Veterinary students get practice at fostering love

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Published Saturday, Dec 25, 2021, 12:08 pm

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Pit bull(© Lanier –

In August, the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine began promoting dogs from local animal shelters as part of its new Student Dog Awareness and Responsibility Experience program – better known as CARES. Dogs in the program receive world-class medical care and socialization that they would not get in a shelter. Students will learn how to conduct exams, administer monthly preventive drugs, and perform basic medical procedures through their first year professional foundation course and the normal clinical skills laboratories in animals.

Through CARES, the college will promote dogs during the fall semester. In the spring, the college will use students and faculty-owned dogs for teaching laboratories.

In the laboratory courses, several faculty members and veterinary technicians guide the sophomore and sophomore students through basic procedures such as physical exams, vaccinations, and catheter placement. Students practice techniques on a model before moving on to a live animal.

“Many other veterinary programs use shelter animals to train their veterinary students, but they often only go to shelters for the day to learn techniques on dogs and they don’t have dogs in their facilities. Our students have really positive things to say about their daily dealings with the dogs we host, ”said Jennifer Hodgson, Assistant Dean of Professional Programs and Professor of Microbiology. She described the program as “a win-win situation”.

The grant will free up valuable resources and space in animal shelters while CARES dogs live in world-class facilities that have been recognized by the Virginia Tech Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee and the American Association of Lab Animal Care.

“The dogs are so grateful. They have food, they have these wonderful people running them, they have clean runs and air conditioning – that’s pretty cute. They think this is a country club, ”said Mel Kegley, manager of multidisciplinary laboratories.

The dogs were selected by Kegley and instructor Virginia Edwards (BS ’07, DVM ’12) and a dog behaviorist who spent countless hours evaluating dogs for the program. The 28 dogs that made the cut were rated as friendly, non-dog-aggressive or selective, and not food- or toy-aggressive. They also passed screening for heart problems.

Kegley and Edwards came back to college with a variety of dog breeds, ages, and personalities. This year’s CARES dogs range from four months to five years old, from twenty to eighty pounds, and from terriers to shepherd mixes. Kegley noted that the strain represented what veterinary medicine students might see in clinical practice.

Some of the dogs had health problems such as skin problems or Lyme disease and were treated immediately upon arrival at college. By the time they leave the program, all CARES dogs are fully vaccinated, neutered or neutered and are receiving other preventive treatments such as flea / tick and heartworm preventive products donated by Boehringer-Ingelheim. Hodgson noted that if the dogs had medical problems during the CARES program, they would have immediate access to the highly trained specialists at the veterinary teaching hospital.

The college sponsors dogs from three local animal 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 college’s history in animal shelter medicine.

The college has a longstanding relationship with the Washington DC Humane Rescue Alliance, one of the oldest humane societies in the country, where students have rotated and gained valuable hands-on experience. At the local level, students gain additional surgical experience through the internship Shelter Medicine and Surgery, where they work at local animal shelters, and through Mountain View Humane, an affordable castration and neuter clinic serving southwest Virginia and southern West Virginia.

“Veterinarians need to be involved in their local community. Veterinarians have the unique opportunity to give something back to people and animals. This does not exist in many professions, so I try to emphasize to students that we offer this to the community and we should continue to consider how they can give something back to their community after they graduate, ”said Meghan Byrnes, director of the Shelter unit Medicine and Surgery.

Animal shelter experience is useful for veterinary medicine students because even if they aren’t pursuing a career in animal shelter medicine, many pets they might see in clinical practice have been adopted from animal shelters.

“Knowing what an animal that previously lived in an animal shelter system has gone through can help educate a client about the best way to care for their pet,” said Byrnes.

As part of the CARES program, first graders help with the daily care of the foster dogs, socialize them and prepare them for their new home.

“Everything is a teaching moment,” says Kegley. Students may think they are just going to do surgery, but they will have a lot of people who have questions about their pets behavior: my dog ​​does this, my dog ​​does this, how do I get them house trained? ? The socialization part and the behavioral part – you can’t put any value on that. “

“Our students can do things every day that they would not do if only they went to an animal shelter. That daily handling really makes a difference, ”said Hodgson. She said the experience is especially valuable for students with a large animal background or who have not handled many dogs.

Hidayah Martinez-Jaka, a fourth year veterinary student, agrees.

“Myself and many of our students didn’t really grow up with pets like dogs in the house. I didn’t grow up in close contact with animals and lived far from clinics where I would have shade or work, ”she explains.

“[In CARES,] It is a really nice relationship with the animals, to learn from them and also to care for them and to give them a home. To be able to have this behavioral experience from the start is amazing. From the perspective of the students, the inclusion of animal shelter dogs in our program is invaluable to our training. “

Adoption requests were received within weeks of the dogs arriving at college. Many of these applications came from first year veterinary students who fell in love with the dogs they worked with.

As Martinez-Jaka put it: “What could be better for a pet than with a student who is supposed to be a veterinarian?”