The Best Job in the World

April 8, 2009

By Eric Davis, DVM

Valley view
A beautiful view of the valley on our journey.

As we start our winding ascent up the Eel River gorge to Round Valley, California, where the crashing, steel grey waters of the Eel River are always at one's side, I find myself thinking, "I've got the greatest job in the world".

As part of the HSVMA Rural Area Veterinary Services (HSVMA-RAVS) team, I get to help people and pets in communities like Covelo, where geography, history and economics have conspired to produce a breathtakingly beautiful environment, where people live close to nature, but do so without the simple conveniences that most of us take for granted.

This area, Round Valley and Covelo, became a patchwork of Native and White lands, as well as the second largest reservation in California long ago. Cattle ranching, logging and farming made the area relatively prosperous in the first part of the twentieth century, but unfortunately, Covelo and the surrounding area fell on very hard times in recent years.

The death of small ranches and farms in the USA, coupled with the downward spiral of the logging industry in California, has collapsed the local economy for native and non-native people alike. In 1993, the Louisiana Pacific saw mill that provided most of the employment in Covelo closed for good.

With no job opportunities, limited tourist trade and a tenuous road to the nearest town of any size, the area of Round Valley has been in a depression for decades. Medical services are limited and the county even has trouble hiring sheriff's deputies to work in this remote area.

Come one, come all

Without access to veterinary care or shelters for animals, our program has provided essential services in this area for years, and the whole community turns out to work with our volunteers at the little community building in the center of the valley.

The HSVMA-RAVS clinic is open to any and all every morning. For five consecutive days—many lasting 14-16 hours—our staff and volunteers perform physical exams, vaccinations, diagnostics, lab work, spays, neuters and a variety of other surgeries with care and kindness, without the worry about how the grateful residents will pay for their animal's care.

It is a real inspiration to see how dedicated veterinarians, technicians and students can be when the only consideration is the well being of their patients and equally how appreciative people can be when they have quality medical care available to their animals.

It is also encouraging to see the difference we have made in the lives of these animals. Up until this year, 20% of the dogs in Round Valley were positive for heart worms, and now—for the first time in over 20 years—the rate of heart worm infection is decreasing, and only 5 of 150 dogs tested where positive. Several locals also thanked us for the noticeable decreases in stray dogs and cats in the valley.

This is every veterinarian's dream.

An extraordinary team

One of the best parts of this job though, is the highly skilled staff that I get to work with. After 31 years as a veterinarian, working in practices large and small, as well as university teaching hospitals, I have to say that there not a group of animal health care professionals more dedicated than the HSVMA-RAVS staff.

Volunteer with dog and her pups
A dedicated volunteer sits with a mother and her pups after surgery.

Veterinary technicians Cary Miao and Erin Ludwig keep everything flowing along as smoothly and safely as conceivably possible. Sarah Hurley, Robin Post and Julie Clements never miss a beat at the induction table and do so with competence and good humor.

Kate Kuzminski, DVM, whose boundless energy and skills in receiving is a legend; Kate Wissel, DVM, our resident critical needs volunteer; and Morgan Peterman, DVM, our newest certified Trip Leader, who shows impressive skill in everything from surgery to diplomacy—all contribute tremendously to deliver the highest quality care.

There is no question that this group can and will perform well anywhere, ensuring that HSVMA-RAVS will keep going on and on, continuing to improve, long after old guys like me finally wear out.

Looking ahead

After a long and tiring week, the crew will load up and head out for the next trip in the deep woods and mountains of the Hoopa Valley on the Trinity River. More winding roads, more long days, more animals in need, more depressed communities and indifferent facilities—but these obstacles will be overcome and animals will get care. The 2009 season begins, and it is the best job in the world.

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.