Veterinary Services at the Maricopa Veterans StandDown
Since 2001, The Maricopa County StandDown, organized by The Arizona Housing Coalition, has grown into Arizona’s largest event targeting homeless or at-risk veterans. The 2018 StandDown was held in January, in the Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum, in partnership with Arizona State Fairgrounds. An annual event, it is named after the military term ‘Stand Down’ which refers to time given to a soldier to leave active combat in order to rest and regain strength. Aptly named, the event sheds light on the issue of high-risk veterans, its mission is to help vulnerable and homeless veterans access the resources they need to regain their independence. StandDown events are held in 12 Arizona counties connecting over 3100 veterans each year to the much-needed services.
The Maricopa County StandDown assisted veterans of all ages, genders, and ethnicities, from various branches of the military. This year, as every year, a volunteer guide greeted the veterans and helped them navigate the service areas. Veteran attendees were provided with food, shelter and compassion. Cots were available onsite and provided veterans overnight shelter, and access to meals, showers, and clothing. Housing services were there to help get veteran get off the streets and into their own housing. Seventeen percent of the veterans that participated in the 2017 StandDown were homeless, down from 80% in 2006. Poor hygiene, a lack of transportation, and homelessness all impact a person’s ability to gain stable employment. On the first day alone, the Arizona Department of Motor Vehicles issued over 290 state-issued IDs, and there were 230 veterans assisted by the Social Security Administration. KUPD’s Troop Transport was able to supply veterans with much-needed bus passes, helping veterans with reliable transportation to work, medical services, etc.
Medical services provided ranged from physical examinations to vision services and ultrasounds. An added service this year was full service dental care provided by Central Arizona Dental Society’s Mission of Mercy. On that first day, 400 veterans were smiling more brightly, including 80 veterans who received brand-new smiles with dentures issued to them on the day.
At risk veterans with pets often forego personal services because they have no safe place to leave their treasured animals. During the StandDown, veterans checked in, then proceeded to Veterinary Services where they registered their pets and were paired with a Vets for Vets’ Pets Guide. That person guided the veteran around the Veterinary Services area and ensured that their pets receive all the pet-related services needed. This includes seeing the veterinarian, being spayed/neutered, getting groomed, and being boarded, so the veteran can move throughout the Coliseum and receive services from other providers. When the veterans finish their rounds, they retrieve their pets, and chose from a variety of pet food and supplies before leaving the StandDown.
In 2007 Julie Carlson volunteered at the StandDown along with her mother, who worked at the VA Hospital. The StandDown staff asked Julie what skills she had and she told them she was a Certified Veterinary Technician (CVT). They were very pleased because the veterinarian who was supposed to provide services did not make it. This had been an ongoing issue year after year. That first year, Julie saw about ten veterans and four pets. She provided basic physical exams and talked to the veterans about issues such as spay/neuter, vaccines, and parasite control. “When I saw the need that existed for pet care at the StandDown, I decided to make it my mission. I formed Vets for Vets’ Pets, and have been providing all veterinary services at the StandDown for the last 11 years,” Carlson told PDM. Veterinary Services has grown into a full-scale program and served 530 pets this year.
The Veterinary Services section had multiple exam tables that were manned with veterinarians from various valley animal hospitals as well as students in the Midwestern University Veterinarian program (MWU). Mobile veterinary units from Midwestern University College of Veterinary Medicine and The Arizona Humane Society parked just outside the building to provide exams to cats, fearful dogs, and pets of veterans having difficulty with the crowds indoors. Pima Medical Institute Veterinary Assistant and Veterinary Technician students and instructors have volunteered for five years – the longest of any school. Students and instructors from the Veterinary Assistant programs at Carrington Community College and West-MEC also joined the medical teams.
With many large events, unexpected things happen. This year, the Arizona Pet Project with MCACC, was able to supply a surgeon to perform free spay/neuter urgeries on day one of the StandDown. Unfortunately, the surgeon cancelled shortly before the event began. The MWU Animal Health Institute Mobile Clinic stepped in to handle the surgical procedures in their well-equipped mobile unit for days one and two. Remarkably, they were able to quickly strategize and transition from exam mode to surgery mode, and 47 pets received spay/ neuter surgeries over the two days!
The Arizona Humane Society van, sponsored by the Arizona chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, was present for the first day of the event (DAR is a nonprofit, nonpolitical volunteer women’s service organization dedicated to promoting historic preservation, education, and patriotism). Terri Turner, State Regent for the Arizona DAR, spoke with PDM and told us, “The DAR supports veterans in many ways, and so many of us are pet lovers, working with The Arizona Humane Society on this project was a natural fit. Our chapter’s project goal is to provide low or no cost veterinary care for companion animals of low income/ homeless veterans, an often-overlooked population. Working with the StandDown was a perfect fit for the launch of this project.”
303 veterans with 530 pets were serviced this year.
• 465 vaccines
• 47 surgeries
• 43 pets groomed
• 197 boarded
• 525 pets received food and supplies
The Empty Bowl Pet Food Pantry provided dog and cat food, treats, and toys for the event, and brought a large number of crates for use in the boarding section. MCACC
brought their empty adoption van to be used to board animals that are noisy, potentially aggressive, and those that are stressed out. It was also available for overflow boarding. Pet baths and haircuts were provided by local mobile grooming businesses. Puparazzi Mobile Pet Spaw, Pawlished Mobile Pet Spa, Pawgo Galloping Groomer, and The Dirty Dawg Salon all volunteered their time and services.
All of these businesses worked in unison to service the veteran’s pets. They worked side by side providing services and helping as many pets as possible. Gratitude from the veterans was palpable. For many animals, this would be their only chance for care until next year’s StandDown.
Vets for Vets’ Pets coordinated about 200 volunteers to provide all veterinary services, boarding, grooming, surgery, and mobile units. The Animals (and Humans) in Disaster, Empty Bowl Pet Food Pantry coordinated the pet food and supplies, as they do at each StandDown throughout Arizona. CJ Anderson of EBPFP collects donations year-round, working to prevent pet owners having to make the choice between feeding a pet or having to surrender that pet.
We asked CJ what had impacted her the most. “At the StandDown, we see so much sadness, anger, and hopelessness. To be able to convey that the people of Arizona say, ‘thank you for your service,’ by giving this to you,” she said as she surveyed the
donations of leashes & collars, toys, beds, and bowls with food to fill those bowls. These items cover her tables and spill onto the floor around them. “You see veterans’ shoulders relax – noticing all the people offering services, waiting to show them honor and respect.” This is the essence of StandDown.
The Maricopa County StandDown is not possible without the generosity of the donors, partner agencies, and volunteers. The event has a huge impact on the community with thousands of volunteers, yet most of the community is unaware of its existence. With further help from the community and service providers the Veteran’s StandDown will be smaller each year due to lessened demand. There should be no such thing as a homeless veteran or a veteran in need. Until that day, the Maricopa StandDown will continue and Veterinary Services will help veterans’ pets.
If you would like to volunteer with Veterinary Services at the next Maricopa StandDown, contact Vets for Vets’ Pets to find out when events are being held www.
facebook.com/vetsforvetspets. Volunteer sign ups usually start mid-summer.
For more information about the Maricopa County StandDown, how you or your business can get involved next year, or to donate, visit www.arizonastanddown.org.