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A dog is checked at the Humane Society of Schuyler County through the Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program. 31 veterinary students gained hands-on experience through participation in the Schuyler County Wellness Clinics.

Shelter medicine program takes veterinary care to rural area

In 2019, Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program 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.

A dog gets a treat before a checkup at the Humane Society of Schuyler County.

An Engaged Opportunity Grant from the Office of Engagement Initiatives funded this community-engaged project. These grants 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.

Clinics were held in April, May, September and October in collaboration with the Humane Society of Schuyler County at its facility in Montour Falls. Access to health care 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 these areas results in pet overpopulation, and infectious disease and other human or animal health risks.

Maddie’s Shelter Medicine staff and Cornell veterinary students, led by instructor Dr. Erin Henry, were able to serve 190 animals from more than 100 households during the four clinics. Under faculty and intern supervision, veterinary students provided physical exams, vaccinations and parasite treatment/preventives.

“Of the 190 animals seen, 49 were intact (not spayed/neutered),” said Georgie Taylor, president of the Humane Society of Schuyler County. “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 our shelter outreach services.”

Students gained hands-on experience, 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 Shelter Medicine veterinarians, but also from clients.

Cornell impacting New York State

Renee Staffeld ’16, a fourth-year veterinary student, has participated in several Shelter Medicine activities during her time at the College of Veterinary Medicine. Volunteering at the Schuyler County Wellness Clinics has been especially memorable, she said.

“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,” she said. “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 Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program are currently seeking funding for the next stage 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 skill set 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.”

Sarah Nickerson is program coordinator for Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program.

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Lindsey Hadlock