By Michael Timmermans

Students in Algonquin’s veterinary programs receive hands-on training while helping abandoned pets find good homes through a partnership between the college and the Outaouais Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Animals provided by the SPCA are typically lost, unclaimed or abandoned pets, or ones surrendered to the SPCA. The animals’ health is assessed, any medical issues are treated and sick animals are brought to good health.

They are also spayed or neutered, dewormed, microchiped and vaccinated.

This care is administered by veterinary staff with active participation by students. During recovery, dogs are socialized regularly and get at least five walks a day. Cats will interact with students in common study areas and even attend classes with them.

The animals are offered up for adoption to the public through postings online. An adoption fee is charged – $130 for cats, $280 for dogs – which is remitted to the SPCA.

Facilities at the college can accommodate four to five dogs and eight to 10 cats at any given time.

“It benefits the animal – in terms of having them sterilized, they become more adoptable – but the students get real-life experience,” said Dr. Anne Downes, veterinarian in charge of animal care with the veterinary technician program. “We follow the protocols that the students would be seeing in a private clinic. Students get the real experience of working in a veterinary clinic.”

When ready for adoption, all animals are free of current health problems and the best is done to find the right match of pet and new family.

“Because they’ve been well socialized during the three- or four-week period here, we have a good sense of how the animal is going to do,” said Downes. “We can use that knowledge to try and match that animal with a good home.

“Last year we adopted out every single dog,” said Downes. “On the whole, we adopt out 75 per cent of the dogs and about 50 per cent of the cats.”

The relationship between Algonquin and the Outaouais SPCA began in 2007 and animal adoptions at the college started in 2008. It was built through hard work and tireless dedication by Emma Slater, a technologist academic with the veterinary technician program, who oversees the adoption program.

In fact, said Downes, the program wouldn’t exist without Slater.

Previously, veterinary students had to go outside of the college to receive practical training at various clinics. Now students have the animals from the SPCA on campus for practical, hands-on training. The clinic is set up like a small, private vet practice and can only serve animals from the SPCA.

According to Downes,  a partnership was first offered to the Ottawa Humane Society in the beginning, but the OHS is a large facility with resources and a veterinarian on staff. The Outaouais SPCA, located in Gatineau, does not have a veterinarian on staff and has much fewer resources at its disposal.

The benefits of a partnership to the SPCA were greater so the program was forged.

“Not only do they (the SPCA) not have to spay, neuter, vaccinate, deworm and treat these animals for medical problems, but when the animal is adopted out, we give the adoption fee back to them. What we feel we’re doing is supporting them very strongly, and they do their very best to accommodate us. It really is one of those mutually beneficial relationships,” said Downes.

The benefit to students is evident.

“Being able to watch one-on-one interactions with the registered veterinary technicians helps me find out how I should talk to clients – the kinds of things you say, what you do. It’s all educational,” said Melanie Nesrallah, first-year veterinary technician student. “It all contributes to what we’re going to do as RVTs.”

Kayla Byatte agreed.

“It’s good for when we’re out in practice,” said the first-year vet tech student. “It’s good to have hands-on experience, to see how to interact with clients – people that come in to adopt the pets. It’s great.”

Byatte herself had just adopted a jackhound mix. “A lot of the students end up adopting from here,” she said.

Nesrallah agrees. “Quite a few actually end up going to students, so it’s a great program for sure.”

“We’re starting to get people who have heard of our website from outside as well. We’re reaching a wider audience, which is great,” said Downes.