HSVMA-RAVS: An Invaluable Experience
October 13, 2011
By Joy Trendelman
Each year, the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association-Rural Area Veterinary Services (HSVMA-RAVS) program provides medical care to over 8,000 animals in underserved rural communities where poverty and geographic seclusion make regular veterinary care unattainable. The mobile clinic has traveled across the United States and visited more than 40 different Native American reservations in need of veterinary assistance. While organization is bewildering to most, the staff of the HSVMA-RAVS program is no stranger to strict structure. After arrival at the designated location, we had a fully-functioning, highly-efficient veterinary clinic constructed within 60 minutes, and what the HSVMA-RAVS crew had assembled was nothing short of very thorough, high-quality medicine comparable to most veterinary hospitals.
My first medical case that involved more than just the routine spay/neuter exemplified the type of human-animal bond that the residents of these two reservations maintained. Justice was a blue merle Australian shepherd mix with a predominately white coat. He had a history of seizures, congenital micropthalmia bilaterally and was also congenitally deaf. He presented with chronic conjunctivitis because the small size of his globes created an immense void in the eye socket providing a medium for constant infection. The staff of the clinic collectively decided that a bilateral enucleation was the best choice for Justice and the owner was very eager to have the procedure done. Upon having a chance to develop a relationship with Justice’s owner, I learned that the family had made him an antenna-like apparatus so that he could feel objects in his environment to avoid running into them just as a disabled person would use a walking stick. It was absolutely spectacular to witness this family taking such care to improve the quality of life for their unfortunate friend. I became aware of this information when I asked the routine post-surgery question of how would Justice tolerate an Elizabethan collar or plastic cone on his head and the owner’s simple response was, “He doesn’t mind his antennas, so it would probably be fine.”
Before I even saw a patient, I had a misconception about the type of clients we would be working with at these clinics. I made an assumption that based on the widespread poverty of the communities, the animals would be neglected and in desperate need of medical attention. However, upon visiting with my first family and their gorgeous blue pit-bull, Andy, I came to realize that I was not only wrong in making this type of judgment, but also completely mistaken in assuming that economic status had anything to do with how much people care for the well-being of their animals. Almost all of the animals we saw were not only extremely friendly and easy to handle, but also in great condition and generally very healthy. Also, all of the clients we saw were extremely grateful for the services we provided for their animals. In other clinical experiences I have had, client compliance was sometimes a struggle, but on both reservations this issue was practically non-existent. I began to understand as the days went by, that we were literally raising the position of these animals in their respective families. The compassionate care we offered, as well as thoroughly educating the client really impacted the bond these people shared with their pets in a way that touched every single person involved. Establishing and developing the human-animal bond is such an integral part of veterinary medicine, especially in these locations where veterinary care is fairly inaccessible. I feel very fortunate that I had and will continue to have the opportunity to encourage this powerful relationship.
Joy Trendelman was a volunteer at the 2011 HSVMA-RAVS clinics at the Hoopa and Covelo reservations in California, and is a student in the class of 2013 at Purdue University School of Veterinary Medicine.