Street Dawgs & Cats Care Fair

Britt Ihrig, center, and Kait Esson, both second-year students in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Oregon State University, examine Cleo, a snowshoe Siamese cat, Saturday afternoon.

Around a dozen Oregon State University veterinary medicine students with support from three professors worked to provide free care on Saturday at Avery Park in Corvallis for pets whose owners are homeless 

Susan Tornquist, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine, who worked at the event, said the students get valuable practice doing exams and communicating with pet owners.

“It’s really good experience for them,” she said.

But for the pet owners, the Street Dawgs & Cats Care Fair was more than that: it was a chance to care for the pets that are always there for them.

Kristin Appelt, who lives in subsidized housing with her son, brought their corgi/border collie mix to the event. She said being able to have free care was something that saved her hundreds of dollars she couldn’t really afford.

She said having a dog makes a huge impact on both her and her son’s life.

“She’s alert to my kid," Applet said. "It’s like having another family member that is very loyal and protective. She’s my best friend.”

She said for her son, the dog is someone to play with, and for her the dog helps her avoid loneliness.

“She brightens my world. She helps with my depression. I just love her.”

Stephanie Hampton, who created the event in 2011 and has organized it twice a year ever since, said she had the idea during the Occupy Movement and was able to bring in partners like OSU's Shelter Medicine Club, who supplied the veterinary care, and Animal Crackers Pet Supply, who donate pet food and other supplies for people at the event.

Hampton said pet owners who are homeless are some of the best caretakers for their animals, and their pets are generally very happy because they are with their humans all day.

“Many of them say to me ‘my dog eats first,’” she said.

She added that in the years since the event started, she’s known multiple people who have gotten housing of their own specifically because they wanted to take care of their animals.

“For them it’s like a child,” she said.

The event offered veterinary care to people living outside, people couch surfing, living in shelters or in subsidized housing.

Hampton said midway through the event the volunteers had served more than 40 animals, and the last time the event was held they gave basic veterinary care, including vaccinations, to more than 60 animals.

Hampton said the event is a lot of work to organize, but she has done it because she is very attached to her animals and can imagine how she would feel if she were on the streets with them.

“I do it because it’s right and because it’s kind,” she said.

Members of the Shelter Medicine Club said they use a couple thousand dollars of medical supplies at the event; the vaccines are donated by Merck, the flea medications by Bayer, and they fundraise to buy other needed materials by selling pastries donated by New Morning Bakery.

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Anthony Rimel covers weekend events, education, courts and crime and can be reached at anthony.rimel@lee.net, 541-758-9526, or via Twitter @anthonyrimel.