An Incredible Adventure

January 17, 2014
by Janet Massaro, DVM

Dr. Janet Massaro and her son, Andrew (credit: Michael Friefold)
Dr. Massaro and her son, Andrew.
Michael Friefold

When I first considered participating in the HSVMA-RAVS field clinic I wasn't sure that the pros would outweigh the cons. Such a trip had never been on my radar and did not initially sound very appealing to me. I would be taking a week off from work, traveling across the country, sleeping on the floor of an abandoned building in a sleeping bag, eating whatever and whenever it was provided, showering—maybe—and working from sunrise to late past my usual bedtime...for free!

I do know that the tipping point in my decision to join the team traveling to the White Mountain Apache Reservation this past March was that my 24-year-old son, Andrew, who is currently a third-year veterinary student at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, had asked me to participate with him. Actually, he insisted that I come. This would be his second RAVS trip to the same location, and he said that his trip last year was one of the most incredible experiences of his life. Although I had some serious doubts, he was sure that I would feel the same way that he did. Wow, was he spot on—I had an amazing week.

Working With a Great Team

The best part of the experience for me was working with and getting to know the 50 other team members, which included the RAVS staff, professional volunteers, and 30 veterinary students. The RAVS staffers are incredible, caring veterinary professionals, who are exceptional at their jobs. They work from sun up to sun down facilitating client education and high quality patient care while mentoring veterinary students and working side by side with professional volunteers. I particularly enjoyed the professional camaraderie and exchange of knowledge and techniques, often initiated by a challenging case or a question from a wide-eyed, enthusiastic student.

The HSVMA-RAVS 2013 White Mountain Apache Clinic Team in White River, Ariz. (credit: Michael Friefold)

The HSVMA-RAVS 2013 White Mountain Apache Clinic Team in White River, Ariz.
Michael Friefold

Getting to Work

Surgery in White Mountain (credit: Michael Friefold)
The M.A.S.H.-style clinic was set up in a school gymnasium.
Michael Friefold

Vets inspect Avatar's sutures (credit: Michael Friefold)
Drs. Massaro and Ahne Simonsen inspect Avatar's sutures.
Michael Friefold

Avatar with his family (credit: Michael Friefold)
Avatar with his family.
Michael Friefold

Amazingly, we arrived on a Sunday afternoon and were a fully functional clinic by 7 a.m. on Monday morning. Together, the team transformed an abandoned school gymnasium into a M.A.S.H.-style clinic, with a receiving area to greet the clients and examine their pets, a kennel with separate dog and cat areas, anesthesia and recovery suites, and a five station surgery suite, all in just a few hours. By the end of that first day we had examined, vaccinated and treated nearly 100 dogs and cats and had performed 50 surgeries to spay or neuter animals who were healthy enough and needed to be altered.

We continued at this pace through Friday, with Saturday being a wellness and vaccination-only day. By the week’s end we had treated well over 500 animals. The quantity of cases we saw was impressive, but what stuck with me even more was the high quality of care. Every animal was provided with exceptional veterinary and nursing care from the moment they walked in the clinic door. A veterinary student never left their side, monitoring and recording every conceivable vital sign at specifically determined intervals, until they were returned to their families.

I spent the vast majority of my clinic time in surgery, working one on one with the veterinary students. Although they ranged in experience and abilities, they all were incredibly bright and enthusiastic, hard working and eager to learn. It was thrilling for me to share my surgical experience with them and watch them learn and improve their skills. Patient care was always our first priority, but that was never a conflict for either the veterinarians or the students as we all shared the same concern for the patients’ welfare.

Although the clinic was set up primarily for wellness and spay and neuter surgeries, the team provides a range of care. I was involved in a trauma case early in the week that required some creative surgical care. A young intact male dog named Avatar presented with his prepuce torn open and his penis fully exposed from an old dog fight injury. The surgery went well and when his owners returned later in the week for a post-op visit, his surgical sites looked great. The family reported that his personality had dramatically improved. He was running around the yard and barking at passers by again, something he had not done since his injury.

A Rewarding Experience

For so many reasons, being a part of the RAVS team at White Mountain is an experience that will stay with me. Sharing this trip with my son made the experience that much more special for me. Luckily for me, my younger son, Mark was just accepted to the Cornell veterinary school class of 2018, and I am already looking forward to joining the RAVS White Mountain team again soon.

Read more about the day-to-day experience at this clinic in the 2013 White Mountain Apache Clinic blog»

Want to join the adventure? We are currently seeking professional volunteers for our 2014 clinics! Learn more and apply now»

Dr. Janet Massaro graduated from the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine in 1986. Originally, from Long Island, N.Y., she resides in Medford, N.J. where she practices with her husband James at the clinic they own, Village Veterinary Hospital. The veterinary profession runs in the family, and as mentioned in the article above, her sons Andrew and Mark have followed her footsteps to the shores of Cayuga Lake and the Cornell CVM. Janet and James have two wonderful golden retrievers, Kobe and Mia, and a cat named Oreo, who keep their house filled with love and activity in their empty-nest phase of life.