Behavior training in shelters

Graduate from a behavior class today!

Graduate from a behavior class today!

There are many methods of animal training available today.  However, some methods prove to be safer and more humane than others. Positive reinforcement training is one method that has proved humane, effective, and also strengthens the bond between animal and owner.

Positive reinforcement training identifies a desirable behavior and reinforces that behavior with reward. Clicker training is one example of positive reinforcement training. In this method, the desirable behavior is immediately associated with the sound of a clicker that is then followed with a reward, typically a delicious treat. Once the animal associates the behavior with reward, a command is introduced that names the behavior. Eventually, the animal associates the cue with the behavior and the animal learns commands. Positive reinforcement training can also be used to get rid of undesired behavior by asking for another behavior when the undesired behavior arises. These “incompatible behaviors” can teach a begging dog to lie down on a specific mat when people are in the kitchen. Positive reinforcement is both an effective and kind method of training to consider when training an animal.

Punishment is not recommended when training animals. Often, punishment follows the negative behavior by some time and the animal may not associate the two events thereby rendering the punishment less effective than reward based training. Although punishment may decrease the expression of undesired behavior, it may also cause other undesirable behaviors to arise. If a dog growls in warning when it is guarding an object and is punished, you may not be teaching the dog to not guard the object as intended. Rather, the dog may learn that it gets punished when it growls. Now the situation has become more dangerous, as the animal may not growl in warning but rather aggressively react when its object is being taken.

Unfortunately, there are many types of trainers working with shelters and in the community, some less progressive than others. While some individuals may have been in the dog training field for many years, experience does not equate to expertise. Whenever possible, it is advisable to use a certified behaviorist who uses techniques which are in alignment with your mission and beliefs. Just because a person is the only individual willing to do the job doesn’t mean that they should be allowed to do so if it will negatively impact the animals and your mission.

When adopting out an animal, adopters should be counseled on any behavioral issues that an animal may have. Resources, including basic training tips and local behavioral services can then be recommended at that time. It is therefore highly recommended to know the resources in your area, both good and bad, so that you know exactly to whom and to what method of training you are referring. Other community members that have behavior questions can also be referred to these resources. 

If you are unfamiliar with how to choose a trainer, or what those letters behind a behaviorist’s name means, then check out this guide by the Association of Pet Dog Trainers.

So go on and teach your cat to high five, your dog to dance, and your husband to wash the dishes!

Resources

Karen Pryor Clicker Training

Clicker Training Your Pet (ASPCA)

Knowing What’s Out There: a guide to guidelines and state law

CG-Slider-Animals-TextWe often receive questions from shelters that delve into realms of state law, animal guidelines and best practices. There can be a number of situations that arise creating concern whether a shelter is not only law abiding but also providing the most humane care possible. For instance the question is often asked as to what lay people (non-licensed veterinary technicians, veterinary assistants, volunteers) are allowed to do in terms of vaccines and medical treatment. Another popular query is what, if any, legal requirements there are for transporting animals across state lines. Of course it’s impossible to keep it all straight while managing day to day adventures within the shelter. So the best advice is simply knowing when to ask questions and then finding answers through local and state law, and animal welfare organizations.

New York State

Legal jargon is difficult at best to wade through. Also interpretation can vary from person to person. For example, terminology such as ‘under direct supervision’ vs. ‘under supervision’ could mean the difference between a veterinarian needing to be present in the shelter at the time of administration of an oral dewormer versus a written deworming protocol developed by the shelter veterinarian. Laws pertaining to shelters can fall under different departments (Agriculture and Markets, Public Health, Education) so finding them all in one spot can sometimes be difficult. The link for Laws of New York under New York State Legislature has a search engine which can be helpful. I searched the word veterinarian and this is what came upThe New York State Animal Protection Foundation has a really convenient app that allows you to look up NYS laws from your smartphone. Of course county legislation should not be overlooked in terms of stray hold, seizures etc. Click here to access the Tompkins County codes.

Other States

We strongly suggest investigating your local and state laws to provide the most accurate information. However, a helpful and interesting website on a federal level provided by Michigan State University College of Law is the Animal Legal and Historical Center.  It provides full text cases, statutes and comprehensive explanations.

Guidelines

There’s often the expectation of a law in place to address specifics on themes like housing and transport. When in fact there are only guidelines and best practices. So when not covered by law, it’s recommended these guidelines are followed to provide the most safe and humane care possible. They have been developed by experts in the field and they are incredibly helpful.

Association of Shelter Veterinarians provides Standards of Care Guidelines and Spay Neuter Guidelines. As a shelter, we strongly urge you to read these if you have not already.

The National Federation of Humane Societies  provides best practices for transport and euthanasia.

Ultimately finding the answers will take some work. But hopefully these links will give some idea on where to start.

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Let’s take care of the animals, and ourselves!

Don’t Forget to Take Care of Yourself

winter cat

As the temperature cools and daylight becomes scarce, winter brings a chance for us to slow down and catch our breath from the typical hecticness that is spring through fall in animal shelters. This is a good time of year to refocus on our own physical and emotional health, and that of our colleagues.  Remembering to take care of ourselves will allow us to continue our efforts in caring for many shelter animals over the lifetime of our careers.

Awareness

You’ve probably heard the terms “burnout” and “compassion fatigue” used before in association with animal welfare. But, did you know that they are two different concepts? Burnout is a condition that evolves from a stressful workplace environment, such as working long hours. Compassion Fatigue is the physical and emotional exhaustion that result from your relationship with the animals, essentially from caring too much.

Both Burnout and compassion fatigue are sadly common conditions experienced by those involved in animal welfare. We experience a full range of emotions on a daily basis as we celebrate the adoption of an animal or empathize with the loss of another. Although much of it will depend on the organization you are affiliated with and your own personality, you may be susceptible no matter what your role is within the organization.

Symptoms of trouble

Burnout and compassion fatigue can manifest through either mental or physical symptoms, and in many cases both. Commonly reported mental changes include: depression, sadness, irritability, apathy, hyper-vigilance, and anxiety. Those affected by compassion fatigue in particular have reported a variety of physical indications including: chronic headaches, fatigue, appetite changes, chronic illness, and trouble sleeping. In severe cases, these symptoms may progress to negative coping strategies or self-harm behaviors.

person with headache 

A body, mind and soul approach

Awareness of these conditions and our own susceptibility is the first step in prevention. However, a proactive approach focusing on both our physical and mental health is essential in protecting our career choice.

As it is true for the animals within our shelters, physical exercise directly improves our own mental health. Exercise is a known method for stress relief. Because stress can impair our immune function, exercise can help us fight off pathogens typically encountered this time of year. If a gym membership does not fit into your lifestyle that’s okay! Try taking a dog for a walk for 20-30 minutes each day instead. The exercise and fresh air will be great for both you and your canine companion!

dog in snow

In addition to getting regular exercise, eating a well-balanced diet is essential for physical and mental health.  Fruits and vegetables are particularly important components of a lean diet that supports healthy immune function. Although making healthy food choices can be difficult this time of year, try adding one additional serving of a fruit or vegetable to your diet each day. Gradually add more servings over time until your eating the recommended 4-6 servings per day. You may even discover that you like most of them!

Furthermore, remember that a healthy state of mind is just as important as a healthy body and immune system. Please do not forget to focus on the positive that you do. Animal welfare is a large and complex issue.  However, every positive outcome that you experience is a positive outcome no matter how small it may seem! Be proud of your work and know that you are making a difference in the lives of the animals that you care so very much about.

Ask for help

For some of us, no matter how proactive we are, there will be times when we need additional help in combating Burnout or Compassion Fatigue. Consulting your supervisor to discuss your concerns and brainstorm ideas to work towards a solution may be all that is needed. However, it is often helpful to have a co-worker, family member or friend to confide in as well. These people may give a unique insight to a tough situation.  No matter whom it is that you chose to talk with, remember Burnout and Compassion Fatigue will take planning and determination to overcome.  However, I am sure we can all agree that our career in the Animal Welfare field is well worth the effort!

Additional resources

Taking Inventory (Animal Sheltering 2013)

People Care Starts with you (Animal Sheltering 2009)

It takes a village, and not just “animal people!”

Animal shelters need a lot of help — and different varieties of help.  Most volunteers who walk into an animal shelter are “animal people,” and flock to spending their time walking dogs or socializing cats.  And certainly this is an important activity for shelter animal welfare.  However, in this day when animal shelters are getting smarter about business practices and are being held to higher standards of care, the needs of an animal shelter are diverse and complicated.

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As an extreme example, one of our favorite local humane organizations recently managed to open a new 15,000 square foot facility largely on the backs of volunteer labor.  While the foundation and the majority of plumbing, HVAC, and electrical were contracted, many jobs were performed by dedicated and talented volunteers.  Carpenters, craftspeople, painters — they came from all sorts of backgrounds and skills.  The work was constant and the days long, but the results are nothing short of spectacular for this small community. Led by the amazing Georgie Taylor, the Humane Society of Schuyler County and the animals in their care are certainly blessed in this holiday season. Many more pictures of the process are available at their website (http://www.schuylerhumane.org/).

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The new year is a grand time for resolutions, and a great time for recruiting new volunteers to serve what may be non-traditional roles in your shelter. Think outside the box and strategically about training new volunteers for the new year:  with guidance, volunteers can sew projects, deep clean shelter areas, plant flowers, shovel snow, write letters, make follow up phone calls, produce adoption videos, wrap surgical packs, process paperwork, recruit spay/neuter clients. . . and the possibilities go on.

And of course, when it comes to an animal shelter, everyone can raise funds!  I love to see the stories with kids who have collected donations for the animal shelter in lieu of birthday gifts.  What a fabulous way to learn the value of giving, and making a difference in your community.

Happy holidays everyone. May you find your shelter rich in determination, compassion, and gifts this season.

The magic of fenbendazole

Most shelter workers have heard of the magic dewormer known as Panacur–it is one of my favorite dewormers–and is a great drug for many reasons. Fenbendazole, the active ingredient in Panacur and Safe-Guard, it is a benzimidazole dewormer which prevents cell division. It is generally considered a safe drug, toxicity only occurring at 100x overdoses and in exotic species. Fenbendazole isn’t systemically absorbed and over 50% leaves the animal in feces. It must be given for at least 3 days to kill parasites, since it needs to halt cell division for a certain duration before it is fatal to the parasite. 

Fenbendazole is labeled for use in cows, horses, pigs and dogs; but has also been used in cats, sheep, birds, reptiles and fish. It’s labeled to kill roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, and some tapeworms, but it isn’t effective against the most common tapeworms, and therefore shouldn’t be relied on to kill tapes. Fenbendazole’s major use in shelters is for killing whipwormsGiardia, and lungworms.

Fenbendazole comes as a liquid and as granules, both of which can be kept at room temperature. A major con of fenbendazole is cost. A three day course of liquid Panacur for an adult cat will cost $1, while a single dose of pyrantel (Strongid) will cost $0.05.

Fun fact: When treating whipworms (Trichuris vulpis) you may have heard of the rule of 3’s, treat for three days, then repeat a three day course at three weeks and again at three months. This is an easy and commonly recited treatment regime, but did you know that there is actually a scientific reason NOT to treat like this? Whipworms take 3 months to mature from an egg to an adult. If you kill adults at day 1, then three weeks later there will be some immature adults which will have matured, but you’ll still have eggs and larval worms present. Wait until 3 months and then treat again, and don’t bother with the three week treatment.

Animal Welfare

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Merriam-Webster defines welfare as the “state of being happy, healthy, or successful”. Obviously, this definition is geared toward a human perspective. Then what defines animal welfare?  Perhaps the closest we have are a set of principles for basic animal care called the Five Freedoms. The concept of the Five Freedoms originated in a 1965 report to improve care of livestock animals in the UK. The freedoms are as follows; Freedom from Hunger and Thirst, Freedom from Discomfort, Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease, Freedom to Express Normal Behaviour, Freedom from Fear and Distress. These freedoms have served as guidelines for the development of animal care protocols across species. Long term animal housing facilities ranging from laboratory animals to zoo species have also taken from these principles.  The Guidelines for Standards of Care of Shelter Animals was written with these tenets at the basis of each section. Although the five freedoms prescribe what every animal needs to have minimally acceptable welfare, there are no guidelines on how to implement them.

 

So let’s apply these freedoms to my cat. 1) Freedom from hunger and thirst. Easy, he gets free choice dry and two bowls of water. 2) Freedom from discomfort. Pesco has a number of soft places to sleep many of which are me. However, occasionally I will take him on a five hour car ride home, palpate his abdomen, or attempt to trim his nails, all of which he finds highly disagreeable. 3) Freedom from pain, injury, or disease. Pesco has FIV and dental disease, one of which is being addressed by providing veterinary dental care. 4) Freedom to express normal behavior. Pesco gets to run, stretch, sleep all day, scrape up his litterbox, and scratch his nails on his cardboard. If he tries to scratch the carpet, I chase him around the house. If I’m not home, I’m sure he is quite pleased with himself. 5) Freedom from fear and distress. One phrase: the vacuum cleaner.

I have hopefully used the example of my own cat to highlight the difficulties of maximizing animal welfare. These challenges are quite evident in the shelter setting where we insult animal welfare daily. Noise, cleaning, handling, surgery, even physical examinations can violate 1 or 2 of an animals freedoms but are unavoidable and help maintain the other freedoms that an animal deserves. Animals don’t understand the being uncomfortable to achieve a happy goal. The only understand that they are currently uncomfortable. Maximizing animal welfare can therefore have profound effects on the behavioral and physical health of an animal by minimizing said discomfort. One way that you can maximize animal welfare on a daily basis is to perform daily rounds. Visualizing each animal allows you the opportunity to ask yourself “What does this animal need to move through the shelter?” and “What can I do for this animal right now?”. Even in small shelters where we believe we have a firm grasp on who every animal is and what we think they may need, it is surprising how much can fall through the cracks and how much things can change. Daily rounds enables us to keep track of the animals passing through our doors as well as giving us the immediate opportunity to fulfill their needs.

CNY Shelter Forum: A Collaborative Experience

frustrated_womanHave you ever felt as though your organization is a small island in the sea of shelter work? Have you ever wished you could find out how others handle situations?

The Central New York Shelter Forum is the brainchild of Dr. Berliner, the Director of Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at Cornell University. Hosted by the Shelter Medicine Program , local shelters are invited to meet the first Thursday of every  month at Cornell University. The purpose is to discuss a specific topic (suggested by those who participate) in a friendly, nonjudgmental environment.  Veterinarians and staff from the Shelter Medicine Program initiate the conversation by giving a brief presentation at the beginning. Then the floor is opened up for anyone to ask questions, offer suggestions, or share stories. Feedback from those who have attended so far has shown a tremendous appreciation for simply being able to hear what other shelters are doing.1011871.large

The first meeting took place in September where Dr. Hoshizaki led the discussion on intake protocols for dogs and cats. When to vaccinate, types of vaccines, de-worming, flea/tick control, and  housing are examples of items that were discussed. In our October meeting, Dr. Putnam prompted discussion on spay/neuter programs, surgical age, holding of animals until spay/neuter is performed, and required resources for an efficient spay/neuter program.

470745_10150786259925903_1732259428_oOur next CNY Shelter Forum will take place on November 6th at 5:30pm. Casey Lomonaco, the Behavior Programs Manager from the SPCA of Tompkins County, will start a discussion on Top Behavior Problems found in the shelter. Any shelter within a reasonable distance from Cornell University is welcome to join us. If you would like details on when and where it all happens please email sheltermedicine@cornell.edu

PetPoint Summit 2014 Highlights

This past weekend, over a hundred animal welfare professionals flocked to Chicago for the 4th annual PetPoint Summit.  Offerings included workshops in basic and advanced functionality, Q&A’s, lectures and personal training sessions. Several product announcements occurred, including new PetPoint modules and new microchip technology. Just like a Kickstarter fund, PetHealth is still looking for funds to pay for the development of these new features. Early adopters will get access to the features as they are made available, get significant discounts on pricing, and have lower prices locked in for 3 years. Let’s take a look at some features which are now available, and which ones will be available in the near future.

Advanced Productivity

Logo-DMSFile storage: In addition to the standard three images and video which can be added to an animal, it will now be possible to attach other types of files. A new tab is now available for purchase, which will allow you to upload up to 250 files per animal. Finally we can attach vet records, lab results, scanned letters or other documents, and even .ZIP files. There is a maximum of 5MB per file, and a total of 1TB per organization. For those of you not technologically savy: 1-2 page PDFs are 200KB, high definition pictures are 2,000KB, and a large veterinary textbook is 5,000KB (5MB). Most standard files will be less than 5MB, and 99.9% of organizations will not exceed the 1TB (1000GB) data cap.

E-signature: Closely related to the ability to store files, is the ability to store e-signatures. Signatures can be obtained through touch screen devices (tablets, smartphones) or standard credit card signature pads. E-signatures can be used for adopters, consent forms and payments, allowing receipts and contracts to be e-mailed rather than printed. This can be particularly useful for saving medical or veterinary staff signatures, which can be printed out on vaccine or medical records.

Mobile Animal Inventory: PetPoint is finally going mobile! This new features will not be a traditional app one which can download onto your device from the Apple or Google Play stores. Instead, PetPoint will be available as a mobile web app. A mobile web app is a website, which is accessed through a browser like a normal site, but when the device which accesses the site is below a certain size or resolution, the website will automatically switch to the mobile web app view. This is similar to a mobile responsive website, which resizes and changes appearance to look better on a small screen. A mobile web app is designed to look like a native app (the kind you download), but to exist within a web browser. Through this app we can expect new features including taking pictures and videos with your phone that are automatically added to an animal’s file, to-do lists for daily rounds, and increased ease of real time updates.

Advanced visual calendar: The scheduling module is getting a facelift, including a basic visual calendar for ease of reading. Scheduling is also getting new features such as find next appointment, automated reminders, and a public consumer portal for self-scheduling of appointments. The scheduling module enhancement will be useful for those wanting to organize fosters, spay/neuter, vaccine, and other appointments or clinics.

Pricing: The Advanced productivity suite will be $2,000 – $3,000/year, but can be purchased as individual features. File storage alone will be $1,000/year, file storage and electronic signature $1,500/year. An additional TB of data storage will be $400/year.

My verdict:  Features I am most interested in are the file storage and mobile web app. Adding vet records, test results, x-rays, and other documents to the digital record has been sorely needed. The price is high, but provides adequate storage for most purposes. The mobile web app makes me excited, I love the idea of using PetPoint while on rounds. However, the app is a LONG way off, and PetPoint’s web design and UI have not impressed in the past.

Clinic Services Suite

CaptureMore and more shelters are also creating or are affiliated with clinics that provide low-cost veterinary services to the public. Shelters are also often involved with outreach, vaccine or spay neuter clinics. Worse of all, some shelters have to use two software products: one for the shelter and one for the “private practice” side of the organization. PetPoint’s new Clinic Services Suite will allow for standard features such as annual client vaccine reminders, integration in the scheduling module, invoices, multiple or recurring debit/credit card payments.

Other enhancements we can expect in the future include body system (SOAP) checklists, standardization of procedures (allowing tasks, medication, exam, and food to all auto-populate), reactivate canceled treatments, and skip treatments. Exciting news is that records transfer will now transfer ALL exams and treatments between organizations, rather than only basic information.

Some features will be Clinic Services Suite exclusive, while others will trickle down to Enterprise, Professional and Lite versions. This module requires a $2,500 deposit, and will be $5,500 – $6,500/year when complete. There is 25% discount for those wanting to sign up now, but many features are not yet available. Some feature overlap with Advanced productivity means that you’ll get a significant discount if purchasing both modules.

My Verdict: With a very large price tag on top of your Enterprise or Advanced Productivity modules, I think this module will be a hard sale for PetPoint. I personally don’t use public clinic features, but understand the need in certain organizations. Other new features tied in with the development Clinic Services Suite, such as the standardization of procedures, reactivation of canceled treatments, and complete records transfer will be of more use to the general PetPoint user. Again, this module is a long way off, so early adopters may not be getting much bang for their buck… yet.

Allflex T-chip

image004On Monday Allflex unveiled their new microchip product, the T Chip, a microchip with functions as a built in thermometer. The microchip can be read as a regular chip, but will also provide a temperature reading at scanning. Certain compatible scanners require a software upgrade (available online) in order to read the temperature. The temperature you take will be lower than a rectal temperature, as the chip is on the periphery, rather than in the core of the animal. This superficial temperature reading is subject to high variability due to environmental factors (e.g. dog walking outside in the fun). Temperatures also have high individual variability, and taking multiple readings is essential in order to interpret the results, which can downloaded off the scanner into an Excel spreadsheet.

My Verdict: A novel idea, my personal concern with this product is the utility within the shelter. While hands-off, one person monitoring is a nice thing to strive towards, most shelters don’t microchip animals upon intake. Animals coming through the door are the most likely to be or become ill, while those who are at surgery and get the microchip are less likely to need the chip. The (significantly) increased cost of $8.95 is another issue which I cannot see in the shelter setting. This premium product also has limited application once adopted, since owners and most veterinarians will not have a compatible scanner. Unfortunately, I’d be more interested in paying a premium on a GPS product than a T-chip.

For more information about products and services, please visit the PetPoint and or PetHealth Inc. websites for more information. Please click for the official suite brochure: http://petpoint.com/info/pdf_sellsheets/PP_DMS_Add_On_Suites.pdf

Rethinking community cats

Have you ever passed by a cat outside and wondered whether it was lost or just an owned cat enjoying the outdoors? In some instances, the cat may be neither and instead a “community cat”.  Community cats are cats that may be stray, feral, or loosely owned outdoor cats. These cats are “owned” by a community of people, rather than one individual person. Members of the community provide their care by providing food, shelter and in some instances veterinary care. Many animal welfare organizations have recognized these efforts and offer resources and assistance to ensure the care and management of community cats. Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to attend “Rethinking the Cat”, a daylong symposium in Syracuse, NY dedicated to community cats sponsored by the Humane Society of the United States and Petsmart Charities.

outdoor cat 1

 

The session began with an inspiring lecture by Christy Rogero of Pets For Life Philadelphia and Camden at HSUS. Christy’s passion for pets and people led her directly into underserved areas of these cities where her goal was and continues to be sharing information with community members that will help provide care to their pets. Emphasizing the need for animal welfare organizations to develop trusting relationships with the members of these communities, Christy highlighted personal stories of challenges and triumphs. She reminded the audience that although community cats may appear to be un-owned, community members often feel a strong attachment to these cats. It is therefore very important that members of animal welfare organizations introduce themselves and clearly explain their intent to help community cats.  By doing so, community members are more likely to be supportive of the animal welfare agency’s efforts and may even be willing to lend a hand. The result will be greater success at providing care and management of community cat populations.

feral cats eating

 

Dr. Cynthia Karsten of the Koret Shelter Medicine program at UC Davis College of Veterinary Medicine discussed the effects of traditional community cat population management methods on the cats, shelters and the communities from which the cats come. Removal of community cats has historically been expensive and ineffective. Admitting community cats into shelters may contribute to overcrowding, leading to increased disease transmission. Dr. Karsten advised returning healthy community cats to the locale in which they were found, as even in harsh climates these cats are capable of survival. Returning community cats after they have been neutered and vaccinated will contribute to the health of both the community cat population and the shelter.

cat buried in snow

 

Dr. Michelle White of Cornell University gave several tips on how to engage local veterinarians in the management of community cats. Dr. White suggested animal welfare organizations reach out to veterinarians who are openly supportive of humane community cat management. Veterinarians may be willing to help by providing individual animal care, population level care or spay/neuter services. Establishing medical and surgical protocols in collaboration with the veterinarian will strengthen the relationship between the animal welfare organization and the veterinarian. Lastly, Dr. White stressed the importance of determining surgical and medical capacity, after-hour care and fees with the veterinarian ahead of time to ensure a smooth process.

feral cat and kittens

“Rethinking the Cat” provided an excellent opportunity for animal welfare organizations to learn and discuss innovative methods for community cat care and management. If your animal welfare organization is thinking about becoming involved in caring for community cats please visit the following links:

http://www.petsmartcharities.org

http://www.humanesociety.org/about/departments/pets-for-life/

 

HSVMA RAVS: Life changing

Monstro waiting to be neutered in WA RAVS clinic

Monstro waiting to be neutered in WA RAVS clinic

I’ve been participating in a wonderful and compassionate organization known as RAVS since 2010. RAVS, an acronym for Rural Area Veterinary Services, is part of the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association and brings veterinary services to rural communities. Community members not only face financial impediments to veterinary care, but geographic location often makes it impossible to visit the veterinarian. I could rattle on endlessly about RAVS – the setup, the breakdown, the locations, the people. But it would be much easier for everyone to visit their website at http://www.ruralareavet.org/ and http://blog.humanesociety.org/wayne/2014/09/hsvma-mobile-veterinary-clinics.html.

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The Maggie Mobile pulls ‘The Rig’ in WA sunset

What I would like to share is the impact it’s had on my life. I’ve been a veterinary technician for 20 years. When I was in college, the average number of years a tech worked in the veterinary field was 5 years. For a variety of reasons that number really hasn’t changed. Up until 2010, I had worked primarily in emergency and critical care. I was feeling burned out, underappreciated, and looking for a career change. Then I did a RAVS trip. Never before had I witnessed what a dramatic effect a team of veterinary professionals and students can have on a community and their pets. Through this sense of accomplishment, I was able to recommit to my profession. And there are hundreds, if not thousands, of stories just like mine.

Omak Longhouse

Omak Longhouse

I was reminded of the impact RAVS has on the animals it serves just this past August. We were doing a field clinic in Washington State on the Quinault Indian Reservation. Hunter, a 5 or 6 year old Boston Terrier, came in to be spayed. She was 8 weeks postpartum and it was suspected she was still hemorrhaging from her uterus. She was weak, anemic, yet still a great mom. In surgery, the bleeding was confirmed and her uterus was very friable. Dr. Paul Breckenridge, an experienced RAVS staff veterinarian, performed the spay without complications and stopped the bleeding. On recovery though, Hunter appeared restless and panting. She seemed to be exhibiting signs of hypocalcemia. It was unusual considering she had had the puppies 8 weeks prior, and being a MASH style clinic we did not have the means to test her calcium level. But that’s just one more thing RAVS teaches you – troubleshooting. Without knowing what her calcium level was, we definitely did not want to give her injectable calcium due to potential cardiac side effects (as in the heart stopping). But then Windi Wojdak, the director of RAVS, suggested we try some oral supplementation. So we pulled out the TUMS and gave her a slurry. Within the hour, Hunter was resting comfortably in her cage. Hunter’s visit to the RAVS clinic saved her life.

Hunter with her student anesthetist, Leah

Hunter with her student anesthetist, Leah

Not only did RAVS change my life on a conscious level, but it did so in a very literal sense as well. Through RAVS I met my current boss, Dr. Elizabeth Berliner, Director of Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at Cornell University and RAVS junkie. Because of her, I was afforded the opportunity to step outside of emergency and critical care and try out shelter medicine. Yay Shelter Med!