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Top: Tori Hall, left, a third-year veterinary student from Newtown, Ohio, and Katy Wallace, of the West Point-Clay County Animal Shelter, look over puppies scheduled to be spayed or neutered during a recent local visit by MSU’s Mobile Veterinary Clinic. Bottom: Emily Childers, a certified veterinary technician who accompanies Mississippi State veterinary students and their professors to 15 area animal shelters, holds a kitten in the Mobile Veterinary Clinic as she fills out paperwork shortly after arriving at an area animal shelter. Photo by: Beth Wyn

STARKVILLE, Miss.–In one of many states across the nation facing the monumental difficulty of pet overpopulation, Mississippi’s largest university and only veterinary college is helping address the issue and saving lives, one dog and cat at a time.

The issue isn’t a new problem, according to Mississippi State Professor Phil Bushby, who says he came face to face with staggering euthanasia statistics during a post-graduate internship more than 35 years ago.

“During my one-year internship with the ASPCA, which ran animal control for New York City, 132,000 dogs and cats were euthanized in that one city. In a five-day work week, that’s 500 animals a day — that number never left me,” said Bushby, who this year received national recognition from the American Veterinary Medical Association for his dedication to animal welfare.

At MSU, the Marcia Lane Endowed Chair in Humane Ethics and Animal Welfare in the College of Veterinary Medicine’s clinical science department oversees the Mobile Veterinary Clinic, which travels to 15 North Mississippi shelters to spay and neuter animals.

Not only does the university outreach activity save the lives of hundreds of animals a month, but it also gives junior and senior veterinary students plentiful opportunities for hands-on surgical experiences before graduation.

“We balance our schedule so all students get an equivalent experience,” Bushby said. Senior students participate in a two-week elective rotation and every junior makes two trips on the mobile unit. The clinic travels to area shelters four days a week for 50 weeks out of the year, giving MSU veterinary students unparalleled surgical experiences.

When students in MSU’s veterinary class of 2014 realized the far-reaching impacts of the Mobile Veterinary Clinic, affecting both the students’ educational experiences and the region’s animals, they came to one conclusion: they must have an additional unit to double capacity for training and service. The class worked together, with guidance from the Office of Development, to raise $56,000 toward the purchase of an additional traveling unit.

In response to the students’ enthusiasm, PetSmart Charities donated an additional $250,000 toward the purchase. The clinic will begin operation in early 2013, and not a moment too soon.

Bushby said many of the animal shelters have as high as a 70 percent euthanasia rate, but more than an 80 percent adoption rate for the animals which are spayed or neutered.

“It’s a little bit like taking an animal off death row and placing it in someone’s home,” Bushby said. His passion for saving animal lives is evident as he explains why a spay/neuter approach to overpopulation is the only path to an acceptable solution.

“We have to get the number of puppies and kittens born each year to an equilibrium with the number of homes available,” Bushby said. “Spaying and neutering animals is a good solution. They are more adoptable, and obviously, much less likely to be euthanized. And by the way, they’re not out there producing more puppies and kittens.”

The mobile clinic also can be deployed in crisis situations, such as after a hurricane or tornado, to assist with animal recovery.

Operational funds for the mobile unit are generated strictly from grants and donations. Bushby said he spends a significant amount of time writing grant proposals and talking to potential donors in order to keep the units on the road.

“Generous contributions allowed us to purchase both mobile units, but that is only part of the fundraising equation,” said Keith Gaskin, CVM’s senior director of development. “It costs us at least $250,000 a year per unit to operate this program, so we are always seeking support from individuals and foundations to keep the program moving forward.”

MSU also works with private veterinarians, many of whom were trained at the university, to ensure a team approach to battling overpopulation.

Bushby said animal overpopulation continues to be an overwhelming problem, but he has seen improvements during his career. Educating the public about the importance of having animals sterilized is one key to winning the battle for animal welfare, he said

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