Purdue Veterinary Medicine’s mobile surgery unit, Priority 4 Paws, is a shelter medicine program that combines community service with education for fourth-year veterinary students. Now the program is getting a significant boost in the form of a $150,000 grant from the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust.
Dr. Emily Curry, visiting assistant professor of mobile surgery and shelter medicine, said in a news release that the funding will enhance the mobile surgery unit’s service-learning initiatives in partnership with Marion County, Indiana, animal shelters.
P4P’s commitment to providing spay and neuter services free for animals at partner shelters falls in line with the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust’s values of protecting animals and enriching community life. Since 2012, when P4P was founded, the mobile surgery unit has logged more than 100,000 miles traveling across the state to help animal shelters by spaying and neutering shelter animals while also greatly increasing opportunities for veterinary students to gain hands-on surgical experience.
In 2019, the unit served about 2,000 animals, bringing the total served since the unit’s inception to about 16,000. Veterinary students who choose to do a three-week elective Shelter Medicine and Surgery rotation during their fourth year work on the unit, performing spay and neuter surgeries, whether the unit is “on the road” or “on the pad.”
During days “on the road,” the unit travels to partner animal shelters within driving distance of Purdue’s West Lafayette campus, and the surgeries are performed while the unit is parked alongside the shelter. After surgery, patients are taken back inside the shelter for postoperative care.
During days when the unit is stationed “on the pad,” it is parked in a designated space behind the Purdue Veterinary Teaching Hospital. Workers at partner shelters bring their animals to the unit instead of having the unit come to the shelters. After the surgeries, the patients are transported back to the shelter facility by shelter workers to complete their recovery. Days on the pad are particularly beneficial to shelters like Lori’s Kitty Rescue that do not have physical buildings and rely on a network of people who foster animals, because it makes the service accessible.
Over the course of each three-week rotation for the veterinary students, the service performs surgeries on more than 100 animals, says Curry, a Purdue graduate who actually took part in the Shelter Medicine and Surgery rotation when she was a veterinary student in the DVM Class of 2014. She accepted her current position in February 2019.
“I have always been interested in shelter medicine, and this position offered the incredible opportunity to work with many shelters at one time, which is very unique,” Curry said in the release. “Educating current students has such an impact because they will go on to spread their knowledge and it will be so much more far-reaching than what I could do on my own.”
The P4P team also includes Dr. Natalie Bullard, clinical assistant professor of shelter medicine, who just joined the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences faculty in early September. Bullard said she was attracted to the opportunity to work with the unit because “the chance to combine shelter medicine, surgery, and teaching was one of a kind.”
Bullard added, “It can be challenging to find appropriate animals for students to operate on inside the hospital so I am grateful that P4P is available because it gives them surgery experience that can be difficult to come by at this stage in their education.”
Priority 4 Paws also relies on a team of versa techs to run the unit. Versa techs are versatile veterinary nurses who help wherever they are needed in the Veterinary Teaching Hospital. There is always one versa tech with the unit.
“I enjoy working in the unit because we do not really get shelter medicine experience anywhere else,” said Versa Technologist Mackenzie Pfledderer. “I get to work with a variety of animals in the hospital when I am not running this unit, but this is such a one-of-a-kind experience.”
Allison Kowlowitz, of the DVM Class of 2020, chose the Shelter Medicine and Surgery rotation because she wanted more surgical experience. She said even though veterinary students observe many surgeries, there are limited opportunities to actually perform them in the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, because of the priority that must be given to interns and residents.