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Profiles in Giving

Healing Blitz

Sharing expert care around the globe

In crates and laundry baskets, on leashes and ropes, they came. Hundreds of dogs and cats were brought in by more than 100 animal rescue volunteers from miles around to a routine Spay Panama event on a sweltering summer day.

Katie Holmes, V13, was ready and waiting for them at her station: a working “operating room” on a foldout table with her surgical instrument pack. During that intense, 13-hour day, she and eight other doctors collectively spayed or neutered 458 dogs and cats.

“It was incredible,” says Holmes. “And the community took complete ownership.” From coordinating the event in a makeshift facility, advertising the day, and facilitating an assembly line of check-in, anesthesia, prep, surgery, and recovery, the volunteers helped with everything. As a result of regularly scheduled “blitzes” like that and steady community work for the past 12 years, the number of strays in Panama has significantly decreased.

Holmes is able to follow her dream of working for an international nonprofit thanks in part to the George F. and Sybil H. Fuller Scholarship and the other financial aid she received at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. “The aid helped ease my burden of debt,” she says, “so that I can now help others around the world. And I know the experience and education I received at Cummings will serve me well wherever this journey takes me.”

After her short-term assignment in Panama ended, Holmes headed to St. Thomas, part of the U.S. Virgin Islands, where she filled in at a private veterinary practice that also helps local rescue groups.

Holmes’ next stop will be Guam, a U.S. territory in the western Pacific, where she’ll help a pilot stray-neuter program with Humane Society International. Organizers hope the stray-reduction efforts will decrease the likelihood of pregnancies that boost the stray population and the spread of disease in animals and humans, and will eventually be sustained by the communities.

Holmes was inspired to work abroad when she met Dr. Gudush Jalloh at Cummings. While visiting to observe surgeons at the Henry and Lois Foster Hospital for Small Animals, he told Holmes he was just one of three veterinarians in Sierra Leone tackling the problem of spaying, neutering, and vaccinating the dogs there. Rabies is rampant among people and animals in the West African country because of the uncontrolled number of stray dogs.

“If we can vaccinate the animals against rabies, we can help the people,” Holmes says, referring to the interconnection between human and veterinary medicine. When Guam begins to see a decrease in strays in a few years and the Ebola threat is under control, she hopes to collaborate with Jalloh to establish a sustainable vaccination program in Sierra Leone. “There’s a huge need for expert care around the world and we can all contribute.”