By Leslie Criss
TUPELO – Once a week in the parking lot outside the Tupelo-Lee Humane Society shelter, a maroon and white three-axle rig, pulled by an extended-cab pickup, takes up a chunk of space.
But no one minds.
It’s Mississippi State University’s Mobile Veterinary Clinic and they are here to help.
On board is Dr. Phil Bushby, a veterinarian and faculty member of the MSU College of Veterinary Medicine for 35 years.
“They tell me I gotta stay until I get it right,” he says with a dry chuckle. But it’s clear he loves what he does.
With Bushby is Emily Childers, a veterinary technician, who’s been with Bushby for nearly six years; and two fourth-year vet students, Brolin Evans from Georgia and Kelli Davis from Hattiesburg.
Last week, they were the crew of Mobile Unit 2, a clinic on wheels. It’s one of two mobile clinics that visit 18 different shelters across Northeast Mississippi to spay and neuter cats and dogs.
The first mobile clinic has been on the road since 2007. Dr. Kimberly Woodruff is the MSU faculty member who travels with Mobile Unit 1.
“Really, it is a by-product of Hurricane Katrina,” Bushby said. “The American Kennel Club was involved with Companion Animal Recovery and saw a need for emergency response vehicles in Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana. They offered us a $100,000 grant toward purchasing one. We raised another $100,000 to match the grant and had a vehicle dual equipped for emergency response and spaying and neutering.”
With the first mobile clinic on hand, the vet school added to its curriculum a two-week rotation which allowed seniors to travel to some of the state’s shelters.
“We go for 50 weeks out of the year,” Bushby said. “We do not travel the weeks of Christmas or New Year’s.”
There were, however, limitations. Only two students at a time could be a part of the mobile clinic program. The program admits 85 students, leaving 40 percent of the seniors who could not get into the elective.
So two years ago, the students got together and decided to raise money for a second mobile clinic.
“In six months, they’d raised $56,000,” Bushby said. “That’s not bad, but it’s only a fifth of what’s needed. Then Pet Smart Charities heard about the students’ efforts and got involved.
“They cut a check for a quarter of a million dollars,” he said. “That left the money the students raised for operating expenses.”
Mobile Unit 2 has been on the road since Jan. 6.
No state funds are used in the operating of the mobile clinics; nor is there any charge for the shelters.
“Really, it’s a win/win/win situation, for the students, the shelters and the animals,” Bushby said. “The animals get taken off death row and, hopefully, put in a home.”
And the students gain surgical experience – and a first-hand knowledge of the problem of overpopulation.
“They recognize early on the numbers of animals in shelters and the numbers that have to be euthanized,” Bushby said.
Thursday in Tupelo, there were 35 dogs and cats to be spayed or neutered.
“That’s a pretty typical day here,” he said. “Tupelo has the largest intake of any of the shelters we go to. But the surrounding counties don’t have shelters, so Tupelo-Lee absorbs from the surrounding areas.”
Until recently, the mobile clinic visited Tupelo once a month. The weekly visit has been a big help to the shelter.
“It has helped lower the cost the shelter has in the animals,” said Debbie Hood, the shelter’s executive director. “Since donations from the public are down, it has helped us not to have the expense of the surgeries.”
After the surgeries are finished, each animal is given a permanent green tattoo. That way, if the animal should ever end up in another shelter, folks will know it has been spayed or neutered.
MSU’s Mobile Veterinary Clinics not only provide training for their students, but they could very well be on the road to solving a problem of enormous proportions – pet overpopulation.
“The only way we are ever going to solve the problem is to make sure every animal is spayed or neutered before it is adopted,” Bushby said. “Eventually, we will get a handle on this.”