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EVENT HISTORY & DEVELOPMENT

Dr. Bill Miller, the Founder of the ACVO/Stokes program, examines 'Cheerio' to promote the event on the set of Good Morning America.

Dr. Bill Miller, the Founder of the ACVO/Stokes program, examines 'Cheerio' to promote the event on the set of Good Morning America.

In 2008, ACVO's Public Relation's Chair, Dr. Bill Miller, recognized the good that was being done by so many of our members, many of whom already provided free exams across the country. He too employed such a program in his clinics, but he had a vision to somehow integrate and develop these individual events into something with much more of an impact. He came up with a general idea, asking the Diplomates to either combine their current events, or begin providing free screening eye exams to Service Animals as part of a coordinated National campaign. His colleagues agreed to participate and thus the program was born.

ACVO approached the American Veterinary Medical Association for support, to this day the AVMA has given the program a blanket, ongoing endorsement. They signed on as a supporter and helped ACVO promote the event to referring veterinarians, thereby inviting more individuals to benefit from the program. The first event took place without a sponsor and was developed exclusively in-house; it was held during AVMA's Pet Awareness week in May.

The first year was emblematic of how much our ophthalmologists love supporting Service Animals, over 160 of our Diplomates offered their services for free to approximately 1,500 Service Animals across Canada and the USA. Each year both the participating number of veterinarians and the number of clients have increased. The eight year participation average shows that approximately 260-280 of ACVO's Diplomates voluntarily participate annually; therein donating all of their time, facilities and staff services to the event. To date over 52,000 Service Animals have received free screening exams from this program; we hope to increase these numbers annually.

The program became rooted when Merial stepped up to act as the name-sake sponsor and other secondary sponsors was secured. Merial supported the event for five years even though they did not carry ophthalmic specific products.  After five years of support, Merial underwent a series of merges and was no longer able to financially sponsor the event. So in 2014, Stokes Pharmacy generously agreed to assist ACVO as the name-sake sponsor through 2019. Sponsor funds help pay for the program's staff support and limited overhead; financially the goal is to simply break even. The public should know that our Diplomates participate voluntarily and are not reimbursed for their time, expertise, staff or expenses.

The College received press coverage the first year, involving over 4 million people. The outreach was grass-roots as funds were not available to hire a professional PR firm. In the third year of the program, ACVO hired a PR firm to help get the word out and increase registration numbers. Since then knowledge of the program has spread reaching over 300 million people in 2014; over 2 Billion over the internet.

We are very grateful to our ophthalmologists and staff who really make this event happen! After all, their philanthropy is what spawned the idea in the first place. Thank you to all of our member Diplomates who participate for being involved in this program. We hope to bring it to the public as long as is feasibly possible.

Please feel free to pass on the word to anyone who you think might qualify to participate or may want to be listed as a program supporter.