May 25, 2015

Student-run clinics offer free pet care to low-income Calgarians

Veterinary Medicine’s successful pilot project with CUPS will now become regular part of curriculum
Izzy the puppy charms Faculty of Veterinary Medicine instructor Serge Chaloub.

Izzy the puppy charms Faculty of Veterinary Medicine instructor Serge Chaloub.

Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

Jody Graves considers Izzy, her young Chihuahua dachshund cross, a part of the family. As a single mother on a fixed income, Graves was grateful to be able to take part in a pilot program where Izzy received veterinary care at no cost.

“It was great, you could ask them all kinds of questions,” says Graves. “They teach you how to feed your pet and how to take care of them so they have long healthy lives. Not a lot of us can afford to take our animals to the vet, so to have them come in and look at all our animals and give them their shots, it was really wonderful.”

The University of Calgary Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (UCVM) partnered this spring with the Calgary Urban Project Society (CUPS) to host six free veterinary clinics for pets of people living below the poverty line. The new service learning program gave third-year students the opportunity to take what they learned in the classroom out into the real world. Students interacted directly with clients and their companions while under the close supervision of UCVM and community veterinarians.

Izzy and her owner Jody Graves, in white, at a clinic appointment with instructor Serge Chaloub, centre, and students Amy Larkin and Jennifer Wheeler.

Izzy and owner Jody Graves, with instructor Serge Chaloub, and students Amy Larkin, Jennifer Wheeler

Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

Benefits for both students and clients

“It’s been a great initiative for the students,” says Dr. Serge Chalhoub, who, along with fellow UCVM faculty member Dr. Jack Wilson, championed the project. “They have been practising their professional and communication skills and gaining experience with clients. There’s a veterinarian coaching them, and the students do preventive medicine, deworming, vaccines, nutrition education and wellness education. Our first six sessions were highly successful.”

The participants in the pilot program were CUPS clients. Thirty-two cats and dogs and their owners, who were once homeless or at high risk of becoming homeless, took part. In fact, the pilot project was so successful that starting this fall it will be a regular part of the third-year Doctor of Veterinary Medicine curriculum. The program provides benefits for both the student and the client, creating a win-win situation.

Izzy, a Chihuahua dachshund cross, receives care at one of six free clinics the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine offered for low-income Calgarians.

Izzy, a Chihuahua dachshund cross, receives care at a clinic offered for low-income Calgarians.