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Working together solves problems

Elise Patkotak

OK, Alaska Dental Society, pay attention because this is how it's done. When there is a need for your services in an area you do not normally service, instead of fighting with those who would provide the service, you work with them to make sure the service is performed well and to everyone's benefit. Check in with the Alaska Veterinary Medical Association (AKVMA) if you have any questions about how to do this.

Once again my overwhelming admiration and affection for those who take care of some of our most helpless critters has been justified. The AKVMA provided a grant to an organization called Alaska Rural Veterinary Outreach, enabling it to provide its first ever vet clinic in an under-served rural area.

Why is this so amazing? Because this past year the AKVMA formally opposed a proposed state bill that would have allowed out-of-state vets to go to rural areas of the state to provide spaying- neutering and vaccination services. They opposed the bill for a variety of reasons, even while acknowledging there was a tremendous need for these services in Bush Alaska.

Among the reasons they opposed the bill was the AKVMA's belief the bill simply did not contain the needed safeguards and defined professional standards that would clearly indicate the level of care to be provided. For some of us, those reasons paled next to the needs of village animals for care.

Animal suffering is, for many of us, justification alone for getting involved, spending money and ending or alleviating their pain. For those who look at these villages and wonder why the money doesn't go into human health care instead, I can only point out how closely related animal and human health can be. Rabies is endemic in the fox populations in many areas of Alaska. Unvaccinated dogs can bring that disease into your home. Loose dogs tend to run in packs and those packs can quickly revert to aggressive, wolf-like pack behavior that threatens human life. Providing villages with a means to keep their dog population at a desired level simply makes life safer for everyone.

Finally, and this can't be emphasized enough, for many people, their pets are their emotional safety zones. It's where they can go to receive unconditional love and acceptance no matter what the rest of the world is saying. Keeping a beloved pet healthy and happy goes a long way towards keeping its owner emotionally balanced and strong. This can be especially critical in small villages where life is often harsh and isolated.

Since all involved acknowledged the need for village care, the AKVMA's opposition to this bill, without having any proposal of their own on how to provide services, left some of us thinking they were being a bit self-serving in not wanting any other vets to come into the state. It was at this point Alaska Rural Veterinary Outreach, Inc., a newly minted 501c non-profit dedicated to finding a way to get those services into the remotest of Alaska's villages, came along and knocked on the AKVMA's door.

Most vets being ultimately the kind and caring people I've always suspected they were, the AKVMA answered that knock by meeting with ARVO to work out an acceptable solution to the problem. These meetings were not all peaches and cream. Both groups had constituents to protect and issues of safety and care that needed to be addressed. The bottom line, though, was both wanted a good outcome, both were operating in good faith and both cared greatly about the animals they were discussing. The result was a grant that will hopefully be the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship.

Equally impressive was the number of vets who responded to a survey sent out by ARVO stating they would volunteer time throughout the year to go to under-served areas and hold clinics. This means volunteering time for which they could have otherwise been paid. It means going to some remote locations and working under less than ideal circumstances. But given the opportunity, they showed they understood we all need to work together to make this world a kinder, gentler place.

As I said at the start, are you paying attention Alaska Dental Society? Because this is the way it's done.

Elise Patkotak is an Alaska writer and author of "Parallel Logic," a memoir of her 28 years in Barrow. Web site, www.elisepatkotak.com.


By ELISE PATKOTAK