Students at the College of Veterinary Medicine have partnered with faculty and community organizations to provide food for dogs and cats in need.
The number of pets whose owners are homeless is growing at an astounding rate. Many pet owners cannot afford to feed and care for their pets and end up relinquishing them to shelters. Third-year CVM student Alan Power was shocked to learn just how poor Athens is-33.5 percent of its residents live below the poverty level. In response, Power, who participated in the Leadership UGA program in fall 2011, decided to create a program to aid the pets of the homeless population and others in the community who struggle to care for their companion animals.
After working with a mobile veterinarian who understood the responsibility of serving the homeless population in Savannah, Power saw the need to make a positive change in the Athens area.
Power said that the rigors of the academic program at the veterinary school often mean being cut off from the community beyond the campus. He wanted to have a personal connection with members of the Athens community, so he put out feelers for the idea of providing pet food to owners in need and got a positive response within the vet college from faculty, staff and students. Mary Hondalus and Janet Martin, both CVM faculty members, approached Power and were willing to help.
Hondalus, an associate professor at the CVM who also directs the college's dual DVM/MPH degree program, wants her students to assist the public as well as animals.
"We serve animals, yes, but we serve people as well," said Hondalus, who has been in Athens for eight years and, like Power, realizes the extent of poverty in the area. She wants her students to serve even those not actively seeking veterinary care; students in her program are encouraged to work with underprivileged communities to help individuals keep their pets healthy.
Martin, an adviser for the CVM's Shelter Medicine Club, believes that exposing future veterinarians to the plight of impoverished pet owners in the community and educating them about the ways in which veterinarians can intervene will prevent more pets from becoming shelter statistics.
By including her students in this project and encouraging their participation in the pet food collections and distributions, Martin hopes they will graduate with a fuller understanding of the community and their roles in it.
Dog and cat food is collected continuously throughout the year in large donation bins placed in high-traffic areas of the veterinary medicine college. Student volunteers periodically sort the food and bag it into 1-gallon plastic bags for easier distribution to those who might have a limited ability to store and transport the food. It is then handed out on a weekly basis to registered participants at Our Daily Bread, 717 Oconee St.
The Athens Area Humane Society, an Athens Pet Food Bank partner, also provides pet food for owners in need. Pet owners can fill out an online application and qualified applicants can make appointments to pick up a month's supply of food.
The main goals for the Athens Pet Food Bank are to provide a service to the community, provide opportunities for UGA students to learn about issues involving pet owners and provide ways to support pet owners and
decrease the number of pets going into shelters.