Auburn veterinary students provided free animal care in Northeast Alabama this fall as a part of the “Veterinary Service Learning and Outreach” extracurricular class, which is offered to second and third-year vet students.
Auburn students have been coming to Northeast Alabama for three years now, though, volunteer veterinary work in those areas began before under the leadership of Dr. Jeremy Deaton and Dr. Dawn Boothe.
Boothe is currently the director of Auburn’s Clinical Pharmacology Laboratory and teaches in the department of anatomy, physiology and pharmacology.
Deaton graduated Cum Laude from the College of Veterinary Medicine in 2013 and is now the managing veterinarian at Nichols Animal Hospital in Centre, Alabama. Deaton has been doing volunteer work since he joined Auburn’s chapter of the Christian Veterinary Fellowship. Deaton said that the work he did with CVF inspired his idea of having Auburn vet students help with volunteer work.
“Dr. Boothe and I began doing a lot of mission trips together,” Deaton said. “That’s kind of how this idea started.”
Deaton said that they first started providing free veterinary work in the U.S. in 2010 in an Indian tribal area in South Alabama.
“[We] launched the same concept that we do overseas locally, and that’s kind of how this idea got birthed,” Deaton said.
Soon after, the licenses needed to run a clinic were produced, and the volunteer work became an elective for Auburn vet students during the fall semester.
“The goal of this course is to expose the students to the tools they will need, the approaches they will need to develop these types of service or missions if you will, upon graduation,” Boothe said. “It gives them a feel for the complexity, the challenges of getting a quality service put together.”
This year, eight veterinary students are enrolled in the course.
For this elective, vet students first received additional training to prepare them for going to do volunteer fieldwork. Classes were held on Mondays and Fridays, and students would plan out the volunteer trips, learn how to provide effective communication while working and designed a mobile veterinary clinic.
Guest speakers have come to classes including Dr. Margaret Farrell, who is currently on the Alabama State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners, and Robert (Cherokee) Brasher, who is the governor’s appointee to the Alabama Commission of Indian Affairs.
“Every class is a little different, but it keeps it really interesting,” said Jacquie Cobb, who is currently in her third year of veterinary school and is enrolled in the extracurricular this fall.
“I am a big believer in giving back,” Cobb said. “I actually run a non-profit dog refuge back home, so kind of volunteering and community service is like second nature to me, and we have, I think, a responsibility and a duty to give back.”
The class has already gone on two volunteer trips already this fall with one in Centre, Alabama, and another in Kilpatrick.
“We actually set up clinics inside of the tribal center, we used a fire station here in Centre; we used a manufactured home in Kilpatrick,” Deaton said.
In addition, Auburn provides an RV that has been converted into mobile veterinary clinic, and Deaton has his own mobile clinic built from a utility trailer.
This fall is the first time the class has offered low-cost spading and neutering for cats.
“We did 202 surgeries in 48 hours here [in Centre] at our office,” Deaton said. “We usually do the cats in the RV, that way if they get loose, their just in the RV.”
Cobb said that many of the people who brought animals needing treatment did not speak English, and members of the community volunteered to help translate.
“It was really awesome to see other members of the community coming in to volunteer their help as well so that we could communicate properly,” Cobb said.
The class will finish after their last trip to Cherokee Tribal Center in Guntersville, Alabama, on Nov. 18.
“Of course they do get experience,” Boothe said. “It’s the learning, of course, that’s part of what we’re doing – learning how to build ties with communities, learning how to understand individual communities.”
Deaton said that the extracurricular is a great opportunity for veterinary students to gain hands-on experience in their field.
New volunteer trips are also being planned right now. Deaton said that they are working on a two-week volunteer trip for senior veterinary students right now, and Boothe said that she is interested in providing veterinary care to the homeless in Alabama.
“They have pets, but they don’t have vets,” Boothe said.
Preparations are also being made to expand the extracurricular to include a fourth and longer trip to McCreary County, Kentucky, which is one of the poorest counties in the U.S.
“They don’t have a veterinarian in the entire county,” Deaton said.
Deaton went this June as the only vet along with members of his church.
“We saw 598 animals in two days,” Deaton said. “We worked from dawn to dusk and beyond.”
Deaton is currently working on receiving all the licenses needed to start a mobile clinic in Kentucky.
“I think veterinarians are one of those professions that people really look up to and really respect because of that and because they’re such members of the community,” Cobb said. “It’s just really important for us to get out there.”