Grateful for the Magic

January 22, 2016
by Kate Kuzminski, DVM, HSVMA-RAVS Field Medical Director

Jeanette Pontacq
We are thankful for people like Jeanette Pontacq, who make it possible for us to continue our work.

We recently received a significant donation for the HSVMA-RAVS program from the legacy trust of someone we didn't know. Jeanette Pontacq spent most of her life in San Francisco and Marin County, California. She was the first member of her family to go to a major university. She traveled the world, was a successful businesswoman, and retired near the sea decades ago. Jeanette was a lover of cats and dogs, an environmentalist, a humanitarian and a rescuer of animals in need. She believed that we are all created equal and advocated for a better world for every being. She recognized the need to help those who couldn’t help themselves. She was a champion for the underdog. It is obvious that Jeanette was someone we would have liked.

I don’t think Jeanette knew us specifically, or our work. I pondered about how our paths had crossed and realized that it all made perfect sense. As a team, we often talk about the “magic” of RAVS. This is the piece of the program that is difficult to quantify and even to describe. It is the life-changing experience for the RAVS volunteer, coupled with the synergy that is created once they go back to their homes and their jobs. They have left enriched by the power of mentorship and community service, and are educated about the challenges of accessible veterinary care. This powerful combination follows back to their lives and into their practice, their relationships, and their conversations. RAVS volunteers and supporters have formed an intricate lattice that extends throughout North America and other parts of the world. It is beautiful, thought-provoking, and simply magical. It is when I think of RAVS in this context that the reason for crossing paths with a new supporter like Jeanette Pontacq becomes exceptionally clear. She was an animal welfarist. She fought for those in need. She cared about those around her. Meeting her was just a matter of time.

Although we never met Jeanette, it is obvious she was someone we would have liked.

Every year we talk about how many animals we served, how many students we mentored, how many incredible professional volunteers joined us, and the dollar value of veterinary services we provided. While these statistics alone are amazing, it doesn’t capture the true impact of the RAVS program. The other part is something we don’t know how to measure: It is the number of lives – both animal and human – that are touched simply because of the RAVS experience. Every person that comes on a trip, for a multitude of different reasons, ends up having an experience that is far greater than anyone can define, describe, or ever predict. For some it is life-changing. For others it is uncomfortable. But for all, it awakens something within us.

The long-term impact of the RAVS volunteer experience is powerful. Students are introduced to helping those in need early on in their careers. Veterinarians and veterinary technicians find their passion rekindled and return to their clients and patients rejuvenated. Some realize that their hearts are better placed outside of private practice and begin their own career trajectories. They become leaders in the shelter medicine programs of some of our best veterinary colleges and animal welfare organizations throughout the country. Some turn to their local animal shelter to help when others will not. And some have gone on to teach because they have become inspired to influence the veterinary profession of tomorrow.

So as we start 2016, we are sending out notes of gratitude:

Thank you Jeanette Pontacq and supporters like you who care about the world and those in need. It is clear that you and the HSVMA community are kindred spirits. Your legacy will live on in so many ways.

Thank you to the community of professional volunteers who have come for a trip and have returned again and again. You give our program, our patients and our students, so much. Thank you for being champions of mentorship and community service and for modeling true professionalism.

Finally, thank you to the thousands of veterinary students who came on a RAVS trip to improve your veterinary skills, but left with hearts open to the gift of helping those in need. You will look at families with limited resources differently now. You will stretch yourself to help an animal in need even when the odds of success are against you. You will go out of your comfort zone to make a difference simply because it is the right thing to do. You will be our animal welfare leaders of tomorrow. You will do such great things.

It is clear that, together, we can create something much bigger than ourselves.