Many Thanks

by Susan Monger, DVM

May 15, 2013

RAVS team and students in El Salvador
The RAVS team and a group of the Salvadoran veterinary students celebrate the culmination of a successful course.
Susan Monger, DVM/For HSVMA

¡Muchísimas gracías!

Those were the words echoed over and over at the end of a recent HSVMA-RAVS two-week surgical training course at The University of El Salvador's College of Veterinary Medicine. The course provided Salvadoran veterinary students and local veterinarians with training in high-quality anesthetic and surgical techniques within the confines of the supplies and medications available to veterinary professionals in-country. Words of thanks echoed not only from the course participants, but also from HSVMA-RAVS volunteer veterinary professionals who lent a hand throughout the course and from Salvadorans who brought their animal family members to the clinic to be spayed or neutered.

As the Director of the HSVMA-RAVS International Program, I have a multi-faceted job description. At each clinic, I am an animal advocate, a veterinarian, a colleague, a mentor, and a teacher, among other roles. As a teacher and veterinarian, there can be no better gift than students who prioritize their education, are eager to learn, and strive to apply their developing knowledge in the name of helping animals. As a colleague and a veterinarian, I know that we, as professionals, continue to learn throughout our careers, further enhancing our ability to help our patients and share our knowledge and experience with our mentees. I love the infectious nature of education and I feel proud to know that my students will use their knowledge to help countless Salvadoran dogs and cats, as well as sharing their knowledge as mentors themselves, improving animal welfare through a sustainable cycle. As an animal welfare advocate and as a veterinarian, I cherish the gift of reuniting a now healthy dog or cat with their family and witnessing the smiles and tail wagging or purring that ensues.

Improving Skills While Benefiting Animals

It was no different on this trip. This past January, 30 Salvadoran veterinary students and four veterinarians chose to spend two weeks of their precious vacation time ensconced in lectures, labs and surgery, in order to increase their knowledge about analgesia, anesthesia, and surgical techniques in dogs and cats. After a week of lectures and labs on the essential skills of surgical knots, instrument handling, suture patterns, intravenous catheter placement, and several surgical demonstrations, our students were ready and eager to actively participate in anesthetic and surgical cases that would benefit animals in their community whose families were unable to afford veterinary care.

The days were long. The cases were challenging. The patients received high quality veterinary care while the students gained valuable, supervised hands-on experience working one-on-one with an HSVMA-RAVS technician in anesthesia and an HSVMA-RAVS veterinarian in surgery. Our class arrived early and stayed late every day, ensuring that each surgery patient had recovered well and was able to go home healthier than when they arrived at the clinic that morning.

Going the Extra Mile

Dr. Monger with two Salvadoran women who brought their seven dogs to the clinic
Dr Susan Monger with the two Salvadoran women who brought their seven dogs to the clinic to be spayed.

The people who bring their animals to the HSVMA-RAVS clinic are poor Salvadorans who may not understand the intricacies of anesthesia and surgery, but do understand their pets will have healthier and happier lives when vaccinated, de-parasitized, and spayed or neutered. Such was the case of an elderly Salvadoran woman, who can neither read nor write, and her daughter, both of whom care for seven dogs at their home. The women were waiting for us when we arrived at the clinic, having risen at 4 a.m. to gather their dogs in a borrowed truck and make the hour-long journey to the university. Although the family is extremely poor, the care they give their pets was evident both in the overall health of the animals as well as their temperaments. Both the women and their dogs were nervous but, accustomed to gentle handling by their family members, the dogs allowed us to perform physical exams with minimal restraint. Both women watched and waited throughout the morning for their pets to recover from the surgery, often crying from anxiety as well as gratitude.

When all three dogs were ready to return home, the elderly woman said to me “These girls are part of my family. I cannot thank you enough for the care and attention you gave each of them, and the care and attention you gave to both my daughter and me.” Both she and I cried tears of happiness together. We were both so appreciative of the part that the other had played in improving the lives of her dogs.

Many Pieces Fitting Together

As an educator, it is easy for me to focus on the attention that is given to the HSVMA-RAVS program for teaching the fundamentals of anesthesia and surgery, and the gratitude that the teaching team receives from the participants and their universities. As a veterinarian, it is easy for me to focus on the appreciative clients and their now-healthy animal family members who would not have been able to receive veterinary care without the collaboration between HSVMA-RAVS and the University of El Salvador’s College of Veterinary Medicine. But as the director of the HSVMA-RAVS International Program, I get to focus on how the combination of teaching and veterinary medicine together improve the lives of individual animals as well as positively impact the big picture of animal welfare.

¡Muchísimas gracias a El Salvador!