Western University Veterinary Students Help the Homeless Care for Their Animals

September 28, 2015
by Ty Marshall-Blanche

Each year, more than 3.5 million people experience homelessness. The problems that those with pets face can be numerous. For instance, most homeless shelters won’t allow pets; therefore, when faced with the possibility of homelessness, people have to make the difficult decision to either keep their pets or give them up. The homeless that adopt pets on the street may have to give up the safety of a shelter. The dogs and cats of the homeless offer unconditional love and often serve as the only companions when no one else will interact. Pets can also provide protection to those living on the street. In addition to housing limitations, it’s often hard to get and store pet food, not to mention the limited resources for veterinary care. However, a growing number of veterinary schools are helping the homeless in their communities. Read about how Western University of Health Sciences is making access to veterinary care easier for their community members struggling with homelessness.

The Pomona Homeless Outreach Program takes an interprofessional approach to tackling the ever-prevalent issue of homelessness in the Pomona, Calif. area. PHOP is comprised of student liaisons from eight different colleges at Western University of Health Sciences, including physical therapy, pharmacy, nursing, physician assistant, dental, podiatry, optometry, and veterinary medicine. Within the last few years, veterinary students have worked hard to expand the role that our college plays in the program. We have broadened the focus of the program to include not only Pomona’s homeless population, but their pets as well. These pets, while loved deeply, often go without even basic veterinary care.

In addition to bi-monthly dinners, a vaccine clinic is put on bi-annually by the current veterinary liaison, in conjunction with PHOP. Inside, the homeless population can get a hot meal and a variety of health services for themselves from WesternU’s other colleges. Meanwhile, with the help of our Veterinary Ambulatory Community Service Van, our vaccine clinic runs outside.

Through generous sponsorships, donations, and volunteers, our vaccine clinic has grown. Under the supervision of veterinarians, students perform physicals, trim nails, administer core vaccines, and insert microchips when needed. Each client leaves with information regarding low cost veterinary care in their area, cat or dog food, and a brand new leash and collar. Many clients have expressed gratitude and have made it clear that our clinic is the only time their pets receive veterinary care. It has been incredibly rewarding to see the impact PHOP has had on the homeless community and I look forward to watching the program flourish.

Ty Marshall-Blanche is a second year student at Western University of Health Sciences. She is the current Veterinary Liaison for the Pomona Homeless Outreach Program. She also serves as the Vice-President of the Student Chapter of the American Association of Equine Practitioners as well as the Secretary of the Student Chapter of Bovine Practitioners. After graduating she hopes to continue to find ways to give back to the community.