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Southside Community Center and Cornell vet students offer low-cost pet care

veterinary students
Sandra Holley
Cornell veterinary students Kristen Hogue '10, left, and Missy Turner '10 examine a cat from Enfield at the Southside Community Center's Well Pet Clinic, July 11. The monthly program is run by students and faculty in Cornell's College of Veterinary Medicine.

Preventive veterinary care for pets can be expensive. So for low-income pet owners like Enfield resident Jeannie Wright, keeping up with the costs of routine checkups for healthy dogs and cats can be tough.

Wright was one of dozens of area residents to bring pets to the Southside Community Center's Well Pet Clinic on July 11. The clinic, run by students and faculty in Cornell's College of Veterinary Medicine, serves healthy pets and their owners on the second Wednesday of each month from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Pet owners demonstrating financial hardship pay $10 for each pet visit, which includes a basic physical examination, treatment for ear infections, de-worming and vaccinations against rabies and feline leukemia virus.

The clinic's origins date back to 1996, when Cornell faculty members proposed a program for studying the effects of improved pet care on disease transmission between pets and humans. Soon after it opened, the clinic developed into a training program for beginning veterinary students -- and received the Merck Award for Creativity in Teaching.

"First and second year of veterinary school mainly involves textbook learning," said program co-founder William Hornbuckle, the Rudolph and Katherine Steffen Professor of Veterinary Medicine and coordinator of the Community Practice Service program at the college. "This [clinic] is a way to get the most out of what's learned in the first couple of years and a way to reach out to the community."

Exams are performed mainly by first- and second-year veterinary medicine students, but more advanced students also volunteer. During each clinic session, about 35 pets are examined and treated by a dozen students. Exams and treatment are only offered to healthy pets that have had rabies vaccinations. At least two practicing veterinarians are available to help diagnose.

"At first, it was a little nerve-racking, and I had a lot of questions," said second-year vet student Kristen Hogue, a volunteer since January. "It's a constant learning experience." The most rewarding part, she added, is "actually talking with real clients."

"The students run everything," said Christine Armao, DVM '86, a practitioner at the Cornerstone Veterinary Hospital in Ithaca. Armao refers low-income clients to the clinic for routine care and has been a volunteer since it began.

Pet owners who visit the clinic are informed and consent to having students perform examinations on their pets. "You really feel like you are in the doctor's position," said Elisa Mark '09. "People are very appreciative, and they really like what we are doing."

Wright's black cat, Beasley, has come to the pet clinic for nearly seven years. "The clinic is a life-saver," said Wright. "The students can practice all they want. They have to learn somehow."

For more information on the Southside Community Center Well Pet Clinic or to make an appointment, call the center at (607) 273-4190.

Graduate student Sandra Holley is an intern at the Cornell Chronicle.


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