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UCVM students bring pet care to the community

Tough economic times increase demand for CUPS service learning initiative

Third-year veterinary medicine students at the University of Calgary provide care for the pets of clients of the Calgary Urban Project Society (CUPS), under the guidance of Dr. Serge Chalhoub. Photos by Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

Candace Clarke awaits treatment for Kaia, a green-eyed tabby.

By Collene Ferguson, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine

Kaia, a green-eyed tabby cat, purrs in the arms of her owner, Candace Clarke, as the two wait to be seen at a recent pet wellness clinic held at the Calgary Urban Project Society (CUPS).

“She’s the cuddliest thing in the world,” says Clarke. “The second you sit down she’s right there.”

The free clinic is an initiative of the University of Calgary Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (UCVM) in partnership with CUPS. Under the supervision of a veterinarian, third-year UCVM students provide free checkups and preventive health care for the pets of CUPS clients. While serving a real community need, the students gain experience with clients and hone their professional and communication skills. In exchange for spending approximately an hour with UCVM students, CUPS clients are not charged for the health visit.

“For some clients, pets offer the only regular contact they have and help them overcome the social isolation and loneliness that accompany profound poverty,” says Amanda St. Laurent, with CUPS. “They are incredibly grateful for the care and information provided.”

Economic downturn increases need

The current economic climate makes the free clinics even more crucial to CUPS clients.

“The economic downturn has increased need for CUPS in general,” says St. Laurent. “For those with pets, this means that accessing veterinary care becomes incredibly difficult if not impossible. We would love to see the day when this is offered regularly all year round, and we are so happy to be a part of it.”

“It’s nice to take the skills we learned in class and put them into practice and to be able to help out in the community as well,” says Alan Glassman, a third-year UCVM student.

Approximately 150 pets of CUPS clients have benefitted from the free care in the program’s first three years.

“It’s a higher level of learning,” says Glassman’s classmate, Kelsey Kearns. “We’ve built up our basic skills and now we get to put it all together and make sense of it.”

A win-win-win situation

Dr. Serge Chalhoub, with UCVM, calls it a win-win-win situation, where veterinary students, pets and CUPS clients all benefit.

“It's about service learning,” says Chalhoub, who, along with Dr. Jack Wilson, championed a pilot project two years ago, that was so successful it is now part of the third-year curriculum. “Students learn by doing, and also by doing in the community for real clients and pets.”

At the end of the visit, Kaia is given a clean bill of health. Clarke is grateful that her pet was examined after a recent spaying and given needed booster shots.

“It’s a big help,” she says. “I have depression and anxiety and chronic migraines. Kaia brings a lot of peace and comfort to our home and she deserves the care.”