When Brown Puppy’s family brought him into the Rural Area Veterinary Services clinic in San Carlos, Arizona, he was suffering from a bad head wound. Another dog had bitten him, and Brown Puppy’s head was so swollen that he could not lift it. His eyes were shut tight. Working fast, a team of volunteer veterinarians administered pain medications, drained the abscess on his head and started him on antibiotics. Within 24 hours, Brown Puppy was eating with gusto and he soon returned home, a normal and happy dog.
Brown Puppy was one of thousands of animals helped last year by the RAVS program, which holds MASH-style clinics multiple times each year in rural areas on Native American reservations. The clinics are organized in areas where medical services for animals are in short supply and residents live in poverty, unable to get to or afford veterinary care for their animals. All services are provided free of cost. The goal, as with our Pets for Life program, which provides services to companion animals in underserved areas around the country, is to keep animals in loving homes and increase access to pet resources in these areas.
Each year, 150 veterinarians and veterinary technician volunteers and 200 veterinary students staff the clinics. The pace tends to be hectic, with hundreds of animals passing through the doors. In the 15 years since RAVS first launched with the Humane Society of the United States (it now operates under our affiliate, the Fund for Animals), staff veterinarians and volunteers have trained more than 4,500 veterinary students and cared for more than 132,000 animals — providing more than $26.5 million in free veterinary services, including spay/neuter and other surgical services and wellness and outreach. In 2018, RAVS held 25 clinics, helping 7,815 animals and provided $1.25 million in services.
The RAVS program is a great example of the lifesaving and life-enhancing work that the HSUS and all of our affiliates do each day around the United States and across the rest of the globe. Last year, the HSUS Pets for Life program reached an important milestone, providing its 100,000 spay/neuter surgery. In 2018, more than 17,000 pets were spayed/neutered in the core Pets for Life cities of Philadelphia and Los Angeles, and through local organizations in PFL mentorship markets. Humane Society International teams and veterinarians provided vital spay/neuter and vaccination services to more than 200,000 street dogs in Africa, Latin America, Asia and the Pacific Rim. As part of our Spayathon™ for Puerto Rico, 24,904 dogs and cats were spayed, neutered and vaccinated since 2018. On World Spay Day in February, the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association partnered with veterinary students from the University of Wisconsin, Auburn University and Cornell University to help sterilize more than 150 animals.
Like all of our programs, including those mentioned above, the RAVS clinics are sustainable and designed to stay the course. We return to these communities in subsequent months, and provide after care when needed. And we don’t just help the animals; experienced veterinary professionals also mentor veterinary students who participate in these clinics, and remain active with the program once their professional careers have begun. Students receive intensive hands-on clinical training in anesthesia and surgery, medicine, infectious disease management and in recognizing specific animal health issues in economically disadvantaged populations, as well as vital experience in client communication and community education. After going through the RAVS program, many students end up in careers focused on animal welfare, community service and education. In fact, all current RAVS staff veterinarians started with the program as veterinary students and nearly 50 percent of our professional volunteers return year after year to help out with the clinics.
The program is so popular, within three weeks of posting our 2019 clinic schedule last November, we received more than 400 applications from students hoping to work with us. Last year, we had two volunteer family units working side by side at the RAVS clinic, including the mother and son team of Jane Gruber, a certified veterinary technician from Pennsylvania, and Daniel, a veterinary student. Dr. Geri Cox, an Illinois veterinarian, participated with her daughter, Maisie, who is attending veterinary school.
The dedication we see at these clinics is touching, and so is the faith that the community places in the work of the RAVS team. Take the case of Bella who was brought by into a RAVS field clinic in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, with a fractured femur. Bella had been hit by a car and had been living with the injury for a few weeks, but as soon as her family heard the RAVS team was in town, they brought her to the clinic to see if they could get help for their beloved dog. After her surgery, Bella had a speedy recovery and returned home to her loving family.
The happy endings to Bella’s and Brown Puppy’s tales are the kinds of outcomes that we seek to produce in all of our direct care and service programs. They exemplify the remarkable role RAVS plays within our family of organizations, and the singular dedication of its staff and volunteers who work each day to help animals and their families who otherwise have no recourse.