Giving back: Hearing the call to service

Published on June 10, 2019

President’s Column: Dr. John de Jong

The veterinary profession is special in so many ways, but perhaps most obviously so when generosity of spirit, compassion, and dedication to society call us to provide our services to those most in need.

As veterinarians, we touch many lives every single day. We treat patients, consult with clients, and work to protect our food supply. We conduct crucial research and combat the spread of zoonotic disease. We share a passion grounded in science to protect animals, people, and the planet upon which we live.

We also share something a bit more personal. We commonly have a desire to help those who are less fortunate when they need it most. We have a long history of stepping up and serving others, and we have made serving the greater good part of the fabric of our profession.

The AVMA’s charitable arm, the American Veterinary Medical Foundation, does a tremendous amount of wonderful work for animals and the veterinary community, and none of it would be possible without your support. The AVMF provides both resources and grants to help veterinarians help animals. Scholarships help veterinary students with the cost of education, and grants help fund necessary research. The AVMF’s Veterinary Care Charitable Fund provides veterinarians a simple and effective way to offer charitable veterinary services to clients facing personal hardships, as well as a means to support animals injured as a result of abuse and neglect.

When it comes to individuals doing all they can to help others—even when they might be struggling themselves—we need look no further than the efforts displayed following the many natural disasters that have occurred over the past several years. In the aftermath of Hurricane Florence last fall, for example, veterinarians like Dr. Steven Stelma continued offering veterinary services despite having to cope with hurricane damage at their own practices and homes. Dr. Stelma, a North Carolina companion animal practitioner who serves as his state’s alternate delegate in the AVMA House of Delegates, described his personal experience living through Hurricane Florence as “emotionally and physically devastating.”

But his commitment to community didn’t waver.

“After the storm, we were the only veterinary practice within probably 50 miles that had electricity, so we had a flood of emergency patients and boarding requests, and we tried to help as many as we could,” he said.

That same desire to help was evident following other crises, including the devastating California wildfires of 2018 and Hurricanes Michael, Harvey, and Maria. We’ve all seen or heard stories about animal shelters and veterinary hospitals, most of which were already at capacity, working overtime to accommodate the injured, tired, and hungry. We have been inspired and impressed by the veterinarians and veterinary students who worked, often side by side, to help rescue and care for so many victims of these catastrophic events.

Last November, I joined my AVMA Board colleague Dr. José Arce, a resident of Puerto Rico, and teams of other volunteer veterinarians to lend a hand during Spayathon for Puerto Rico. This high-quality, high-volume, spay-neuter initiative was held several times after Hurricane Maria worsened the U.S. commonwealth's stray animal problem, and tens of thousands of cats and dogs received needed veterinary care as a result. It was a generous, heartwarming show of support and service for a community badly in need of a helping hand.

Veterinarians’ desire to help also extends to service in organized veterinary medicine. Volunteering for state VMAs, allied organizations, and the AVMA’s councils, committees, panels, and task forces is a great way to give back. Today, the AVMA is fortunate to have more than 600 incredible volunteers, each one of them making the profession a bit better and a bit stronger.

As veterinarians, we occupy a special place in this world that allows us to use our talents, our skills, our passion, and our expertise to help all species. This, at least in part, is what drives me and so many others to serve our animal and human populations when they need us most. Veterinarians take an oath to work for the benefit of society, and on behalf of the AVMA, I thank you for living that oath and for all that you do for animals, for people, and for the world in which we live.

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