The old cinder-block building on the Benton County Fairgrounds has held a variety of events over the years from holiday bazaars to library book sales, but on a warm, sunny day in November, the floor was covered with an unusual display: row after row of folding tables holding dozens of blanket-covered crates.
Out in the parking lot, pulled up close to the front entry, was a big, white trailer with an enormous graphic of a cat on its side. Shuttling between the trailer and the building, a steady stream of veterinary and pre-veterinary students held unconscious cats bundled into blankets. The Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon (FCCO) had come to town.
The FCCO uses a trap-neuter-return strategy to combat the exploding growth of feral cats in Oregon. The coalition supplies humane traps to property owners who bring captured cats into a clinic for sterilizing. It is the only proven way of reducing the feral cat population and it depends on the kindness of many volunteers including the veterinarians who perform the surgeries.
At the fall clinic in Corvallis, six different veterinarians worked in the operating room of the big white trailer performing nearly 100 sterilization surgeries in just half a day. OSU students from the College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM) prepped the cats for surgery, moved them to the recovery area, and monitored their progress. The cats were returned to property owners for release the next day.
A week later on the other side of town, many of the same students were folding up pinochle tables at Corvallis Senior Center to make way for a free pet care clinic for low- income seniors. Later they were joined by volunteer veterinarian Ryan Scholz of Ark Animal Care who provided exams, flea and tick care, vaccinations, and just plain old advice for owners and their pets.
Student Ali McKay who helped organize and staff the clinic, says the most common complaint was itchy dog but they also did lots of nail trimming, flea treatment and vaccinations. Quite a few pets were overweight so education was a crucial part of the service. Center regular Shirley Richardson brought in her chihuahua, Miss Candy, because she was a bit lame in one leg. Miss Candy is Shirley’s constant companion and sleeps on her pillow every night. “It’s just me and her since she was 6 weeks old,” says Shirley. Dr. Scholz diagnosed Miss Candy’s problem as old age and too much people-food and prescribed a new diet. “I learned she doesn’t need chicken,” says Shirley. “It’s best to feed her ground meat mixed with rice so she will feel full.”
Senior Center Program Coordinator Chelsea Chytka appreciates the OSU students for providing a much-needed service. “Many older adults have trouble paying their rent or buying prescription drugs let alone getting pet health care. This service gave people who find themselves in a tight bind the opportunity to give their beloved pets the care they want to provide but can’t afford.”
CVM students also volunteer regularly at Pro-Bone-O clinics in Eugene, providing free health care for the pets of homeless people. Laura Niman, co-president of the OSU Shelter Medicine Club, is one of the many students who take time out of their grueling academic schedules to volunteer. “Pro-Bone-O is so rewarding,” says Niman. “The people who run it are fabulous. The people who come there for services are fabulous. A lot of those pets are so well taken care of . . . the people take care of their pets before they take care of themselves. There is a huge bond between them. It’s really meaningful.”
In addition to the many hours they donate to free clinics throughout the state, OSU veterinary students also work throughout the year raising thousands of dollars in donated food and supplies for local animal shelters. In December alone, they gathered more than 600 pounds of dog, cat, rabbit, and goat chow. And that’s just the work they do locally. Many of the same students are involved in global charities as well.
“One of the things we look for in selecting our students is commitment to service,” says CVM Associate Dean Sue Tornquist. “We think it is an important part of being in this profession. So it is not surprising that many of our students are out working in the community on a regular basis.”