by Rachel Griess
Many homeless individuals and families have pets, so it's fitting that a community event designed to help homeless people would also provide medical screenings and services for their companion animals.
That’s just what happened April 11, when a team of Colorado State University veterinarians and veterinary students joined more than 400 other campus and community volunteers at Project Homeless Connect 2014.
The one-day event, at a community center in north Fort Collins, brought together dozens of businesses and nonprofits to provide needed products and services at a “one-stop shop” tied to the broader Homeward 2020 project, which aims to end homelessness in Fort Collins. The Coloradoan, the daily newspaper in Fort Collins, highlighted the CSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital as one of five notable organizations making a difference through Project Homeless Connect this year. Click to read the full story
“As future veterinary professionals, it is important for our students to learn about different populations in need and how to help them,” said Dr. Rebecca Ruch-Gallie, clinical coordinator of the Community Practice service at the vet hospital and team leader at the event. “It gets our students involved in the community and allows them to practice physical exams and animal handling in a less controlled environment.”
Project Homeless Connect helped a total of 470 people this year, the largest number in the event’s five years. The CSU veterinary team provided free physical exams and vaccinations to more than 40 dogs and cats.
Nearly three dozen veterinary students and clinicians pitched in, and many found reward in helping not only animals but their homeless owners.
“I’m glad I could participate in this experience,” said Hailey Harroun, a fourth-year veterinary student. “After graduation, I’m moving to an Army base in Washington D.C., and part of my job will be to take care of shelter animals, so this gives me a taste of what my future holds.”
The CSU Student Leadership, Involvement & Community Engagement office recruited and organized hundreds of other volunteers.
Since Project Homeless Connect began in 2009, CSU has played this an integral role. Each year, homeless individuals and families are matched with CSU student volunteers, who serve as escorts connecting people to needed resources.
“I think it provides really critical services to people who need it, and that in and of itself is very valuable,” said Jen Johnson, assistant director of SLiCE. “A large event like this also raises awareness about the issue of homelessness in our community.”
In addition, CSU alumni and donors are among those serving on the executive committee and board of directors for Project Homeless Connect. They include Bill Kneeland, Chris Kneeland, Dave Edwards and Cheryl Zimlich.
At the station providing pet-health screenings and vaccinations, veterinary students worked two-hour shifts. Representatives of the CSU Pets Forever program, which also is part of the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, helped schedule spay and neuter appointments, and its student volunteers provided pet-sitting as animal owners sought other services.
The veterinary volunteers examined each animal head-to-toe for any unusual masses, sore joints, tight muscles and other abnormalities. Homeless animals have an increased risk of contracting some types of sickness and disease, Ruch-Gallie noted.
“We have students of every level volunteering today,” said Rebecca Timmons, a first-year veterinary student who administered rabies vaccine for the first time. “It’s a good opportunity for us to get out of the classroom and get meaningful experience.”
For more information and to get involved with Project Homeless Connect 2015, contact CSU SLiCE at (970) 491-1682.