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The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine has partnered with LifeCare Alliance to provide wellness and basic animal care for elderly or homebound residents in Franklin County. The program, which is a collaboration between the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences and the Department of Veterinary Preventive Medicine, is funded by the Kenneth A. Scott Charitable Trust and is under the direction of Dr. Larry Hill and Dr. Linda Lord. Drs. Hill and Lord spend one day a week out in the field providing basic veterinary care for animals owned by individuals that either do not have access to veterinary care because they are homebound or do not have the finances to provide medical services for their pets. Lifecare Alliance, an organization that provides services to elderly or chronically ill residents in Franklin and Madison County, including Meals-on-Wheels, provides the structure for the program. After screening pet-owning clients based on need, LifeCare Alliance provides Ohio State with the names of the people would best benefit from the mobile veterinary service.
Two senior students from the Shelter Medicine rotation accompany Drs. Hill and Lord on the home visits. They usually visit between six to eight clients a day. During the visits, they provide primary health care, including physical exams, vaccinations, treating flea issues, and other minor conditions. It is a great learning experience for our students, who see a different clientele than they would during their clinical rotations at the Veterinary Hospital. Dr. Hill commented, "We really stress to the students the importance of service learning, working with vulnerable populations and raising awareness of giving back to their communities."
Despite – or even due to – their circumstances in life, the clients Dr. Hill and Dr. Lord meet are extremely devoted to their pets. In turn, having a pet can relieve or reduce their depression and improve their mood and overall well-being. Recipients have been extremely grateful for this new service and although it is not required, they sometimes make a gesture of giving a donation out of their pocket to demonstrate their appreciation. Dr. Lord commented, "This has been en extremely rewarding program for us and it brings to light the importance of the human/animal bond to these individuals, especially the elderly. Having a pet gives them a reason to get up in the morning."
Dr. Hill agreed, "Often the animal provides the only support system they have. Sometimes their only contact with the outside world is the person who delivers the meals on wheels and our visits."
Even simple aspects of pet care can be a challenge for a person with a chronic illness. For example, Dr. Lord and Dr. Hill recently visited one client who is diabetic. She has a Siamese cat that is not declawed and thus needs his nails trimmed every few weeks, as if he accidently scratches her, it could be extremely dangerous due to her medical condition. She understandably cannot manage the task herself.
The service also provides end-of-life counseling and occasionally, euthanasias. On the flip side of that, many of the very elderly clients are worried about what will happen to their beloved pet if they die first, and Dr. Lord and Dr. Hill try to help them work through and resolve those issues as well.
Many of the clients struggle to afford pet food and cat litter. LifeCare Alliance provides some pet food, but it is often not enough. Dr. Hill and Dr. Lord hope for the creation of a food bank or donations from pet food companies to boost the supply. "The College's veterinary fraternity, Alpha Psi, is planning to complete a service project, but we are also looking for others ways to increase donations and funding to sustain and expand this vitally important program," Hill said. Another way to help includes the donation of time. Dr. Lord and Dr. Hill welcome clinical faculty or technician volunteers to participate in the program. Non-technical staff can also volunteer to help with tasks such as grooming and taking the animals out for walks. Anyone interested in volunteering should contact Dr. Hill (hill [dot] 15 [at] osu [dot] edu) or Dr. Lord (lord [dot] 19 [at] osu [dot] edu).
By incorporating learning and outreach, the collaboration with LifeCare Alliance provides the means to keep more companion animals healthy and ease the minds of owners who rely on their companion for happiness and quality of life. Dr. Lord concluded, "Overall it is a win-win situation, and we are thrilled to have the opportunity to help those people and pets in need."
By Kristine McComis
About the College of Veterinary Medicine at Ohio State
Founded in 1885, The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine is ranked fifth in the nation and includes more than 1,000 faculty, staff and students in the Departments of Veterinary Biosciences, Veterinary Clinical Sciences, and Veterinary Preventive Medicine. The Veterinary Medical Center is one of the largest specialty referral centers in the world, with more than 35,000 farm, equine, and companion animal patients each year. A nationally-recognized ambulatory practice and teaching unit in Marysville, Ohio provides farm animal experience to every veterinary student, and the Food Animal Health Research Program in Wooster, OH focuses on detection, control, and prevention of disease. Located on the only campus in the country with a comprehensive medical center offering seven health sciences colleges, we admit up to 162 veterinary students per class, and offer a new comprehensive graduate program in Veterinary and Comparative Medicine as well as a unique Master’s degree in Veterinary Public Health, in partnership with the College of Public Health. http://vet.osu.edu.