The Veterinary Community Service Enterprise received the Outstanding Campus-Community Collaboration Award as part of the 35th annual Cal Poly Community Service Awards
Each quarter a group of Cal Poly students dedicate part of their Saturday mornings to giving back to the community by offering free veterinary care clinics for the pets of the unhoused population in San Luis Obispo County.
The Cal Poly Veterinary Community Service Enterprise, dubbed Doggy Days, began as a senior project and has grown over the last six years to become an instrumental class in veterinary care. The 10-week course introduces students to practical, hands-on methods of animal care, such as wellness checks and administering vaccines, and also teaches the invaluable lesson of compassion and the fundamental strength of being part of a community.
Wendy Joy Dochterman, a thirdyear animal science major, plans to be a veterinarian — a dream she has had since she was a little girl. “When I was really young, I wanted to be a pet masseuse, and my parents had to break it to me that it is not a thing,” Dochterman said laughing. “So, I decided that I would be a doctor.” She joined the upper-division Doggy Days course for the practical experience of working directly with clients.
The 16-person course is open to students of any major, but it is geared toward those who have taken prerequisite classes in veterinary skills or have comparable experience. In the classroom, students learn how to fundraise for needed supplies, track inventory, budget and provide client education. In the field, they employ the technical skills that they have learned, such as doing health screenings and administering vaccines.
“Students get to do a lot of things that they will benefit from in the future,” said Lecturer Jennifer Staniec, a veterinarian who teaches the course. “From veterinary medicine to client education and philanthropic work, the course allows students the opportunity to develop compassion for the people in their community and to be a part of the community themselves.”
The Veterinary Community Service Enterprise recently received the 35th annual Cal Poly Community Service Award for Outstanding Campus-Community Collaboration from the Cal Poly Center for Service in Action in recognition of its community contributions.
The confidence that students gain by the end of the quarter is tenfold, Staniec said. “What we do with Doggy Days has nothing to do with how many community service hours we need,” said Dochterman. “The entire focus is to serve the community and keep herd immunity high to protect not only the pets we care for at the clinic, but also the greater pet population of the surrounding area by reducing the spread of disease and parasites.”
Staniec said she has learned her own lessons working alongside the students in the clinic and the clients they serve. “As a veterinarian, I once questioned why unhoused people would have pets, but this clinic has changed the way I see the unhoused population,” Staniec said. “Our clients are very committed to their pets, which in turn can help with mental health, a sense of security on the streets, and a form of companionship not often available in their environment. It is an unmistakable illustration of the human-animal bond.”
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