Free pet clinic helps veterinary students learn while serving low-income Calgarians

Veterinary students get real-world experience and low-income pet owners get free checkups for their beloved animals through a partnership between CUPS and the University of Calgary.

Program is now in its second year

Veterinary students examine a cat at the CUPS pet health clinic. (CBC)

Veterinary students get real-world experience and low-income pet owners get free checkups for their beloved animals through a partnership between the Calgary Urban Project Society and the University of Calgary, now in its second year.

"I think it's one of the most valuable things we do as part of our program," said Danielle Cyr, a student in the four-year veterinary medicine program at U of C.

"We spend our first three years practicing with actors and some of our animals at the school," Cyr added.

"But to come down here and have the opportunity to interact with real people who love their animals and real animals with real problems, it's so valuable."

Veterinary student Danielle Cyr said the pet clinic at CUPS offers a valuable opportunity to get real-world experience. (CBC)

The Calgary Urban Project Society, better known as CUPS, is a local charity dedicated to helping people overcome poverty.

The pet clinic began last year as a pilot project at one of the apartment buildings where CUPS runs programming, but proved so popular among clients it needed to move to the organization's main downtown headquarters this year.

"They're treated so respectfully by the students and the university," said Amanda St. Laurent, CUPS manager of community development and engagement.

Jennifer Weselowski brought her cat in for a checkup at the CUPS pet clinic. (CBC)

Jennifer Weselowski brought her family cat in for a checkup and was glad to see the cat receive a clean bill of health — mostly.

"She's just a little pudgy, but otherwise she's a really healthy cat," said the mother of four, who brought her children along to the clinic.

"She's definitely a big part of the family," Weselowski said of the formerly stray feline that showed up at their house one day and "just would not leave."

Serge Chalhoub, an instructor in veterinary clinical and diagnostic sciences at U of C, said most of the pets the students see are "super well treated" animals, even if their owners have little financial means.

Serge Chalhoub is an instructor in veterinary clinical and diagnostic sciences at the University of Calgary. (CBC)

"They give everything they have to these animals," he said. "They're part of their families."

Most of the work the students do is prevention-related, Chalhoub added, including vaccinations and advice about pet nutrition and preventing parasites and other infections.

St. Laurent said the program is a win-win for all involved.

"The students get the hands-on practice, under supervision of course, working with the animals. And our clients — a lot of them who otherwise couldn't afford vet care — have their much-loved animals cared for."

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