Rural Area Veterinary Services (HSVMA-RAVS) Field Clinic.

One of a kind

Since appointments don't work on the reservations, the Receiving Coordinator has to deal with an onslaught of people and animals, all coming in on a "first come, first serve" basis.

Tammy speaks to resident
Tammy Rouse talks to a woman about the care of her two dogs.

Health problems have to be triaged, positions in the line negotiated, and chaos averted. With only minutes—or even less—to talk to each person, the Receiving Coordinator has to communicate very accurately, but with compassion and understanding. He or she has to be a good listener and have the ability to recognize an animal's condition and discuss options with the caregiver. This can literally be the difference between life and death for the animal.

HSVMA-RAVS is very fortunate to have Tammy Rouse as a staff Receiving Coordinator. I first met Tammy way back in the old days when this program was just getting started in eastern Tennessee. She had organized a spay/neuter clinic in a double wide trailer, in the little Appalachian town of Maynardville, Tennessee. The clinic was so well organized and the client education so impressive that I recruited Tammy to set up clinics not only in Tennessee, but also on Indian reservations from Arizona to North Dakota.

Over the years, Tammy has worked with HSVMA-RAVS in a number of locations, including the remote island of Palau in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, where she was instrumental in the development of not only veterinary services, but also animal control and sheltering protocols.

Tammy also ran our weekend Appalachian clinics for many years, arranging facilities with communities in Ohio, Tennessee, and Georgia; recruiting veterinarians; managing supplies; making the 8 and 10 hour drives nearly every weekend to the clinic sites; and, yes, being at the door of each clinic to receive clients and their animals.

But even that wasn't enough to tire her out.

A force to be reckoned with

In addition to her work on our field clinics, Tammy drove the development of the Union County Humane Society, which started from nothing and became one of the only shelters in rural eastern Tennessee. She also helped facilitate a spay/neuter clinic which now provides services for both Union and Hancock counties.

As part of her local efforts, she has also been a determined force for animal abuse prevention and law enforcement, taking on hoarders, cock fighters, dog fighters, and anyone that would treat the defenseless cruelly.

This has often required confrontation not only with the abusers, but also with local sheriffs who—until they met Tammy—refused to take animal welfare laws seriously.

Her accomplishments don't end there: She has assisted with hurricane disaster response in Florida and Mississippi, puppy mill rescues in Arkansas, and animal control officer training on the Navajo reservation.

It's clear that Tammy's credentials and exploits are endless.

Seeing is believing

To really appreciate her work, you just have to see her in action, one on one, at the receiving area of a clinic. Her performance in the rescue of Teddy Bear, the dog with the mangled leg, suffering from starvation and maggot infestation at Inchelium, Washington, was a perfect example.

The dog came from homeless people who were down on their luck, with nothing to feed their dogs but potatoes and no place to keep them besides the back of a run-down pickup truck. They had kept their injured dog, Teddy Bear, for days—with a broken leg and multiple wounds—not knowing what to do.

Yet in a just a few moments, Tammy helped them realize that their dog desperately needed veterinary care and that the best thing for them to do was to relinquish him to a good home. She rounded up donations of food for them and counseled them on options for their other pets.

All of those years of experience in animal protection and care were summed up when Tammy convinced the tearful, ragged lady to get the necessary care for Teddy.

"Sister, you know this is the right thing to do", was all she said.

Simple and caring, yet firm and to the point—this pretty well sums up Tammy Rouse.

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.