Washington State University Spokane will host its fourth annual “Healthy People, Healthy Pets” event Friday to provide health care services to homeless and low-income people and their pets.
The event, hosted by the WSU College of Nursing and College of Veterinary Medicine, will be from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 412 E. Spokane Falls Blvd. on the WSU-Spokane campus. There is a two-pet maximum per person and family, and no appointment or documentation is necessary.
The idea for the clinic came from Gail Oneal, a clinical associate professor in the College of Nursing and the doctorate program director. At the time, she was a clinical instructor.
“My population was the downtown area,” she said. “I had students at the House of Charity, Union Gospel Mission, a number of other facilities. We based our students there so they could do health assessments.”
While Oneal and her students cared for the people, they realized that quite a few weren’t alone.
“We noticed that a lot of them had animals and pets,” she said. “Most of them are dogs. One of them had a duck.”
The bond between a homeless person and a pet can be a strong one, Oneal said, and it’s obvious that the pets are important to them.
“They will forgo food to feed the pet,” she said.
She asked one of her counterparts in the College of Veterinary Medicine if the two groups could work together to serve people and their pets at the same time, and the clinic was born. They are able to offer vaccines for people and pets, flu shots and treatment for simple medical conditions. Animals can also be treated for things like worms, fleas or ticks.
“If we can keep pets healthy, we’ll keep the people healthy and the reverse,” she said. “You have a very vulnerable population, and they don’t tend to have a good immune system.”
In the years the clinic has been running, some people have become regulars. “They come back to get their pet annually vaccinated,” she said.
Sometimes the people getting treatment are reluctant to speak to anyone, but they can open up once they see their pet being cared for, Oneal said. Sometimes they are willing to accept referrals to programs that they wouldn’t otherwise, she said.
“Offering something to the pets means so much to these folks,” she said. “It’s a way to reach out and a way to get things going.”
The clinic will not be able to treat serious injuries or medical issues, Oneal said. “If it’s really bad they’ll get referred to someplace else,” she said.
The clinic is in different building on the WSU Spokane campus this year than it has been previously. “This is a bigger building than we’ve had,” she said. “It’s like doing a pilot again, seeing how the flow works.”
Doing the clinic not only helps homeless people and their pets, it helps the students, Oneal said. It helps them learn about the bond between people and pets and how that benefits both, she said. This year she plans to gather all her student volunteers together after the event to do a debrief and talk about what they learned.
This year the MultiCare Foundation gave a $2,500 grant to help put the event on. Oneal said most of that money will be used to purchase pet food and leashes as well as hats and gloves that will be given out during the event.
The first year the clinic was offered Oneal was hoping for 20 people, but got many more than that. Typically, they see around 60 people and up to twice that many pets, Oneal said. She’s hoping for a similar crowd this year.
“It’s been very successful,” she said.
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