CSU students bring veterinary aid to Baja California Sur

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A park, a basketball court, a driveway, a garage, a front yard, a concession stand, a secondhand store. These are just a few of the locations where Colorado State University veterinary students provided free spay and neuter surgeries for the dogs and cats of Baja California Sur, Mexico, in the 2017-18 school year.

As part of their professional training, 21 fourth-year veterinary students had the opportunity to participate in 10-day externship rotations during the spring semester of 2018. More than 1,000 free surgeries were performed through a collaboration of animal care and community partners. The students also participated in educational outreach with local youth and discussed the needs and challenges around raising cattle, goats, and other livestock in the region with area ranchers.

Mobile veterinary clinics can help bridge care gaps in neighborhoods and communities where cost and distance are significant barriers faced by dog and cat owners. Providing free surgeries, vaccinations, and medication for tick and flea prevention is critical for public health. Controlling pet overpopulation, minimizing unwanted pets, and providing access to vaccines and medication helps prevent the spread of disease.

This is the fourth year that the CSU Doctor of Veterinary Medicine program has hosted a collaborative veterinary surgery and outreach program at the Todos Santos Center. CSU joins local and municipal animal shelters, dog and cat rescuers, community members, and veterinary partners to support programs that bring free veterinary care to people who are unable to afford or access companion animal services.

Rotating and permanent

The CSU Todos Santos veterinary team has a rotating component and a permanent component. Drs. Danielle Straatmann and Elia Alvarez Ramos are full-time veterinarians, instructors, and team leaders of the program. A new team of students and a veterinary mentor join Drs. Straatmann and Alvarez Ramos for the educational externship every two weeks. The newest member of the team, Alvarez Ramos, received her degree from Universidad Autónoma de Baja California Sur (UABCS), and is a native of La Paz, the capital city of Baja California Sur.

Alvarez Ramos played an invaluable role in this year’s educational programs, bringing additional local insight into pet owner priorities, regional challenges for veterinarians and animal owners, and cultural insight.

“It is important to understand that Baja California Sur is a state with a lot of influence from North America, and in many ways these influences can be very positive. One of these positive influences is this program and the benefits it can bring,” said Alvarez Ramos. “Students have the opportunity to learn about and experience medicine, management, and relationships in the veterinary world, and to see low-cost approaches to care in areas with limited resources.”

In addition to gaining hands-on skills and experience as they prepare to graduate and enter careers, students learn cultural views of animals in Latin America, and gain a better understanding of barriers to veterinary care, which aids their future efforts in a variety of community landscapes.

Community members of Todos Santos and El Pescadero assisted the CSU veterinary team with the local surgery campaigns. The program is made possible through partnerships with the Municipal Animal Shelter of La Paz, the Los Cabos Humane Society, and the Secretary of Health in Los Cabos.

Community outreach

Dr. Johanna Josephson participated in the program in January 2018 and graduated from CSU in May 2018.

“The Todos Santos fourth-year veterinary externship was one of the single greatest experiences during my time at CSU,” said Josephson. “The program provided impactful community outreach for dogs, cats, and livestock – reaching both the rural and urban populations in Mexico. I gained a new appreciation and understanding of Mexican culture and how animals both large and small impact daily lives and livelihood. Personally, I returned from Todos Santos with a new level of confidence in my surgical skills.”

Dr. Emmanuelle Furst participated in the May externship program and graduated in 2018.

“Todos Santos was the highlight of my time in vet school,” said Furst. “I was actively able to give back to the community abroad while improving my surgical skills and making great connections with like-minded colleagues. I could not be more thankful to CSU for providing this opportunity, and am excited to continue providing international outreach throughout my career.”