Veterinarian students from the University of Guelph's Ontario Veterinary College recently made a house call to some furry residents living with their owners at an emergency shelter in Waterloo.
On Oct. 4, the Sanguen Health Centre hosted an event called Vet Day for pet owners living at the University Avenue shelter in Waterloo in partnership with the Kim and Stu Lang Community Healthcare Partnership Program (CHPP) at the OVC.
Associate professor Dr. Shane Bateman, part of the CHPP, explains this program was created in November 2019 after a $11 million donation was made to the college to establish a community outreach and create opportunities for students to participate in community experiences.
Since visiting the shelter, students also took part in spay and neuter surgeries recently in Hamilton and Guelph.
"It's a very enriching experience for the students," said Bateman about those who sign up to participate in outreach to vulnerable urban communities.
"As a profession, I think we are starting to recognize access to veterinary care is a really critical social justice issue, and it's something we probably need to begin to address as a profession."
Sade Bezjak-Crossan, an outreach worker at the shelter who organized the event, explains she got in touch with the CHHP program through the Kitchener-Waterloo Humane Society. The whole event came together within a month, and "could not have gone any better."
“Doing an event like this is simply an extension of our harm reduction model,” said Bezjak-Crossan, “It really just all ties together and it was amazing to be able to do this for people.”
The shelter opened in October 2020 and is one of few locations which accepts animals. Currently, the shelter has 15 pets, including cats, dogs, rabbits and guinea pigs. Bezjak-Crossan adds it is a nice, little community at the shelter.
“All the folks have been there pretty much for a year,” she said, “There are a lot of animals who have lost their housing."
For a few hours on Monday, four veterinarian students and two overseeing veterinarians examined around 20 animals from the shelter and event walk-ins. Bezjak-Crossan said pets were micro chipped, vaccinated and some were treated for minor concerns. All for free.
Overall, she said the pets were found to be in great health, which was reassuring for their owners who may have been concerned about their ability to take care of their pets after losing their prior home.
“Knowing that your pet is in good health, and the reassurance of knowing that you are taking great care of them, that was the best part of today," said Bezjak-Crossan.
“Folks will prioritize their pets' needs over their own,” she adds. "If that peace of mind can alleviate a portion of their stress or worries, it’s an immediate success.”
"The human-animal bond is incredible and people's health relies on making sure their best friend's health is looked after and they are healthy," said Bateman.
For the veterinary students participating in the event, Bezjak-Crossan said it meant a lot for them to provide their services, calling the experience ‘enriching’ and ‘beneficial’ in an email.
"They were fantastic, I couldn’t have asked for anything more from them," she said about the students, “They were so great, just the way they were so patient and kind, and they explained things in a way that were just so informative.”
Danielle Fairfield, one of the OVC students who participated in Vet Day, said this program has been the best way to learn through the repetition.
"You get to become confident in basic, but essential skills," said Fairfield, mentioning she also got to trim a guinea pig's nails for the first time on Monday.
Fairfield adds she felt humbled by the experience of providing care for the animals at the shelter, and inspired to continue volunteering after seeing the human-animal bond.
"It's amazing how much they knew about their pets."
Bateman also mentions the students were happy to see how close owners at the shelter were with their pets.
"All of them have expressed to be very grateful to be part of the rotation," he said. "The clients were incredibly grateful and easy to talk to, and were very thankful for all that we could do."
Given the success of Vet Day, Bezjak-Crossan said their organization will be planning to hold another event with the CHPP at the shelter next year.