In August, the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine began welcoming dogs from local animal shelters through its new Canine Student Awareness and Responsibility Program, better known as CARES. Dogs in the program will receive top notch medical care and socialization that they would not get at a shelter. Students learn to conduct exams, administer monthly preventative treatments, and perform basic medical procedures through their first-year Professional Foundations course and Normal Animal Clinical Skills Labs.
Thanks to CARES, the college will welcome dogs during the fall semester. In the spring, the college will use dogs owned by students and teachers for the teaching labs.
In lab classes, several professors and veterinary technicians walk first and second year students through basic procedures such as physical exams, vaccinations, and catheter placement. Students practice the techniques on a model before moving on to a live animal.
âA lot of other veterinary programs use shelter animals to help train their veterinary students, but they often go to shelters for the day to learn techniques on dogs, and they don’t have dogs housed in their homes. facilities. Our students have had some really positive things to say about their day-to-day interactions with the dogs we house, âsaid Jennifer Hodgson, Associate Dean of Professional Programs and Professor of Microbiology. She described the program as a âwin-winâ situation.
Hospitality frees up valuable resources and space in shelters while CARES dogs live in top-notch facilities that have received the seal of approval from the Virginia Tech Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee and of the American Laboratory Animal Care Association.
âThe dogs are so grateful. They have food, they have these great people walking them around, they have clean tracks and air conditioning – it’s kinda cute. They think it’s a country club, âsaid Mel Kegley, director of multidisciplinary labs.
The dogs were selected by Kegley and instructor Virginia Edwards (BS ’07, DVM ’12), and a canine behaviorist, who spent countless hours evaluating the dogs for the program. The 28 dogs that made the cut were determined to be friendly, not aggressive or selective towards dogs, and not aggressive towards food or toys. They were also screened for heart problems.
Kegley and Edwards returned to college with a variety of dog breeds, ages, and personalities. This year’s CARES dogs range from four months to five years old, twenty to eighty pounds, and terriers to shepherd mixes. Kegley noted that the strain represents what veterinary students might see in clinical practice.
Some of the dogs had underlying health issues like skin issues or Lyme disease, and they immediately received treatment upon arriving at college. By the time they leave the program, all CARES dogs will be fully vaccinated, spayed or neutered, and will have received other preventative treatments such as flea / ticks and heartworms donated by Boehringer-Ingelheim. Hodgson noted that if the dogs had any medical issues during the CARES program, they would have immediate access to highly trained specialists at the University Veterinary Hospital.
The college welcomes dogs from three local shelters – Pulaski County Animal Control, the Regional Center for Animal Care & Protection in Roanoke, and Mercer County Animal Shelter in West Virginia – building on the history of the college’s involvement in shelter medicine.
The college has a long-standing relationship with the Humane Rescue Alliance in Washington DC, one of the nation’s oldest humanitarian societies, where students have completed internships and gained valuable hands-on experience. Locally, students gain additional surgical experience through the Shelter Medicine and Surgery internship, where they work at local shelters, as well as Mountain View Humane, a low-cost sterilization and sterilization clinic that serves the southwest Virginia and southern West Virginia.
âVets need to be involved in their local community. Veterinarians have a unique opportunity to give back to humans and animals. You don’t get that in a lot of professions, so I try to point out to students that this is something that we offer to the community, and we should continue to find out how they could give back to their community once they graduated, âsaid Meghan Byrnes, chief of the shelter medicine and surgery internship.
The shelter experience is useful for veterinary medicine students, because although they may not pursue a career in shelter medicine, many pets that they might see in clinical practice have been adopted from shelters.
âKnowing what an animal has gone through before in a shelter system will give you a good perspective on how to educate a client on how to take the best care of their pet,â Byrnes said.
Through the CARES program, first year students participate in the daily care of placed dogs, socialize them and prepare them for their new homes.
According to Kegley, âIt’s all about teaching. The students might think that they are just going to perform surgeries, but they are going to have a lot of people coming up with questions about their pets behavior: my dog ââdoes this, my dog ââdoes that, how do I get them to have it cleaned? The socialization part and the behavior part, you can’t put a value on that.
âOur students have the opportunity to do daily manipulations, things they wouldn’t have the opportunity to do if they just went to a shelter. Having this day-to-day manipulation really makes a difference, âHodgson said. She said the experience is especially valuable for students who come from large animals or who haven’t handled many dogs.
Fourth-year veterinary student Hidayah Martinez-Jaka agrees.
âMe and a lot of our students didn’t really grow up with indoor animals like dogs. I didn’t grow up exposed to animals that way and lived far from clinics where I could observe or work, âshe explained.
“[In CARES,] it’s a very nice relationship we have with animals, learning from them and also taking care of them and giving them homes. To be able to have this behavioral experience early on is amazing. From a student perspective, having shelter dogs in our program is invaluable to our education.
Applications for adoption started to flow a few weeks after the dogs arrived at college. Many of those applications came from first-year veterinary medicine students who fell in love with the dogs they worked with.
As Martinez-Jaka said, âWhat better home for a pet than with a student who will become a veterinarian? “