March 15, 2005


 AVMA Answers

Posted March 1, 2005

Q:  Why did the AVMA collaborate with Heifer International to raise $1 million for victims of the 2004 tsunami?
Dr. Bruce W. Little, AVMA executive vice president, responds: 

A:   We got involved because our members wanted to know whether the AVMA was participating in the relief efforts. After receiving several calls, e-mails, and other communications, we thought we should consider ways the AVMA could help. And since the tsunami was one of the most destructive disasters to ever impact the world, the AVMA knew assistance was a must.

Several AVMA staff members have experience with Heifer International. It's a charitable organization with more than 60 years of experience of contributing life-sustaining animals to struggling families around the world. AVMA division directors discussed several possible organizations the AVMA might donate to, including Doctors Without Borders, UNICEF, and Red Cross. But, ultimately, we thought Heifer International would be the best choice because of its long-term recovery focus and its ability to better the lives of the people in the disaster-stricken region through the integration of animal agriculture, and animal husbandry and welfare programs.

Also, Dr. Cindy Lovern (assistant director in the AVMA Scientific Activities Division) is compiling a list of veterinarians and veterinary technicians who have offered to volunteer in tsunami-stricken countries, if needed. Dr. Lovern made it known to relief agencies that we have a list of veterinary professionals who want to help; a couple volunteers have already been utilized.

We've only recently partnered with Heifer, but already one person has donated $5,000 and donations have come from eight states, so far. Heifer has had inquiries from veterinarians as far away as Puerto Rico. One person threw a Mardi Gras party with the proceeds from 75 attendees going to our tsunami efforts. We anticipate lots of contributions. I know quite a few AVMA staff have donated, too.

Q:  What distinguishes Heifer International from other aid organizations?
A:   I think people cycle in and out of a philanthropic mood. There are a lot of agencies participating in relief efforts, and a lot of money was being poured in to help. We felt like there was already a very strong effort to meet the immediate needs of the tsunami victims, which would include shelter, food, medical care, counseling—those things people needed to survive initially. So much of the time, those kinds of donations get absorbed into the big picture and their effects cannot be evaluated well. So, the AVMA division directors decided that the animal-related, long-term development program Heifer offers was the best choice to recommend to our Executive Board for their approval.

Heifer is a great organization. It's animal-related, and it helps feed the world's hungry. It has extremely strong ties to veterinary medicine. Heifer has veterinarians on staff who train veterinarians and community animal health workers around the world how to care for the animals they receive. But, what most convinced us that this was the right thing to do was the fact that Heifer's programs would help sustain the lives of tsunami victims long after they had recovered from the initial shock of the disaster.

Heifer requires that each family give one or more of its animal's offspring to another family in the community. It's called "passing on the gift." I like that concept. Heifer helps the people to get their feet back on the ground. I like the axiom, "Give a man a fish and feed him for a day; teach a man how to fish and feed him for a lifetime."

I initiated this program in my Rotary Club a few years ago. We have donated approximately 82 animals. I once received a letter from a lady in Kampala, Uganda, with 13 children, whose husband had been killed in a civil war. None of her kids could go to school because she could not afford the tuition. Her family received a dairy cow from Heifer. They used the manure to fertilize a crop on a half acre of land to feed the cow. The lady wrote how she got 34 cups of milk a day from the cow; 17 of those she sold and so she was able to pay for three of her kids to attend school. The other milk she fed to her children. Now that makes me feel good—an animal gift that becomes a vital part of the family and whose life not only directly impacts the family but will also have a direct and positive impact on the lives of that family's offspring and their immediate community. One animal truly can change lives dramatically and forever.

To learn more about the AVMA-Heifer International collaboration to raise $1 million
for long-term development in tsunami-ravaged countries of South and Southeast
Asia, visit the AVMA Web site,