Cornell’s shelter medicine program brings veterinary wellness to Schuyler County
In 2019, Maddie's® Shelter Medicine Program (MSMP) at Cornell provided four one-day veterinary wellness clinics to pets of low-income residents of Schuyler County, New York. The goal of these clinics was to provide pets, who might not otherwise have access to veterinary care, with routine wellness checkups, necessary vaccinations and assessment for further care that they might need.
An Engaged Opportunity Grant (EOG) from the Office of Engagement Initiatives funded this community-engaged project. EOGs are available to Cornell faculty and staff, providing funding of up to $5,000 in support of projects that not only involve collaboration with community partners, but also provide Cornell students with community engagement opportunities. Proposed projects must give evidence of community-identified need, as well as feasibility of addressing this specific need in partnership with the community.
The four proposed Schuyler County Wellness Clinics were held in April, May, September and October of 2019 in collaboration with The Humane Society of Schuyler County (HSSC) at their facility in Montour Falls, New York. Access to healthcare is an issue for both people and their pets in many parts of the U.S. and the world. The lack of preventive veterinary services in communities such as Schuyler County, where a third of the residents live below the poverty level, results in pet overpopulation, infectious disease and other human or animal-health risks.
MSMP staff and Cornell veterinary students, led by Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Instructor Dr. Erin Henry, were able to serve 190 animals from over 100 households during the four clinics. Under faculty and intern supervision, veterinary students provided physical exams, vaccinations and parasite treatment/preventives.
Dr. Mackenzie Gallegos, 2018 Cornell Shelter Medicine Intern, said that partnering with HSSC during her internship gave her “a unique opportunity to supervise Cornell veterinary students while they directly provided care to clients in an underserved area.” She added that “the collective enthusiasm shown by the students for helping real people and pets with their problems reminded me that what I do is important. Shelter medicine is important.”
Through conversations with Gallegos and the other supervising MSMP veterinarians, students also identified animals that would benefit from HSSC’s low-cost spay/neuter services, and those in need of follow-up care with a full-service veterinary clinic for more serious medical concerns.
“Of the 190 animals seen, 49 were intact,” said Georgie Taylor, HSSC’s president. “This finding presented an excellent opportunity to educate owners regarding the importance of pet sterilization and to schedule pets for the income-eligible spay/neuter program provided by Shelter Outreach Services and The Humane Society of Schuyler County. Sterilization of these pets will have tremendous impact on reducing pet overpopulation, as well as shelter intake numbers.”
Students reported that what they liked most about volunteering with MSMP during the Schuyler County Wellness Clinics was being able to apply their knowledge to real-life patients. These students gained hands-on experience with clients, which allowed them to improve their client communication skills, refine their physical exam skills, gain knowledge of dental disease evaluation and to receive feedback not only from the supervising MSMP veterinarians, but also from clients. One student reported that, for them, the experience also highlighted the need for low-cost services that people can access on a regular basis.
Renee Staffeld ’16, a fourth-year veterinary student and one of the student volunteers at these wellness clinics, has participated in a wide variety of activities with MSMP during her time at Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine. When asked to describe her most memorable experiences with the program, she spoke about volunteering at the Schuyler County Wellness Clinics.
“I have particularly enjoyed the wellness clinics at the Schuyler County Humane Society. I think it can be easy to be blind to the extreme poverty that surrounds Ithaca, but the poverty is real, and there are a lot of animals with no vet care,” said Staffeld. “I think it’s important for vet students to see this and to realize that as veterinarians we will have a powerful skill that can help not only animals, but people as well.”
Henry and MSMP are currently seeking funding to provide for “Stage 2” of this outreach project, with the intent of providing more specialized surgical and medical services, including dentistry, to specific pets-in-need that were identified during the initial wellness clinics.
“The provision of wellness services differs greatly from the provision of surgical services in both the skillset gained by the students, and the level of service provided to the community through continued interactions with clients and advanced care of their pets,” explained Henry.
“Veterinary medicine truly is a people field,” said Staffeld. “You can change someone's life by simply providing kindness and care to the pet they see as a family member.”
By Sarah Nickerson