“Off Board” Mobile Recovery Unit

An “off board” recovery mobile spay/neuter unit is a mobile surgical room which is parked next to a building that is used as the waiting and recovery areas during the clinic.

“Off-board” programs are actually like a cross between a standard mobile spay neuter unit (a unit with both the surgery and recovery on board), and a M*A*S*H program (one in which all of the equipment and services are brought into the building).

With the convenience of a mobile unit and the flexibility of a M*A*S*H, the off-board recovery mobile unit enables the service provider to increase the number of surgeries based on the capacity of the veterinarian instead of basing the capacity on the number of cages on board, while having the consistency of a regular surgical/ prep area.

In an off-board recovery unit, the surgery is performed within a contained unit (more about the unit later), however the animals await surgery, and also recover following surgery, in a building which is typically used for the day (or days) of the clinic.

The recovery building may be an armory, church, gymnasium or other public or private building. Like a M*A*S*H program, the building must be heated or air conditioned and maintained at standard recovery room temperature.

This model is ideal for locations which are served through monthly clinics of 35 to 50 surgeries per day.  Clinics can be extended for any number of days.

Who Does What?

The off-board recovery mobile program combines two teams of people, a local ‘host’ organization and a visiting veterinary team.  The teams work together to bring a spay neuter program to a community on a periodic basis.  The more regular and reliable the service, the better; regular services enable people to more easily change their care giving habits.

Some of the tasks are similar to other types of spay neuter programs, and some tasks are specific to this program.  Base your program on the one that’s best for your community, population and income base.

The host team is a local humane organization or group of volunteers that “sponsor” the program by:

  • Securing the use of a building
  • Promoting the service through posters, flyers, newspaper, etc.
  • Scheduling surgery appointments and
  • Organizing volunteers for the day or days when surgery takes place.

The visiting team includes the people who work on the unit.

This includes the veterinarian, tech(s) and the coordinator.

One or two coordinators from the host team will make sure that the assigned tasks are completed and that volunteers are lined up for the surgery day itself.

The visiting veterinary team should hold a brief orientation before the first clinic so people will understand the tasks and have an idea of who will do what.

Surgery day volunteer tasks include:

  • Checking in clients, weighing dogs as they arrive and getting them into cages.
  • Moving dogs from waiting area to the surgery area and then into the recovery area and ultimately back to their cages.

A note from our experience:

We recognize that some urban mobile clinics do not accept appointments for surgeries, instead operating on a “first come- first served” basis; if too many come that day, some are turned away and asked to return. That is simply not a good model for changing hearts, minds and habits in rural poverty where a bit of gas money can be a deciding factor in getting a pet to a clinic in the first place. Some people will not, “Come back later.” When people have driven a long distance to take care of an animal they found and decided to keep, especially if they have never taken an animal to a veterinarian before (as is the case with over half of our clients and over half of their pets), and they are turned away, it is unlikely that they will return to try out this new way of doing things. Our goal is to make spay neuter into a priority in folks’ lives.

Although scheduling is extra work, it is vital for a large volume intake and getting your day off to a good start!

The benefits of an off-board recovery unit are:

  • The self contained surgery room eliminates the loading and unloading of heavy equipment required in a M*A*S*H program; this allows the team to work in a consistent setting, with consistent equipment. Also, the cleanliness of the site being visited is less critical and in a M*A*S*H program as you are not creating a surgery room within it.  The ability to avoid loading and off-loading equipment is a benefit to the host and the visiting team alike!
  • It is much less expensive to put on the road than a standard mobile unit.  If volunteers are available for recovery and moving animals, this model is less costly to staff than the traditional full sized spay neuter unit as well.  Because the off-board unit is normally pulled by a truck, the drive train (the motor and transmission) are not actually attached to the surgery room, so a mechanical problem does not disable the service. Additionally, RVs (or programs which use RVs) can be the most expensive vehicles to repair or maintain.
  • Like M*A*S*H programs, this can be a great organizing tool, partly because people can become involved and partly because this is a very cost effective model to operate. In remote areas, some homes will be unable to afford gas money to travel to and from the clinic and pet owners may choose to stay with their pet during recovery  or even to volunteer in some way. By keeping costs low, this model sustains itself at a low cost.
  • Multiple communities within a reasonable driving distance can be served by moving the mobile unit from one town to the next. Because you do not have to load heavy equipment, the close-down is simple and takes less than an hour making it easier to move the service than to transport animals to the clinic, as you would do for a M*A*S*H program.  Your program can serve a large area, yet eliminate the very labor intensive pet transports that are needed in order to serve a large area through a M*A*S*H program.  These are the two best ways for serving remote rural areas through high volume programs.

Drawbacks of an off-board recovery unit:

  • Because the recovery area changes with each location, the full facility cannot be inspected and, like M*A*S*H programs, it may not comply with regulations in some states.
  • If a local building with heat and air conditioning is not available, the community cannot have the service or must locate a commercial tent.
  • Requires two or three volunteers throughout the day, one for recovery and at least one (preferably two) to move animals to and from the surgery unit.  Most programs schedule the large dogs to be checked in and have surgery first in order to minimize the demand for volunteers who are able to lift to the first couple hours of the day.

Off-board recovery units are perfect for remote areas in which high volume surgery days are needed and where a M*A*S*H unit may be equally useable.  The off-board recovery program requires far less work to set up and close down and provides greater consistency than a M*A*S*H program.

Equipment for an Off Board Recovery Unit

The equipment needed for an off-board recovery unit is basically the same as in most other types of spay/neuter programs in terms of the instrument packs, anesthesia machines, surgery tables, autoclave or other sterilizer, lights and small items including clippers, vacuum, etc.

Recovery and moving equipment may vary for this program, and may include stretchers, carts on wheels, folding tables, extra fans, blankets and other items.

Additional equipment is the cargo style trailer, commonly called a, ‘toy hauler,’ which is fitted at the factory with insulation, flooring, aluminum walls, lighting, heat and AC, a breaker box, cabinets and it can be fitted with a sink, plumbing and even a bathroom.     Folding cages or carriers travel with the unit.  An aluminum trailer is lighter than a steel frame trailer,  and may be more cost effective to pull. We recommend a two-table system as found in most high volume spay neuter clinics.

A fully equipped off-board recovery unit built in a premium grade aluminum trailer, with two surgery tables, two isoflurane anesthesia machines, a prep sink with cabinet base, autoclave, etc., runs approximately $40,000.

As in any type of spay neuter program, rural or urban, the first part is assessment, outreach and partnering with those who can help you find the clients who need you the most.

We’ve been thrilled to operate a off-board recovery mobile unit in Oklahoma since 2004; it provides spay neuter services in areas with very low populations and high rates of chronic poverty. The unit has been invited in by humane organizations, city workers and other volunteers who want to make their towns a better place; they are true heroes…their goal is to stop the suffering they see around themselves, to halt animal abuse, neglect and abandonment through a “can-do” approach.

Throughout the US, according to Census.gov, the average number of people per square mile is around 80; here in Oklahoma that number is 59. In many of the areas of Oklahoma served by the off-board recovery mobile unit that number is fewer than ten.  This means that families are struggling to make ends meet in places with few jobs and limited opportunity, the local tax base is thin and local businesses also struggle.

An off-board recovery mobile unit is a great tool for bringing high volume spay neuter services to towns and counties all over the poorest parts of our nation.

For information on this type of program, or to let us know how an off-board recovery mobile program goes for you contact us at info@spayfirst.org.