Animal science students are providing free vaccines to homeless people’s pets through Veterinary Clinic Enterprises, a course that falls under the classification of ASCI 290, which encapsulates all animal science enterprise classes.
While animal science students gain experience in a clinic working directly with real people and animals, clients get free vaccinations for their pets, which makes them eligible to apply for low-income housing.
The class was started in 2014 by animal science alumni Sasha Greenlee and Megan Parry. Greenlee and Parry started as student volunteers painting benches at the Prado Day Center, a homeless shelter in San Luis Obispo.
“They have dog kennels outside and over half of the people that go to the center, I would say, have dogs,” Greenlee said.
Greenlee and Parry saw the high number of clients with pets but noticed that no services were provided to properly care for the animals.
The two were inspired to create Doggy Days, a student-run monthly event that offers free vet services to the homeless population and their dogs at the Prado Day Center.
“Megan and I didn’t start [Doggy Days] for ourselves,” Greenlee, now a student at University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine, said. “We saw the need for it and when we graduated we didn’t want it to just go away. We want it to be something where we come back in 10 years and visit the shelter and still see that it’s making a difference.”
Now, Doggy Days is permanently integrated into ASCI 290’s curriculum.
The pair’s dream became a reality with the help of animal science professors Jennifer Staniec and Kimberly Sprayberry.
“It was the best logical move to keep the program going and providing students with hands-on experience,” Staniec said. “The program was worth continuing the service to the local community and puts Cal Poly in the position to help as well.”
Doggy Days’ services include bathing, nail trimming, ear cleaning, wound treatment, wellness exams and vaccines.
“What surprised me most was I thought we would just be doing exams and maybe a couple vaccines but [Staniec] actually is able to write and hand out prescriptions,” animal science senior Marissa Robertson said.
Aside from vet services, clients have access to free toys, food and blankets for their pet. Students also get to play with the dogs as they come in for services.
“Students do most hands-on work,” Greenlee said.
Before Doggy Days, ASCI 290 required lab time at the campus vet clinic instead of with public clients.
“Previously, we only hosted a vaccine clinic for Cal Poly staff, faculty and students,” Staniec said. “We have no intention of publicly competing with local clinic[s].”
Now, people that can’t afford full-time clinic services have access to proper care for their pets. Greenlee said this is a good way to give back to the Central Coast community.
“A lot of [graduates] do go on to vet school and it’s really important for them to recognize that yes, paying clients are important but giving back to a community that really does need it is equally as important,” Greenlee said.
Since the start of the program in 2014, more than 100 animals have been vaccinated and more than 200 wellness checks have been performed free of charge.
“I know from working in clinics that [vaccines] can run anywhere from $25 to $40 a pop and it’s cool we can give them out for free,” Robertson said.
A once-a-month vaccination package for dogs and puppies costs $64 at Petco in San Luis Obispo.
The Prado Day Center shelters around 100 people per day and the Doggy Days program sees up to 20 pets per clinic. The clinics are held twice a quarter.
“[The clients] are probably the most dedicated people I’ve ever seen towards their pets,” Greenlee said. “We’ve had people tell us the reason they haven’t jumped off a bridge or done something really stupid is because they have that connection with their pet. A lot of people think that it’s really irresponsible for [the homeless population] to have pets but it’s the only thing these people have left in their lives.”
Greenlee and a group of students started fundraising to keep the program running. Currently, the Cal Poly vet clinic sets aside funding for Doggy Days and local vet clinics around San Luis Obispo donate medication. Everything prescribed and administered are free for clients.
“By literally providing them with a $10 vaccine, they are able to stay in certain overnight shelters,” Greenlee said. “It helps them get into low income housing when their animals are vaccinated so a lot of the people we started out helping are in housing or long term shelters.”
The next Doggy Days event will be held Saturday, Nov. 18 from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the Prado Day Center. The program encourages all students to come and volunteer to play with animals and talk to clients.