These Patients Are Very Good Boys

Pilot project represents part of National Western Center plans

CSU vet student provides care for puppy
CSU veterinary student Kayla Gravelle helps provide free pet care during the fifth annual Focus on Health Community Clinic in north Denver. Photo by John Eisele / Colorado State University

Forecasting things to come, Colorado State veterinarians and veterinary students in October teamed with other volunteers to provide free physical exams, vaccinations, and spay and neuter surgeries for about 200 dogs and cats from low-income homes near the Denver Coliseum.

The patients included Chihuahuas, Labrador retrievers, a Great Dane, and even a litter of nine mixed–breed puppies.

It was the fifth year – and the most successful to date – for the pet wellness and vaccination clinic at Focus Points Family Resource Center, in the heart of the Elyria-Swansea neighborhood. For the second time, the outreach effort offered health screenings and flu shots for people.

Access to care is the central theme for the evolving annual clinic, Dr. Danielle Frey, a CSU veterinarian and clinic organizer, said. In keeping with that focus, veterinarians and volunteers either spoke Spanish or provided Spanish translation for pet owners who preferred it.

The pet wellness and vaccination clinic represents one planned element of the National Western Center, the year-round events and educational hub that will transform the grounds of the National Western Stock Show in north Denver. Colorado State University, a lead partner in the redevelopment, plans to host a small-animal veterinary clinic on site, with pets from underserved neighborhoods forming its target patient population.

Even as the permanent clinic provides low-cost veterinary care, it will give CSU veterinary students opportunities for hands-on service learning – much like the annual pet wellness and vaccination clinic held each fall.

“It’s been really cool to speak my first language and to practice what I love to help pets and families. It’s a really cool learning experience,” Stephanie Cruz Castro, a CSU veterinary student from Puerto Rico, said between patients at the outreach event. She was among 15 students, eight veterinarians, and 40 total volunteers at the daylong clinic.

Growth of the pilot project at Focus Points suggests the long-term plan will meet a significant need: Available veterinary appointments were quickly filled, and volunteers saw walk-ins until they ran out of vaccinations. Meantime, volunteers who weren’t working on dogs and cats led pet-care sessions for kids.

“It’s really very helpful,” Lucrecia Escobedo said of the clinic, after a veterinary team gave her Boston terrier, Vaquero, rabies and distemper vaccinations and checked one of his ears for infection. “Some other vets are too expensive for us to afford, so this helps a lot.”

The Dumb Friends League, headquartered in Denver, was a key partner in the outreach clinic and conducted spay and neuter surgeries during the event. Pet patients needing more attention were referred to the organization’s veterinary hospital, Solutions, which offers care for underserved populations.

Metro Denver CAT and the Street Dog Coalition also helped with veterinary care, while the nonprofit Clínica Tepeyac administered flu shots and health screenings for dozens of people.

“It is heartwarming to be part of a team of organizations providing access to care and resources in a neighborhood that faces a number of barriers every day,” Frey said.