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Preparing for surgery in a summer FARVets clinic.

Veterinary nonprofit expands to NYS animal shelters

FARVets, a nonprofit run through the College of Veterinary Medicine to address animal overpopulation with spay-neuter clinics and vaccinations, has extended its reach in New York state as it has had to limit international programming because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

FARVets has been active in the Finger Lakes since 2014, but previously was most-well known for its work with partners across the globe. This year, in lieu of international travel, FARVets forged partnerships with animal shelters from the Adirondacks to the Southern Tier, including the Humane Societies of Chemung, Herkimer and Lewis counties; the Tri-lakes Humane Society in Saranac Lake; For Pet’s Sake in Glens Falls; and various SPCA locations. This summer, team was able to sterilize approximately 80 cats.

“We miss traveling abroad, but recognize that without travel restrictions, we might never have had the time or opportunity to build relationships with all the new partner organizations we work with in the Adirondack Region,” said Jami Landry, DVM ’17, who has worked with FARVets since 2013 and is on its board of directors.

Cornell impacting New York State

Dr. Paul Maza, senior lecturer in anatomy, runs FARVets with a board of directors. The group provides mobile spay and neuter services for feral cats at farms, schools, shelters and more, training students in the process. This year, Maza and the board of directors also launched the FARVets Academy, an online course filled with training and resources, for both domestic and international trips.

Fifteen veterinary students and three pre-vet students participated in this year’s clinics, approximately the same number of students who would normally have gone abroad. Students from any class year in the Cornell veterinary program can apply. All participate in physical exams, vaccinations and in administering and monitoring anesthesia. First- and second-year veterinary students assist with spay and neuter surgeries. Those in their third- and fourth-years conduct the surgeries, all under the supervision of Maza, Landry and other veterinarians.

“It was so cool to be able to perform my own intake exam on a patient, deem it healthy enough for surgery, calculate and draw up its anesthetic medications, administer them and then assist in surgery,” said participant Ivanka Juran, DVM ’24. “It really let me be part of the whole procedure from start to finish, which is something I’d never been able to do before.”

Maza was one of Juran’s lecturers and tutors early on in the program at Cornell. “I loved learning from him in a classroom setting, but in FARVets I was literally standing across the operating table from him, assisting him as he pointed things out and taught me with a patient right in front of me,” Juran said. “It was an amazing experience that I definitely consider one of my highlights of vet school.”

FARVets plans to continue working with its New York partners regularly, even when international trips resume. “It’s also important to us to have options available for students who can’t travel abroad, even when international travel is back to normal,” Landry said.

Since teaching in person was not possible at the start of the pandemic, Maza, Landry and fellow board member Katie Emerson, DVM ’13, created the virtual lectures and resources that comprise FARVets Academy. Students who plan to participate in clinics enroll in either the domestic or international courses, which include lectures, labs and coursework. They cover topics including physical exams, vaccination protocols and surgery. Teams going abroad cover additional topics such as travel safety and cultural sensitivity. When the FARVets Academy launched its pilot program this year, the group also created an internal webpage devoted to the academy and its resources.

As pandemic restrictions evolved, the program was able to involve more students in its visits to shelters, and eventually structure the clinics as the surgical lab component of FARVets Academy.

After the success of its pilot program, FARVets has plans to expand academy offerings. Because the lecture portion is available online, students from other universities and regions of the country can participate, and the team hopes to share the curriculum with their partners abroad.

“It’s a great platform to make sure students are comfortable and prepared for the skills they will master during the actual field clinic,” Landry said.

In New York, Maza plans to hold vaccine-only clinics to reach even more pet owners. He hopes to team up with international partners as soon as it’s safe travel again – likely first to Guatemala or Honduras, where FARVets has an established presence. He and Landry are planning to lead a team to Sierra Leone in March, which would be the group’s first partnership with small animal welfare organization on the African continent.

“We go to these places in New York and around the world,” Maza said, “and no matter how far we travel, we see a like-mindedness among people who really care for their pets and for their community.”

A full version of this story appears on the College of Veterinary Medicine website.

Melanie Greaver Cordova is assistant director of communications at the College of Veterinary Medicine.

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Becka Bowyer