Helping the Helpless
by Mary Frances Monckton Hendrix
Dr. Teresa Miller-Trevino Sanders found her calling while at the University of the Incarnate Word, although it wasn’t immediately uncovered.
After graduating from Incarnate Word High School, Sanders was persuaded to attend UIW by her parents, Abelardo and Susan Trevino, who ran the university’s dance department.
“I went to UIW in the first place because I was undecided about what I wanted to do,” Sanders recalled. Sanders spent her first couple years at UIW as an English major, entertaining her love of writing and reading. After being enthralled by an anatomy and physiology class, Sanders enrolled in all the sciences she could, even a reptiles and amphibians course, laying the groundwork for medical school.
Sanders, who graduated in 1995 with a Bachelor of Science in biology, now works with the public clinics division of the Arizona Humane Society in Phoenix.
“At UIW, with the Catholic focus, there was always a religious sense. I feel like this is a vocation for me, a calling. This is part of who I am,” Sanders said. “UIW’s core liberal arts education really prepared me for veterinary medicine, which is just as much an art as it is a science. It’s just as much what you do with that knowledge you gained. I’m always trying to devise a creative way to problem solve. That’s helpful having a creative background. I feel like I’m using all of that background now.”
While earning her biology degree, she found a job as a receptionist at an emergency vet clinic. Working from 6 p.m. until 2 a.m. allowed her to go to school during the day.
“I really got interested in what they were doing, and they trained me as a technician,” Sanders said.
Sanders neuters a dog at the Arizona Humane Society's Margaret McAllister Brock Low-Cost Spay/Neuter & Wellness Clinic.
She moved to Colorado and earned a doctorate in veterinary medicine in 2004 from Colorado State University. In October 2006, Sanders was hired by the Arizona Humane Society to work in their Second Chance Animal Hospital, a department that is dedicated to helping sick and injured stray animals.
“We would stabilize animals. It was a lot of emergency work, a lot of hit-by-cars, dog fights. We also would do some cruelty cases,” Sanders said. She never realized her passion would lead to an opportunity to appear on a nationally televised program.
A month or so after she was hired, the hospital was featured on the third season of the Animal Planet television series “Animal Heroes: Phoenix.”
Sanders said Second Chance has ambulances, driven by workers who are certified in animal care – like an EMT for animals – who pick up strays.
“Animal Heroes: Phoenix” was focused on those EMTs. They would film us at the hospital when there was a particularly dramatic rescue and would follow the animal through its rehabilitation.” It is during some of those scenes where Sanders and her skills were captured for the television audience.
For one of the early episodes, Sanders said the camera crew went to her home to film a kitten she had taken in.
“That particular kitten we raised to be about 2½ to 3 months old. I neutered him, put him on the adoption roll and he was adopted in an hour. It was a neat experience because they filmed my daughter playing with the kitten.”
She considers the rescued kitten a happy memory, but admits there were many emotionally draining days with Second Chance.
Sanders looks inside a cat's mouth as part of a preliminary physical examination before surgery. She checks the age of the animal by its teeth and also looks for dental disease or any other health problems.
“During the summer in Phoenix, the temperature gets to over 100 degrees and will stay that way for days. It’s one of many horrible things – I’ve seen dogs shot – but the heat strokes were terrible,” Sanders said. “Sometimes they just bring them in dead. When their body temperature is 108 degrees, it’s one of the worst forms of cruelty.
“These are our animals, and we have to take responsibility for them. A lot of times they had no access to water and were chained up. They couldn’t go anywhere. It just broke my heart. I just can’t believe that people would be that cruel or ignorant,” she said.
What helped Sanders get through the tougher cases were the times when they were able to reunite a pet with its owner. “It was really nice when the dog or cat would come in and have injuries that were fixable. And the people would come in and be happy to see their dog. I wish we had more of those.”
Her days now at the public clinics are a little bit more relaxed. “I really like what I’m doing now,” she said. “Working for the Humane Society, I really feel like I’m making a difference. My inclination is to serve others, either by educating them about vaccines or what their puppy needs. I would like to keep working with the society, or a rescue organization where I’m helping those who are underserved, whether it’s the animals or the people.”
In fact, she is helping both animals and people these days.
“We do about 20 to 25 surgeries per day, spays and neuters at an affordable cost,” Sanders said. “We also do a vaccine clinic on Fridays. So we’re helping people who otherwise couldn’t afford vet care.”
Colleagues at the Humane Society seem pleased with Sanders’ abilities no matter the situation.
“Dr. Sanders has been an all-around good veterinarian for me,” said Dr. Nancy Bradley, the director of medical services for the Arizona Humane Society. “We’re taking in about 40,000-50,000 animals a year. So for her, it’s exposure to a lot of different things.”
Bradley said they see the worst of the worst.
“All of the sick and injured come through our clinics. To give you an example, about two weeks ago, through just the shelter we saw 1,150 animals, that’s 164 a day or one every three minutes every business day.”
The Margaret McAllister Brock Low-Cost Spay/Neuter & Wellness Clinic, where Sanders works, has patients and their people lining up to wait for surgery in the mornings.
Bradley noted that although Sanders is early into her veterinary career, she has done general surgeries, orthopedic work, trauma surgeries and has even testified in court for an animal cruelty case.
“You have to have a lot of stamina to work here,” Bradley said, relating some quick decision-making on Sanders’ part when she was already busy administering pet vaccinations for more than 100 walk-ins.
“Just the other day, they were doing a vaccination clinic, and a dog got attacked by another dog or a coyote. They didn’t have any of the equipment they would need for that kind of care where they were. The dog was so bad you could see his heart and lungs. Dr. Sanders put Saran Wrap around the injury, got an IV started and had him prepped before I could get there to do surgery. She got him stable, and it brought him back.”
That experience was much like her days on the hospital staff.
“It was a high-stress, high-drama job. I did get a little burned out,” Sanders recalled. “It’s hard to do that and then come home to my husband and 2½-year-old, four cats and a dog.”
While Sanders was working at the animal hospital, her husband, Rob, began a residency program for pediatrics. She decided to step away from the demanding schedule at the hospital, but didn’t want to leave the Humane Society.
“Someone who went to college to be an English major turns out to be a veterinarian,” she commented. “Sometimes you go to college to discover who you are. My grandma always said ‘Pick a direction and go in that direction, and if it doesn’t feel right, then go in another direction.’ ”
The direction she chose has served her, and others, well.