HSVMA links veterinary professionals to animal welfare needs and programs

Veterinary students at the Detroit street clinic examine a dog. Photo by Pam Runquist/HSVMA

The Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, an affiliate of the Humane Society of the United States, is the nation’s only organization for veterinary professionals that focuses solely on animal welfare. The HSVMA contributes to the work we do every day, by bringing the important veterinary voice to advancing animal welfare legislation, by working closely alongside us and the Humane Society Legislative Fund to provide veterinary expertise and support on issues including puppy mills, wildlife protection, farm animal welfare, animal cruelty reporting and prosecution, and by mobilizing its members on key initiatives, like collecting signatures to support ballot measures and providing veterinary teams to lobby or testify on behalf of animal protection legislation. The HSVMA also offers a popular webinar series that provides unique animal-welfare-focused continuing education for veterinary professionals.

An important aspect of the HSVMA’s work is to educate future veterinarians on animal welfare issues. The organization has student chapters and representatives on veterinary college campuses across the nation, and this past weekend, the chapter at Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine coordinated the HSVMA’s 5th Annual Animal Welfare Symposium, where, among other learning opportunities, students had a chance to provide care to animals at a street clinic. Today, I’ve invited Pam Runquist, the HSVMA’s executive director, to tell us more about the symposium, the clinic and the work the HSVMA does every day to help animals here in the United States and globally.

HSVMA Executive Director Pam Runquist

HSVMA Executive Director Pam Runquist

This past Sunday, about 20 veterinary students from Michigan State University gathered in a parking lot in downtown Detroit for a street clinic. They were excited to put into practice what they had been learning for a good cause: a chance to provide animals of homeless parents and other families in need with free wellness care at the clinic.

“This is exactly what I want to be doing after I graduate,” one veterinary student said later that morning after completing an exam on an adorable pit bull puppy.

These are gratifying words for us to hear, here at the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association. Founded in 2008 as the veterinary affiliate of the Humane Society of the United States, the HSVMA is the only association for veterinary professionals that focuses solely on animal welfare. We provide our members – who include veterinarians, veterinary technicians, veterinary students and veterinary technician students around the United States and even globally – with animal welfare resources and opportunities to help animals in need.

We know that veterinary students, despite tremendous responsibilities, including long hours at school, lots of exams and huge student debt, are always eager for more such opportunities, and we have been actively engaged in providing these on veterinary school campuses nationwide. Each year, HSVMA, led by our Student Outreach Program Manager Heather Schrader, a registered veterinary technician, coordinates Student Chapter and Representative programs on participating campuses. We also sponsor a Compassionate Care Scholarship program and World Spay Day clinics, and host animal welfare presentations.

The street clinic in Detroit was coordinated in conjunction with the HSVMA’s 5th Annual Animal Welfare Symposium, held this past weekend at Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine. In addition to the HSVMA MSU Student Chapter, other street clinic partners included the Street Dog Coalition, Michigan Humane Society and Burners Without Borders, a grassroots organization that provides funding to community initiatives.

Attendees at the 5th Annual Animal Welfare Symposium for Veterinary Students at Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine. Photo by Jennie Nguyen

For the students, the street clinic was a unique opportunity to put into practice what they had learned, under the supervision of volunteer veterinarians, including Dr. Jon Geller, founder of the Street Dog Coalition. While the veterinary students took care of the pets, the animals’ family members received medical check-ups and supplies from other participating organizations, including Street Medicine Detroit.

At the symposium, on Saturday, students from 14 veterinary schools learned about topics ranging from veterinary forensics, wildlife medicine and equine welfare to hospice care, disaster response and how to enhance welfare for animals in a shelter setting. The students also attended sessions by Dr. Geller who, in his presentation, covered the unique medical needs of animals living on the streets and the protocols for providing effective veterinary medical care in outdoor settings with limited supplies and equipment.

The HSVMA has a State Representative Program, founded in 2014, and Dr. Geller serves as our Colorado state representative. This program has substantially enhanced our impact, with volunteer veterinarians now representing the organization in 29 states and the District of Columbia. The representatives conduct outreach, assist with advocacy initiatives, and offer vital first-hand perspectives from their respective states.

Students at the street clinic in Detroit yesterday also had a chance to participate in a suture lab led by veterinarians with the Fund for Animals Rural Area Veterinary Service (RAVS) program. The lab offered training in essential surgery skills so that students can be better prepared to participate in RAVS clinics and other volunteer opportunities for animals in need.

By the time they were ready to leave yesterday, after a weekend packed with information and hands-on experience, many of the participating students told us they now had an improved understanding of animal welfare, sheltering, homelessness and more, and were inspired to continue working in the animal welfare arena during their school years and beyond.

As Emily Boccia, one of the veterinary students, described it: “We talked about things that matter to animals. We talked about things that matter to people. We talked about things that matter to communities. We talked about how to make a difference. We talked about the stuff that brought me to vet school.”

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