Convention partners provide free care in host community

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AVMA collaborated with The Street Dog Coalition and event sponsors for a pop-up veterinary clinic to give people experiencing homelessness essential medical exams for their pets and other services

Veterinary Clinic at AVMA 2024

Photos by Kristen Coppock Crossley/dvm360

A veterinary clinic popped up in an Austin, Texas, parking lot on Sunday to provide free medical care to 40 companion animals owned by individuals experiencing homelessness. The 4-hour event included health checks and basic medical care for the dogs and cats that were brought there, and owners were given vouchers to defray the cost of spay and neutering through local veterinarians.

The clinic was created through a partnership of The Street Dog Coalition, a national nonprofit organization, and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). It was supported by event sponsors Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Merck Animal Health, and Western Veterinary Partners.

Veterinary Clinic at AVMA 2024

The event drew 80 volunteers, which included many veterinary professionals who are attending the 2024 AVMA Convention, just a short walk away from where the outdoor clinic operated. “Working with the Street Dog Coalition to help people experiencing homelessness and their pets is a privilege and a highlight of our annual convention,” Rena Carlson, DVM, president, AVMA, said in a news release.1

Katrina Weschler, executive director of The Street Dog Coalition, said the convention allows the coalition to organize a clinic on a larger scale than those it typically operates around the country. “We have so many eager volunteers at our disposal at the AVMA convention; veterinarians, veterinary technicians, humanitarian advocates, and people that might not be familiar with The Street Dog Coalition, but now that they are. We're hoping that they go back to their hometowns, and if we have a team nearby, they volunteer with them,” Weschler said in a dvm360 interview.

Veterinary Clinic at AVMA 2024

Under a collection of pop-up canopies, some volunteers checked in new arrivals, while others worked in medical care stations to administer vaccines, give health exams, test for parasite infestation, and provide water to canines and humans. Across the street, an RV recently donated to the coalition by ElleVet Sciences was used to care for feline patients. And, despite the day’s high temperature, volunteers and pet owners were all smiles.

At the clinic site, Karen Shenoy, DVM, chief veterinary officer for Hill’s, said the event has been very meaningful. “This year, we certainly have a steady flow, but a manageable number of individuals, [which] allows you to spend some really meaningful time with each pet and each pet parent and make the most of that time that you have together. It's just been really heartwarming to see people come through with their pets and to know that we can answer their questions and help them in whatever way we're able to, so they have the support they need to stay together with their pets,” Shenoy continued.

Veterinary Clinic at AVMA 2024

According to Hilary Wheeler, DVM, medical director for The Street Dog Coalition, the organization values quality over quantity for the communities they serve. “We don't want to be an assembly line vaccine [administrator]. We want to take the time to engage with the pet parent, talk to them about their animal’s health, tell them and reinforce with them what an amazing job they're doing keeping their pets healthy, and [that] we're just here to get them caught up with their vaccine boosters, treat any minor medical conditions, ensure they have heartworm prevention, flea/tick prevention, all of the things that we know they need to stay healthy going forward, and that we want them to stay together. We want to make sure that they can be together, whatever that looks like,” Wheeler said in a dvm360 interview.

During the event, volunteers handed out collapsible bowls for water and food, treats, toys, leashes and collars. Owners also took away free bags of pet food and human care kits that included oral health and hygiene products donated by Hill’s and its parent company, Colgate-Palmolive. Additionally, Merck Animal Health provided vaccines and preventive medications for heartworm and flea/tick, while lunch was donated by Western Veterinary Partners for the volunteers and pet owners.

Carollee Brinkman, founder and CEO of Western Veterinary Partners, expressed gratitude for the opportunity to support The Street Dog Coalition’s mission to provide medical care where it’s needed. “As a legacy sponsor of The Street Dog Coalition, we’ve seen the incredible impact these clinics have had on the lives of pets and pet parents,” Brinkman said in the news release.

Veterinary Clinic at AVMA 2024

Shenoy said she appreciates working with the AVMA at their annual convention, and the free clinic is an example of why. “One of the unique things that they do is focus on different ways to give back and do outreach. This event's a big one for us. We also have the Vet for a Day activity [during the convention], in partnership with the Critter Fixers, that's focusing on reaching out to students in the community and making sure that they know that a career path in veterinary medicine could be for them, even if they're from an underrepresented group in the profession,” Shenoy said in a dvm360 interview.

“It's always really wonderful to see that, in addition to the education and the other things that you think of when you think of [the AVMA] conference, you get to do this. For me, it's a chance to get reconnected with the whole reason I got into veterinary medicine to begin with, to help people and their pets be happier and healthier,” she continued. “That's what it's all about.”

Reference

AVMA, The Street Dog Coalition partner to help pets of people experiencing homelessness in Austin. News release. American Veterinary Medical Association. June 17, 2024. Accessed June 23, 2024. https://www.avma.org/news/press-releases/avma-street-dog-coalition-partner-help-pets-people-experiencing-homelessness-austin

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