Military, volunteer service are themes for AVMF at convention

$140,000 raised for charity’s causes
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At this year’s AVMA Annual Convention, the American Veterinary Medical Foundation paid tribute to host city San Diego by sending volunteers to two local animal shelters and by honoring military service members who work with animals.

Kicking things off, several dozen convention attendees—mostly veterinarians and students—sanded and repainted nearly 1,000 linear feet of fence, carried and sorted hundreds of bags and boxes of pet food, and cleaned the grounds Aug. 4 at the Chula Vista Animal Care Facility south of downtown San Diego and to the east at The Horses of Tir Na Nog in Pine Valley. The activities were part of the fifth annual AVMF Our Oath in Action shelter project.

Dr. Darci Murphy of Salem, Ore., hands a fellow volunteer a box of dog food during the AVMF Our Oath in Action shelter project. (Photo by Greg Cima)

Cindy Rutkowski, manager of services and special projects for the AVMF, said 50 folks worked at the two shelters.

“The animals that are in the shelters are the neediest of them all, and I think Our Oath in Action is a small way to help those animals,” she said.

Linda Septon, who has worked at the Chula Vista shelter for six years, said the time-consuming cleaning and organizational work done by the volunteers would help the shelter’s staff control disease and learn which supplies were needed. The shelter has about 240 animals, consisting primarily of dogs and cats but including a few rabbits and ducks.

Charlet Hubertus swept the concrete floor of a fenced play area at the Chula Vista shelter while Jennifer Hurley raked leaves and cleaned the hedges along one side of that pen. Both are third-year veterinary students at Texas A&M University.

Hubertus said animal shelters are a great help, and she feels that those in the veterinary profession should help them as well. She has suggested that her friends and family donate to shelters and volunteer labor at the facilities, and she expects she will make similar recommendations to clients.

The Foundation anticipates nationally launching the Our Oath in Action program next year so affiliated events can take place beyond convention, said Michael Cathey, AVMF executive director, during the AVMF Impact and Partnership Breakfast on Aug. 5.

Also at the breakfast, Cathey recognized service members who “honor the animal mission,” including a few of the dozen military veterinary technicians whom the AVMF sponsored to attend the convention. Spc. Christopher Szewc and Spc. Lee Iyin came from Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. Spc. Szewc works in the veterinary clinic on base and sees mostly fellow military members’ pets, while Spc. Iyin deals at the Department of Defense Military Working Dog Hospital with working dogs that are used for border patrol and customs enforcement at San Antonio International Airport.

Cpl. Dennis Hall and Sita (foreground) and Cpl. Michael Davis and Astor from the U.S. Marine Corps wait to give a presentation on the USS Midway as AVMF Chair Richard P. Streett Jr., stands nearby. Sita is an explosives and patrol military working dog whose skills allow her to conduct bite work, search personnel, and perform basic obedience on and off the leash. Astor, meanwhile, is a patrol and drug detection military working dog. Both are Belgian Malinois. (Photo by R. Scott Nolen)

Other military personnel at the breakfast were Cpl. Carrie Diaz and Maj. Katie Barry with the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps and Rick Yount, executive director of Warrior Canine Connection, with his Golden Retriever Huff.

Warrior Canine Connection is a therapeutic program that teaches service members with post-traumatic stress disorder skills needed to help train mobility service dogs to be partnered with veterans with mobility impairments.

Yount and Huff work with the wounded warriors at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. He said his program uses the most loving dogs to help the soldiers reintegrate into society. “We’ve found the human-animal bond is very important,” Yount said.

These military members also attended and were honored at “An AVMF Special Event on Board the USS Midway” Aug. 5. The fundraising event allowed the 1,151 attendees to go on docent-led tours, view historic aircraft carrier exhibits, and experience simulated flight adventures aboard the USS Midway.

The event, which was the best-attended in the Foundation’s history, raised about $140,000 for AVMF initiatives and was sponsored by Merial, Nestlé-Purina, and Dr. René A. Carlson, then AVMA president.