Grant will support pet care, vet student training in Southwest Alaska

by Jeff Richardson

A new grant will allow students from Colorado State University and the University of Alaska Fairbanks to assist with veterinary care in remote Southwest Alaska communities.

The $450,000 award, provided by PetSmart Charities, will support operational costs for a veterinary clinic through the Hub Outpost Project in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta region. A veterinarian, a veterinary technician and students at CSU and UAF will help establish a hub for veterinary care in Bethel and a mobile program to work in villages in the region.

Working in partnership with the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp., the clinic will provide Bethel and area communities with spay and neuter surgeries. The clinic will also treat some diseases and work to prevent disease transmission between humans and animals.

The two-year program is expected to provide about 3,000 spay and neuter surgeries, as well as anti-parasite treatments and free vaccinations for small animals. About 30 veterinary students will have the opportunity to participate in the program.

Dr. Laurie Meythalar-Mullins, who will serve as the community outreach and public health veterinarian for the program, said that she is eager to join the Bethel community and start work on this “one-of-a-kind project.”

UAF and CSU have collaborated on a veterinary degree program since 2015. Students in the program study for two years at UAF before spending their final two years completing their degree at the CSU campus in Fort Collins, Colorado.

“This project is important for our veterinary students,” said Dr. Danielle Frey, CSU’s director of veterinary international and outreach opportunities. “Not only will they be able to gain additional experience in veterinary skills, but they will also be able to learn more about community health, the connection between humans and their pets, and how strongly their health is tied with these animals.”

The Hub Outpost Project is designed to bring animal medicine to an underserved region while offering more educational opportunities for veterinary students. An overpopulation of dogs has been difficult to address due to the expansive geography and lack of infrastructure in the region, said Dr. Arleigh Reynolds, a professor in the UAF Department of Veterinary Medicine. Pet owners in the region also have limited access to vaccinations, which has increased the danger of communicable diseases such as rabies.

Reynolds cited the project as an example of UAF and CSU’s commitment to the One Health concept, an approach to public policy and research that focuses on the ways that environmental, animal and human health are interconnected.

“This program is a great example of how a One Health approach can be used to bring community members and human and animal health professionals together to work on managing several large, related problems,” said Reynolds, who also serves as the director of UAF’s One Health program.

Deborah Turcott, acting president of PetSmart Charities, feels the initiative will improve interactions between pets and people, and enhance the health and quality of life of thousands of animals.

“This hub-and-spoke approach to veterinary care has proven successful, and the Hub Outpost Project will effectively provide access to routine veterinary care for up to 15,000 dogs throughout a 400,000-square-mile region,” she said.

PetSmart Charities is a leading funder of animal welfare in North America, dedicated to celebrating the connection between people and pets. Partners in the Hub Outpost Project also include YKHC, the city of Bethel, the Bethel Police Department and several local rescue and animal health organizations.