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September 04, 2014

Mobile Clinics Deliver Life-Enhancing Services to Pets on U.S. Reservations

The day starts early at a makeshift veterinary clinic — conducted by the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association — in rural Grays Harbor County in Washington State. Fifty students, volunteer veterinarians, technicians and staff members wake up at 5.30 a.m. in the community gymnasium where they are bedding down for the week, roll up their sleeping bags, and grab a cup of coffee and breakfast prepared by local community volunteers. They are ready to start a 16-hour workday at the temporary clinic they’ve set up at the gymnasium.

HSVMA clinic
Over 10 years, HSVMA staff and volunteers, working out of makeshift, week-long clinics like this one, have trained over 4,000 veterinary students and cared for more than 90,000 animals. Photo: Holly Hazard

By the time the doors open at 8, there is already a line of people with their pets waiting outside. There are animals with mange, broken bones, wounds, and those in need of spay and neuter services. Taholah, on the Quinault Indian reservation, is a small community of just 240 households. A third of its residents live below the poverty line. The people waiting at the clinic cannot afford to take their pets to veterinarians. The free, week-long HSVMA clinic may be their only resource to ensure that their animals get professional care.

This scenario has been repeated over and over again this summer in remote and impoverished reservations across the United States, as it has for the past 10 years – a period during which HSVMA staff and volunteers have trained over 4,000 veterinary students and cared for more than 90,000 animals — providing more than $18 million in free veterinary services for pets in poverty.

But there was something different this year: the 200 veterinary students who participated in the clinics were supported with $70,000 raised by the HSVMA through a crowd-funding website called Crowdrise: an innovative fundraising tool that gives charities the ability to compete and raise funds for worthwhile projects.

An affiliate of The HSUS, HSVMA harnessed the students’ own enterprise for this crowd-funding effort. Each clinic was turned into a fundraising team, and every student was given a minimum sponsorship goal. The highest fundraisers on each team would get special perks in the field (first shower, prime sleeping space in the gymnasium, a little care package, etc.). At the end of the year, the team that has raised the most funds will receive a prize (HSVMA books). Students have been reaching out to friends, family and social networks and are highly motivated by the support they’ve received so far.

Dogs at HSVMA clinic
At the Taholah, Washington, clinic these puppies waited while the HSVMA team used its creativity and resourcefulness to nurse their mother, Hunter, back to health. Photo: Melissa Rubin

All of the students, veterinarians and technicians pay their own travel costs and the buildings where the clinics are held are provided by the communities, which helps ensure that all of the  funds raised go toward helping the animals – including a sweet Boston Terrier named Hunter who arrived early one morning at the clinic in Taholah with six puppies in tow. She had experienced a difficult pregnancy, and her family was concerned that if she had another litter she might not survive. They were relieved to have the opportunity to have her spayed. But while Hunter’s surgery went well, she was slow to recover.

As a field operation, the HSVMA clinic doesn’t have access to all of the diagnostics of a full-service veterinary hospital, but the team is well-equipped, experienced and resourceful. Using their creativity and available resources, the team nursed Hunter back to health over the course of a day and sent her back home happy and healthy. And the students learned a valuable lesson in diagnostics and innovative medicine that could not have been replicated in a classroom.

"It was so inspiring,” reports my colleague Holly Hazard. She recounted to me an instance where it took 30 students and five veterinarians just 19 minutes to convert an empty cafeteria into a six-table surgical clinic. “It was like a military exercise, and something to behold.”

The HSVMA-Rural Area Veterinary Services Crowdrise campaign will continue for another month as the team works to raise funds to cover all of the medical supplies needed to treat nearly 5,000 animals like Hunter. This year the program will reach pets on 11 domestic reservations in five states, including Arizona, California, North Dakota, South Dakota and Washington. Your support in making these clinics possible is integral to the work that these dedicated volunteers do every day to help these animals.

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