Students benefit by helping the pets of needy Calgarians

May 20, 2015

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.

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 practicing their professional and
communication skills and gaining experience with clients. There’s a
veterinarian coaching them, and the students do preventative 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.

those who have experienced poverty, homelessness and the social
isolation that often accompanies it, the role of a pet becomes all the
more critical,” says Amanda St. Laurent, with CUPS. “Caring for a pet
can provide a sense of normalcy, responsibility, stability,
unconditional love and a reason to face a new day.”

Chalhoub says
in addition to the services offered at the clinics, 11 pets were spayed
or neutered as part of third year surgery labs at UCVM. “The students
ended up operating on the pets they’d seen at the clinics, which is
really neat.”

Amy Larkin and Jen Wheeler were among the third year students involved in the program.

me, it’s really about the chance to practice what we’ve learned in the
classroom in a real setting but still under the supervision of our
professors,” says Wheeler. “So you’re dealing with real clients, with a
real case where the decisions you make actually impact them.”

Both students found it a fantastic opportunity to hone their professional skills and at the same time serve the community.

not only great for them, it’s also great for us,” says Larkin. “It’s a
nice stepping stone from the classroom into the real world. And it’s
really rewarding to know that what we’re learning is making a

UCVM is grateful for the support from industry and
the local veterinary community – including Associated Veterinary
Clinics, Boehringer Ingelheim, the C.A.R.E Centre Animal Hospital,
Calgary Academy of Veterinary Medicine, Horizon Veterinary Group, Purina
and Vétoquinol – support that helped make this valuable program

NOTE: Dr. Serge Chalhoub, Jody Graves and Amanda
St. Laurent are available for media interviews on Monday, May 25
between 9:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.

About the University of Calgary

University of Calgary is a leading Canadian university located in the
nation’s most enterprising city. The university has a clear strategic
direction to become one of Canada’s top five research universities by
2016, where research and innovative teaching go hand in hand, and where
we fully engage the communities we both serve and lead. This strategy is
called Eyes High, inspired by the university’s Gaelic motto, which translates as ‘I will lift up my eyes.’

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Contact Information

Media Contact

Collene Ferguson
Manager, Marketing and Communications
Faculty of Veterinary Medicine
University of Calgary