Dawn Duncan moved to Las Cruces in August 2019 and has already had two frightening experiences that led to her pets needing emergency care. Fortunately, in 2020 when she and her dog Barney, a basenji-redbone hound mix, were viciously attacked by two much larger dogs that came rushing out through a usually closed gate, Las Cruces still had an emergency veterinary clinic.
Things had changed by the time of the second emergency in June 2021. Dawn’s dog Fergus had gone through surgery to remove a cancerous tumor. Friday night after the procedure, Fergus was agitated and kept wanting to go outside. In the morning, to Dawn’s horror, she discovered that what the beagle-schnauzer mix had been passing was blood . . . a lot of blood. To make matters worse, she found that Las Cruces, the second-largest city in the state, no longer had an emergency veterinary clinic providing evening and weekend services. She would have to take her dog to El Paso, about an hour’s drive.
“We were terrified we’d lose him before we got there,” Dawn shared. Fortunately, after getting emergency care in El Paso, Fergus survived. However, the experience launched Dawn into a crusade to find a way to provide emergency and trauma veterinary services in Las Cruces and to form a group to support that effort called Animal Companions of Las Cruces.
Dawn is uniquely qualified to take on this challenge. Her background includes journalism, education, theater, and serving as a trainer for Narrative 4, an international nonprofit with a mission of using storytelling to create empathy for others. Helping others empathize with pet owners facing emergency veterinary issues without having care available may make a difference in the success of her project.
This new effort will require Dawn’s investigation, communication, and bridge-building skills. Right after the incident with Fergus, she posted on the Nextdoor social networking service asking if others had had a similar experience. She immediately found 60 people who were interested in helping do something about the lack of an emergency veterinary clinic in Las Cruces. Ten more have joined the effort since.
One of those who got involved with the group is Mary Hernandez, a regional manager for a medical company that provides COVID testing. A lifelong animal lover, Mary currently has six dogs at her rural home. She has three senior dogs and three former foster pups that are now a year old. She has experienced several medical emergencies with her dogs, recently with Smash, her diabetic 10-year-old poodle-terrier mix.
Mary explained, “Everything seems to happen in the evening! I found out the hard way because my dog was having a diabetic issue and he needed emergency care, and nobody was available. I had to travel all the way to El Paso by the airport. We waited four hours for him to be seen. With a diabetic dog, that’s not good. He had to stay for three days to regulate his blood sugar.”
She continued, “It could have been taken care of locally. It shocks me that in a city of so many animal lovers, we have nothing.”
In another instance, Smash’s by-mail delivery of insulin did not arrive on time, and she realized it was Friday evening and she had no way to obtain insulin locally. “It can be life threatening for dogs if you miss a dose,” Mary said, so she drove to Albuquerque to get the medicine. In fact, she is now looking to relocate to the Albuquerque area to have access to the veterinary care she needs for her pets.
Another pet owner touched by Dawn’s message seeking interested collaborators is Nancy C. Sharp, a retired nonprofit manager. On a hot summer day in 2008, Nancy and a friend rescued a dog from the highway between Española and Taos, or, as she says, “Tula rescued me.” It turned out Tula was pregnant and soon gave birth to seven pups in Nancy’s living room. Tula was the first dog Nancy had in decades and was her constant companion while her husband worked in another state.
Fast forward to 2014, Nancy retired, and she, her husband, and their two dogs (Chester was their second dog) moved to Las Cruces. Late on a Saturday night in March 2021, Tula struggled to get up. She fell and fell again. They realized Tula may have had a stroke and, knowing there was no emergency veterinarian in Las Cruces, bundled up the dog and headed to El Paso. Sadly, Tula died as they pulled into the clinic’s parking lot.
“I don’t know if it would have saved her, but it would have made a huge difference to only have to drive 15 or 20 minutes instead of an hour to get help,” Nancy said. “Tula was just my love.” When she saw Dawn’s message, she said she’d like to get involved in finding a solution.
Dawn currently sees four possible options to resolve the problem: share televet services; form a consortium of existing veterinarians in Las Cruces to share an emergency facility and take turns staffing the clinic; work with a company that already provides these services in other communities to open a clinic; or establish a new clinic independently and recruit veterinarians qualified in emergency and trauma care to staff it. Their goal, Dawn stressed, is to support local veterinary services, not compete with them.
The group is researching options to become a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, potentially using the Community Foundation of Southern New Mexico as a fiscal agent while they go through the process. If that happens, they can begin fundraising to support the project.
Dawn’s first inclination, based on conversations with her veterinarian in Minnesota who was part of a successful consortium project there, was to get the seven clinics in Las Cruces to work together. The consortium in Red River Valley had its loan paid off and was profitable within five years, Dr. Kevin Dill told her.
For this option to work, each Las Cruces veterinary clinic would contribute funds to support the expense of the building and equipment, and additional funds would be fundraised and/or obtained through a loan. Veterinarians would each work an evening or weekend shift at the emergency clinic to replace a regular shift at their home clinics. By mid-December, Dawn had responses to a survey from four of the local clinics. She feels that for this option to work, all clinics in the city with more than one veterinarian on staff would need to buy in.
The simplest option may be to share televet services for after hours emergencies. Eighty percent of these could be handled online, and the remaining 20 percent that require in-person care would be directed to the veterinarian on call who would meet the pet owner at the vet’s clinic.
Their final option would be the heaviest lift for this nascent community group: funding and staffing a clinic that does not involve local veterinarians. Dawn explained that this way of providing emergency care would be the biggest challenge, but also offer the most control as the clinic would be operated by the group. They would need to raise or borrow funds to establish a clinic and recruit qualified trauma and emergency care veterinarians, perhaps working with veterinary schools to attract new vets who would relocate here.
As part of their initial efforts, Dawn and members of her group have introduced themselves to the board of the Animal Services Center of the Mesilla Valley and to the New Mexico State Board of Veterinarians, which affirmed that emergency veterinary care is a top priority since in New Mexico only Albuquerque has clinics that provide emergency care (a clinic in Santa Fe is expected to begin offering emergency veterinary care).
After Dawn’s efforts began, a step was made in the right direction when Animal Hospital of Las Cruces began offering limited urgent care on Saturdays and Sundays, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., with the last intake at 3 p.m. Having weekend services available can save many trips to El Paso for emergency care, but nights and emergency surgeries remain an issue.
Dawn’s ideal timeline is being able to provide emergency veterinary care in Las Cruces within two years. “We won’t stop until this is done,” she vows.
If you are interested in supporting this project, go to AnimalCompanionsOfLasCruces.org to get updated on their progress and see how you can get involved.
Emergency Veterinary Clinics
Animal Hospital of Las Cruces
3171 N. Main St., Las Cruces
Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Saturday – Sunday, urgent cases 8 a.m. – 4 p.m.
El Paso Animal
1220 Airway Blvd., El Paso
Open 24 hours
Far East Animal Care Center
2240 Joe Battle, El Paso
Open 24 hours
(closed some holidays)
Posted by LasCruces.com