Patient Welfare Comes First at HSVMA-RAVS Clinics

June 6, 2011

by Miranda Hillyard

One of my favorite things about the HSVMA Rural Area Veterinary Services (HSVMA-RAVS) program is that animal and patient welfare are always a top priority. I witnessed this firsthand recently, as I was volunteering for my third trip to the White Mountain Apache Reservation in eastern Arizona.

Teamed up with my classmate from Tufts Veterinary School, fellow HSVMA-RAVS repeat offender and good friend, Annie Wayne, we had developed an efficient system of teamwork for examining, vaccinating and de-worming pets, in addition to discussing long-term care with the owners.

Making a house call

Buddy and RAVS team
There was no shortage of love for Buddy from his care team—Miranda Hillyard, Dr. Morgan Peterman, and Annie Wayne.

We were just getting started for the day and shaving some very heavy patches of matted fur from a long-haired calico cat when her owner, an elderly Apache woman, mentioned that she also had a dog at home who had been badly injured in a dog fight a few weeks before.

She was very concerned about his comfort and well-being, and said that she feared he may need to be put down. When we told her she should bring him to the clinic right away, she admitted that she was not comfortable handling this dog, and she did not have a car to transport him.

Annie and I were worried that this poor dog was suffering and immediately spoke to the trip leader, Dr. Elizabeth Berliner. Despite the fact that it was a very busy day and we still needed to break down the clinic after all of the patients were seen, Dr. Berliner sent me, Annie and Dr. Morgan Peterman, one of the HSVMA-RAVS staff veterinarians, to visit the woman’s home and euthanize her suffering dog.

Preparing for an intractable animal, we brought blankets, tranquilizers and euthanasia solution. When we pulled up to the house, a beautiful cattle dog hopped up from under a bush and limped over to us, wagging his tail the entire time. The injured leg was clearly fractured (the house was near the main road and we strongly suspected that he had been hit by a car), but luckily showed no signs of infection.

A decent proposal

Dismayed at the thought of putting down such a friendly animal, we proposed that we could amputate the broken leg, since repairing an old fracture would be very difficult and expensive. Despite our reassurance that most dogs do very well with only three legs, the owner was extremely reluctant to take on the responsibility of his after care and still thought it was best to put him down. But when we suggested that HSVMA-RAVS take over his care and find him a new home, the owner was more than happy to agree.

When we got back to the clinic, our hosts on the reservation had arranged for a performance of traditional crown dancing and music, which provided a unique atmosphere for the operation. The surgery was a success, and Annie and I cared for our patient through the night, making sure he was comfortable and had adequate pain relief. The next day we drove several hours to take him to a local humane society that had agreed to take over his care.

I'm happy to report that Buddy is now in a foster home outside Flagstaff, Ariz., and is adapting well to life on three legs. He still has a good, friendly spirit and is ready to find his permanent home.

Miranda Hillyard is a faithful HSVMA-RAVS volunteer and earned her veterinary degree this year from Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine.