Penn Vet's mobile unit will reach underserved pet populations

Animal shelters must constantly balance the needs of the animals in their care with the limited resources at their disposal. A diagnostic tool such as a radiograph, for example, could be critical to an animal’s care, but financially out of reach for the facility.

In addition, many areas of Philadelphia with high rates of animal surrender to shelters remain in what the School of Veterinary Medicine’s Brittany Watson calls “veterinary deserts” where pet owners have difficulty reaching a clinic.

Ever since she interviewed for her job at Penn, Watson, director of Penn Vet’s Shelter Animal Medicine Program, has envisioned a way of filling these unmet needs with a mobile veterinary unit for medical, surgical, and educational initiatives—essentially a miniature veterinary hospital on wheels. Penn Vet is close to fulfilling that vision thanks to a funding challenge match from the John T. and Jane A. Wiederhold Foundation that will support the purchase of the mobile unit. All gifts made by Dec. 31 toward the purchase will be matched, dollar-for-dollar, up to $150,000.

Plans for the 40-foot mobile unit include four surgical stations, an animal holding area, a medical consultation area and capacity to take X-rays and perform other diagnostic tests. The unit would also have commercial-grade heating and air conditioning to optimize infection control. Watson has worked with the maker of the unit to customize the design to allow space for educational activities for veterinary students and the community.

“The mobile unit will not only provide care in underserved areas and diagnostic and clinical services for our shelter partners,” Watson says, “it also has huge potential for community outreach and education.”

Watson plans to incorporate the mobile unit into outreach that the Shelter Animal Medicine program is already doing as part of the Netter Center’s Pipeline Program.

“We could pick up animals from a shelter and drive the unit to a high school where the students can actually see the care we’re providing, without the students even leaving their high school, which can maximize their experience,” Watson says.

Penn Vet students will also be integrated into care and outreach with the mobile unit at every level, from performing spay and neuter surgeries under supervision, to leading lessons and giving tours for younger students.

For more information about the mobile unit project, visit the Penn Vet website.

Penn Vet Shelter Mobile