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Behind the Scenes Assistants: How veterinarians contribute to HRS programs
Kathleen Wilsbach, PhD
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The work of HRS that is primarily seen by the public is the work of our two fundamental missions, rescuing unwanted rabbits from shelters to find homes for them and educating humans about the proper care of their rabbit companions. What is not seen is the supportive work provided to our organization by many dedicated members of the veterinary profession. Most HRS chapters and fosterers could not do the work we are doing without the supportive programs provided by our local veterinarians.*

Deep Discounts
Medical care for foster rabbits is one of the most significant expenditures for our chapters and foster homes. A common discount offered to our fosterers by kindhearted veterinarians has to do with the exam fee, which is greatly reduced or waived completely. And when multiple rabbits are seen at one time, only one exam fee is charged for the group. Another essential aid to our fostering program is a deeply discounted rate for spay and neuter surgery. Every foster rabbit entering our system is spayed or neutered, unless the surgery is precluded by a preexisting medical condition. If we were required to pay full price for this surgery, we would be severely limited on the number of rabbits we rescue and would need to charge much higher adoption fees. One highly appreciated doctor went above and beyond discounts by additionally donating 10% of her earnings from all spay/neuter surgeries of all species to our organization. Some veterinarians may offer a chapter a flat percentage discount on all services. Others offer surgeries at a significant discount or even at cost.

Veterinarians also contribute financially to our mission by donating certificates for services, such as health check-ups and spays/neuters. These certificates are used for raffle and door prizes at our events. HRS fosterers do not administer medication to our rabbits except under direction of the veterinarians who work with us. But because of the number of rabbits passing through our foster homes, procuring medication in bulk can result in significant savings. Veterinarians assist our foster homes in keeping our home pharmacies stocked with commonly prescribed medications at the clinic's cost. A veterinarian, who is not the owner of the clinic, may help us by providing a written prescription to be filled at a less expensive source. Clients whose rabbits have died are encouraged by the vet to donate any leftover medications and medical supplies to HRS. Often the clinics themselves donate drugs which are about to expire.

"Value-added" service
It may seem like a blast from the past but quite a few veterinarians provide house calls to our foster homes. When a foster home is housing a large number of rabbits, or has a significant proportion of special-needs rabbits, the doctor's home visit eliminates the stress of transportation for both rabbits and fosterers.

Sometimes the house call is in conjunction with a medical study where the home's population is being tested or screened for E. cuniculi, Pasturella, or Tyzer's disease. We have been able to collect quite a lot of data for our rabbit health database because of our veterinarians' willingness to provide various laboratory tests to us at cost. Also of great value to our database and to the general knowledge of all involved is the veterinarian's willingness to do a post-mortem exam (only charging us for the cost of any laboratory tests). A compassionate gift, many veterinarians provide is free euthanasia when further treatment is deemed ineffective.

In addition to providing care for the rabbits in our foster homes,our veterinarians even help us directly to find adoptive homes. When clients have suffered the loss of their rabbit and are ready to open their hearts to a new rabbit, they are then referred by their vet to HRS for adoption. Some vets help even more directly by providing space at their clinic to showcase foster rabbits, increasing the visibility of our programs and our foster rabbits. One accommodating veterinarian also permits HRS volunteers to use her clinic corridor after hours on weekends to do bunny introductions and bondings.

Educational contributions
Veterinarians also help us in our education mission by writing articles on medical topics for the House Rabbit Journal as well as for almost all of our local newsletters. They also give talks on health topics to our membership at local workshops and conferences.

In return it can be said that HRS rabbits help further the education of our partner veterinarians. Not only do they see a large number of interesting cases from our foster rabbits alone, often their association with HRS dramatically increases the numbers of the rabbit patients coming to their practice. This increased experience makes them even better rabbit practitioners, which again increases their reputation and number of clients.

Our foster rabbits, as well as the rabbits in the shelters where many HRS people volunteer, can provide a learning opportunity for our veterinarians. A veterinarian associated with Colorado State University, in addition to working to make sure rabbit medicine topics are expanded in the veterinary curriculum, encourages his students to volunteer with the rabbits at the local shelter to become familiar with the common medical problems faced by pet rabbits.

Often the doctors who see our foster rabbits are enthusiastic about providing hands-on education to help a new local shelter veterinarian learn proper rabbit spay/neuter surgical techniques, allowing shelters to provide surgery for adoptions. Sometimes our veterinarians assist HRS in educating their colleagues as was manifested in the 1997 House Rabbit Veterinary Conference, hosted by HRS for 200 veterinary attendees in Berkeley, California. The conference would certainly not have been possible without all the rabbit practitioners willing to share their expertise through their lectures.

Although we have not yet had another national conference, last April the Missouri HRS hosted a rabbit veterinary clinic. Their veterinarians were instrumental in offering guidance towards achieving accreditation from a veterinary medical association for the Continuing Education Credits a veterinarian needs to continue to practice. As well as attending the clinic, the doctors did introductions for the speakers and participated in a panel Q&A at the end of the program. They plan to host a second larger clinic in March. The clinic agenda has already been approved by the sponsoring veterinary medical association so it will again be eligible for CEUs.

Many of our vets are zealous in pursuing their own further education. It is very hard for us to quantify the gift of time, the time our doctors spend keeping up on the latest advances in rabbit medicine, through attendance at conferences, reading journals, as well as interacting and exchanging information with other medical professionals through personal contact and over the Internet. Several of the veterinarians interviewed for this article stressed the ways veterinary volunteering directly benefits the doctors themselves. They are able to do things of special interest to themselves and something close to their hearts. It's a two-way street with residual benefits and gratification on both sides. The veterinarians learn a lot from us that help them in their practice, and all rabbits benefit.

House Rabbit Society is a nonprofit rescue and education group.
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