By STEVEN NALLEY
For the past five years, students at Mississippi State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine have gained real-world experience through the program’s Mobile Veterinary Clinic.
Keith Gaskin, CVM senior director of development, said students visit 15 north Mississippi communities, spaying and neutering animals at shelters which do not have surgical facilities under faculty members’ close supervision.
“Not only is it helping save animals’ lives and helping (people) be able to adopt them to a good home, it’s also helping communities (save) tax dollars,” Gaskin said. “Our students graduate now with more surgery experience than any other vet school in the country because of this program.”
Now, that experience is about to multiply twice over.
Mississippi State University unveiled a second Mobile Veterinary Clinic at the Wise Center Friday.
Karen Templeton, CVM outreach director, said PetSmart Charities, a division of the PetSmart retail chain, donated about $250,000 for the new vehicle. PetSmart’s donation was a response to a fundraising campaign started by CVM students, Templeton said.
“With this addition, twice as many students can go out and do surgeries,” Templeton said. “Even more students get this experience of going out and working in north Mississippi animal shelters.
“(The new Mobile Veterinary Clinic is) similar to the first one, but... they were able to see some changes that could be made, such as pocket doors instead of doors that open straight out,” Templeton added. “There’s a little bit more room in it.”
Gaskin said even though PetSmart has paid for the Mobile Veterinary Clinic itself, there is still a need for the CVM students’ fundraising efforts. Each year, it costs about $250,000 to keep the current Mobile Veterinary Clinic on the road, he said, and CVM wants both clinics to visit more shelters in the future.
“The money (the students are) raising will help put this new unit on the road in January,” Gaskin said. “The fact that the students were so enthusiastic about this is one of the reasons we’ve been able to get people to support this at the level that they have. We’re always pleased to partner with organizations like PetSmart Charities, because this enables us to make sure our students are getting a top-quality education. Private dollars play a major role in that now.”
Gaskin said the Mobile Veterinary Clinic program’s creator, Dr. Philip Bushby, also deserves significant credit for the program’s success. A key reason donors like PetSmart are interested in the program is the international leadership among veterinary colleges it represents, Gaskin said.
“The other universities are looking at what he’s doing and trying to implement (mobile veterinary clinics) at their colleges,” Gaskin said. “That’s one of the reasons we’ve been so successful with grants. This is actually our third grant for the same program.”
Bushby said it is gratifying to see other schools emulate MSU’s example. More than 4 million dogs and cats are euthanized each year in U.S. animal shelters alone, he said, and every measure to address pet overpopulation helps.
“Purdue University obtained a mobile unit about one month ago and is duplicating our program,” Bushby said. “At least two other universities are considering the same. The surgical training for the students is a great benefit, and the shelters benefit from the services. The animals that are spayed and neutered have a much better chance of adoptions, but the strongest benefit is that it exposes the next generation of veterinarians to the severity of the pet overpopulation and gives them the skills to assist in the solution.”
Bushby said the CVM Class of 2014 initiated the fundraising project began when they realized a second Mobile Veterinary Clinic was necessary for the entire class to be able to get the surgical experience the vehicles offer. No one expected the goal to be reached as fast as it has, he said.
“I know of no other example of a student-initiated project that has been so successful so quickly,” Bushby said. “The students that started this never thought that they would benefit. They expected that it would take years. One and a half years later, the new unit is here already.”
Gaskin said the exact plans for the second mobile clinic are not set in stone right now. The first mobile clinic is in need of refurbishing, he said, so the new mobile clinic will likely relieve the first for some time.
“The mobile unit is also used in case of emergency, (for) something like Katrina,” Gaskin said. “The second mobile unit is in case something like that happens, so it’s deployed to the southern part of the state (while the first remains in North Mississippi.”