AUSTIN — Preparing to take its third trip to Puerto Rico, Emancipet, the Austin-based national nonprofit organization that makes low-cost veterinary care accessible to all, is taking its largest team yet—27 staff and volunteers— and planning to spay/neuter 1,300 dogs and cats Feb. 3-9 as part of Spayathon for Puerto Rico.
Emancipet is one of six organizations leading the surgical work in the historic initiative organized by the Humane Society of the United States to spay/neuter and vaccinate more than 20,000 dogs and cats in Puerto Rico, which is still struggling to recover more than six months after the devastation of Hurricane Maria. This trip is the third of four, with the final trip taking place in May.
The 26-member team of Emancipet veterinarians including from their Houston and Philadelphia clinics, vet techs, intake staff, leadership and volunteers—11 more people than on the previous trip– will deploy to Puerto Rico Feb. 3-9 for the third of what will be four trips. This time, Emancipet will be the surgical provider for the mountainous Cidra sector of the island.
“We’ve learned a great deal about performing surgeries in challenging situations and are excited to also share that with others,” says Emancipet CEO Amy Mills, who will be going herself for the third time this trip. A Puerto Rican veterinarian organization, Vets for Puerto Rico, will do an exchange program of sorts with Emancipet, observing surgeries and recovery techniques and seeing how Emancipet sets up its efficient intake procedures.
“No one on my team has seen something like what Emancipet does in their MASH-style clinics,” says Willie Bidot, the president of Vets for Puerto Rico, a nonprofit of Puerto Rican veterinarians that was formed just a few days after Hurricane Maria hit. “After the Spayathon is over, we will keep going with caring for animals that haven’t been reached yet. Lots of equipment and supplies from Spayathon are staying in Puerto Rico,” Bidot says.
According to Mills, the international support and interest in the massive effort has grown with each trip. Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and First Lady Beatriz Rosselló of Puerto Rico will visit Emancipet’s surgical unit on the first day of surgery, along with international media, and representatives from major charities including Clinton Global Initiative, PetSmart Charities, Greater Good and others.
Emancipet and its staff are uniquely experienced in hurricane recovery. Its Houston clinic undertook an extraordinary effort following Hurricane Harvey, providing three months of free veterinary care to about 6,000 pets impacted by the crisis and its aftermath.
Emancipet CEO Amy Mills also has on-the-ground experience with helping people and animals after a crisis. As a volunteer, Mills had a life-changing experience following the 2011 tornado in Joplin, Missouri, where she helped families reunite families with pets lost during the storm.
In addition to spaying, neutering, and vaccinating up to 20,000 animals, the Spayathon initiative has a second important goal, which is to build more capacity for free and low-cost spay/neuter in Puerto Rico after the conclusion of the project. The HSUS, through a partnership with the ASPCA Spay/Neuter Alliance, is offering high-quality, high-volume spay/neuter training for Puerto Rico veterinarians to increase the number of veterinarians on the island who can safely provide these services.
At the conclusion of the 18-month project, all the surgical partners, including Emancipet, will donate their surgical equipment and supplies to local veterinarians, to help further the animal welfare efforts in Puerto Rico.
“This initiative is a remarkable example of what can happen when government agencies, nonprofits and veterinary medical professionals come together for one cause,” said Kitty Block, acting president and CEO of the HSUS. “This collaboration will make a difference and improve the welfare of Puerto Rico’s animals.”
The HSUS’ Humane State Puerto Rico program worked closely with coalition partners Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and First Lady Beatriz Rosselló, the Puerto Rico Veterinary Medical Association and the Puerto Rico Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners to sign a memorandum of understanding to implement the initiative over an 18-month period in 2018 and 2019.
The other five surgical lead partners are Veterinarians for Puerto Rico, ViDAS, Helping Paws Across Borders, the Colegio de Médicos Veterinarios de Puerto Rico and Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at Cornell University. Each will be supported by a ground partner team comprised of local organizations leading the advance work of spreading the word about the available services, translating, checking in patients, and other volunteer duties not related to surgery. Emancipet’s ground partner team is the Humane Society of Puerto Rico.
The other ground partner teams are The Sato Project, Friends of Culebra Animals, Our Big Fat Caribbean Rescue, The Puerto Rico Dog Fund, The Humane Society of Puerto Rico and Wild at Heart.
Maddie’s Fund® and other non-profit organizations, including PetSmart Charities, Petco Foundation, GreaterGood.org and The 20/22 Act Society, are providing the financial support necessary to carry out this initiative. Other groups like Banfield Foundation, Best Friends Animal Society and Rescue Bank are providing critical supplies, such as vaccines, pet food and crates.
Emancipet’s mission is to make veterinary care affordable and accessible for all pet owners. To achieve this, Emancipet is building a national nonprofit low-cost veterinary care system, with clinics in underserved areas of Austin, Houston, Killeen, and Pflugerville Texas; and in Philadelphia. Emancipet advocates for public policy that improves the lives of pets in underserved communities, and operates Emancipet New School, which equips and inspires animal welfare professionals in becoming change makers. Since its founding in 1999, Emancipet has spayed or neutered more than 275,000 dogs and cats and will serve more than 100,000 pets and their families this year. www.emancipet.org