Veterinary Memorial Fund transforms grief into promise

09/30/04

Blacksburg, Va. -- When President George W. Bush lost his beloved dog Spot earlier this year, he received a letter of consolation from Gerhardt Schurig, dean of the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine.

The letter informed the President that a donation had been made to the college's "Veterinary Memorial Fund" by an employee in the White House in honor of his beloved spaniel. It explained that the donation would fund clinical research programs that could lead to discoveries that would benefit future generations of companion animals.

The president of the United States was one of thousands of bereaved animal owners whose loss of a beloved companion has been memorialized through the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine's "Veterinary Memorial Fund."

Founded in 1984 by the college and the Virginia Veterinary Medical Association, the fund is one of the oldest such funds in the nation. Since its inception, the fund has raised almost $900,000 and has funded more than 100 individual clinical research programs exploring areas deemed timely by a panel of statewide practitioners and college faculty members.

"Research is a major priority for our college of veterinary medicine," said VMRCVM Dean Gerhardt Schurig, who became the third dean in the college's history in June 2004. "Veterinary research contributes significantly to discoveries that directly improve animal health. It also contributes to human health by controlling or eliminating disease which can spread from animals to humans."

One of the greatest benefits of the Veterinary Memorial Fund program is that the way it links community veterinarians around the state with college researchers in a way that directly serves animals and their owners, Schurig noted.

When a companion animal passes away, financial donations are made to the fund. The dean of the VMRCVM then sends a letter of condolence announcing the memorial to the bereaved.

Then a team of private practitioners and college researchers work together to identify the kind of research that needs to be done to address urgent veterinary healthcare issues in the field, proposals are evaluated and funded, and the work is completed, Schurig said.

Bart Prater, an employee at WVTF Public Radio in Roanoke, found himself touched by his experience with the Veterinary Memorial Fund following the loss of his beloved 11-year-old Labrador retriever named Buck to a brain tumor.

"What an incredible thing," he recalled, shortly after he learned that his pet had been memorialized by a caring practitioner. "When we got the letter, my wife and I both sat at the kitchen table and cried… and we're not sissies or anything."

"I didn't even know the fund existed," he continued. "He's gone now, but because he is gone that donation was made. And maybe the next dog that comes along won't die from a brain tumor."

Improvements in the use of non-invasive imaging technology to diagnose brain tumors is just one of the dozens of different clinical areas that have been funded as a result of the fund. Veterinary Memorial Fund research projects have funded projects across the spectrum of modern clinical veterinary medicine, from ophthalmology to orthopedics, from new anti-inflammatory drugs to improved surgical procedures.

Virginia Veterinary Medical Association practitioners make most of the donations to the fund, and they play a critical role in determining which clinical research proposals are funded.

"The Veterinary Memorial Fund program is a terrific success story, for the college, for our association, and for the people and animals that we ultimately serve," said Steve Escobar, president of the Virginia Veterinary Medical Association.

"The fund has done some wonderful things," he continued. "It has helped thousands of people cope with the grief of losing a pet. It has helped our veterinarians reach out to their clients. It has built bridges between the association and the college. And most importantly, it has funded critical research that has improved the quality of animal care we can deliver."

The Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine (VMRCVM) is a two-state, three-campus professional school operated by the land-grant universities of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg and the University of Maryland at College Park. Its flagship facilities, based at Virginia Tech, include the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, which treats more than 40,000 animals annually. Other campuses include the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center in Leesburg, Va., and the Avrum Gudelsky Veterinary Center at College Park, home of the Center for Government and Corporate Veterinary Medicine. The VMRCVM annually enrolls approximately 500 Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and graduate students, is a leading biomedical and clinical research center, and provides professional continuing education services for veterinarians practicing throughout the two states.

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