For Dr. Nellie Goetz, participating in the Reaching UP program reaffirmed that she made the right choice when she decided to change her path in veterinary medicine.
“It made me feel like I was really where I should be as a veterinarian,” said Dr. Goetz, an AVMA member who is experienced in high-quality, high-volume spay/neuter.
In November, the AVMA, along with the Native America Humane Society and Forming Positive Links Committee, brought the Reaching UP program to the Pueblo of Laguna in New Mexico. Reaching UP is funded by the American Veterinary Medical Foundation (AVMF) and coordinated by staff within AVMA’s Animal Welfare Division. It has provided high-quality, high-volume spay/neuter and preventive care to underserved populations.
Being able to make a difference in an underserved community, along with her passion for high-quality, high-volume spay/neuter is what made Dr. Goetz — currently a veterinarian at the Santa Fe Animal Shelter and Humane Society — want to get involved with Reaching UP.
“I started out as a large-animal surgeon,” Dr. Goetz said, “but I didn’t feel like I was doing enough for the animals, or for my community. But I really loved surgery, and high-quality, high-volume spay/neuter was a way for me to combine what I loved and what I was good at with making a difference.”
Dr. Goetz is working toward a master’s degree in public health through Johns Hopkins University and also doing a certificate program in Native American and Indian Studies. Reaching UP was a way to bring together all of her interests, plus help provide a community with much-needed veterinary care.
“There’s a misconception about people living in less-than-affluent communities that they don’t care about their pets, and that’s not the case. Most of the time, they’re doing the best they can do,” she said. “To be able to provide something like this for people who truly need it and appreciate it was very moving.”
She said of all the animals she saw during the clinic, one in particular stands out. On the second day of the clinic, she saw a man with his dog in the parking lot. The dog, named Sansa, “was terrified,” Dr. Goetz said, because she was coming into a busy atmosphere and had never really left her home.
“But during the morning prayer said by Dr. Francisco’s father, the dog crawled over and put her head in my lap,” Dr. Goetz said, recalling the daily prayer said by Dr. Tolani Francisco’s father, a tribal elder, in which he blessed the veterinarians and animals.
Dr. Francisco, an AVMA member, helped bring Reaching UP to the Pueblo of Laguna, and her success at bringing the program to her community was due to the high standard of care associated with the AVMA’s involvement. Dr. Goetz also emphasized the high quality of care at the Reaching UP clinic. She used to work at Humane Alliance in Asheville, N.C., and said the veterinary team was able to take techniques and protocols from Humane Alliance and translate them to Reaching UP.
“A lot of the time, there’s a stigma or propensity to think this is less than ideal care in less than ideal settings, but it was nothing less than what I would do with my own pets,” she said.
After performing about half of the 125 spay/neuter surgeries during the course of the clinic and getting to speak to pet owners and see the love they had for their pets, Dr. Goetz was affected personally.
“It was very moving to see how much these people loved their pets and how grateful they were that we could do this for them,” she said.