Veterinary students Kelbi Irvin, Emily Brown, and Brandon Batty give Taz the cat a checkup.

Veterinary students Kelbi Irvin and Emily Brown give Taz a checkup while fellow student Brandon Batty fills out the chart.

June 16, 2022
Story and photos by Jens Odegaard

Taz has striking yellow-green eyes and white fur with golden striping. He’s gentle as can be – there’s nothing devilish about this cat except his handsomeness. He’s about a year old and is visiting the Portland Animal Welfare Team for medical care.

Three veterinary students, all graduating this month from the Oregon State University Carlson College of Veterinary Medicine, are giving him a wellness exam, flea and tick medication and essential vaccinations. Dr. Kirk Miller supervises the students and administers the rabies vaccine. 

PAW Team is a nonprofit that provides “free veterinary care for folks who are experiencing houselessness or extreme poverty,” said Nicole Perkins, PAW Team’s co-executive director of development and operations. “We do that in a variety of different ways and for a variety of different people. So, we serve folks who are unhoused, who might be living outdoors, camping, staying in vehicles. There are lots of folks who are working with housing support organizations in town and might be in transitional shelter. There are also a lot of individuals who are living on Social Security, a lot of senior citizens or living on government disability assistance.” 

All told more than 1,000 Portland-area families receive veterinary services from PAW Team each year. PAW Team relies completely on volunteer veterinarians to provide these services (learn more about volunteering with PAW Team). That’s where Dr. Miller and the students – Emily Brown, Brandon Batty and Kelbi Irvin – come in. 

A partnership within a partnership

Every graduating student from the CCVM spends three weeks on rotation at the Oregon Humane Society through a partnership that started in 2007. Students perform spays, neuters and other basic surgeries as well as exams and wellness checks on animals under OHS’ care prior to adoption. Dr. Miller, CCVM senior instructor of small animal primary care and shelter medicine, runs the rotation. 

While reinventing the rotation during the COVID-19 lockdown in Portland, Dr. Miller and his OHS colleagues connected with PAW Team to see how CCVM students could get involved as part of their rotation at OHS. “It came about fairly quickly once the logistics were in place,” said Briana Shrode, PAW co-executive director of medical services.  
 For the PAW Team, having the students come frees up slots for volunteer veterinarians who are already in practice to treat animals who are sick and in need of more in-depth care. “One of the things that we schedule most often for [students] are pets that have been with us for a while that are pretty healthy – that either just need their vaccines updated and an annual exam or they're on prescription flea control and the client is doing their very best to keep up with all of that general wellness,” Shrode said. 

This works out great as it gives students a chance to get real-world experience in one of the most common areas of daily veterinary practice. “Gaining an opportunity to practice wellness exams is imperative just for our overall education and for our futures, because everybody needs to be able to do wellness exams,” Brown said. “And so I think that it really compliments all of the educational book-learning.”

In addition to patient care, working with the PAW Team gives students a chance to practice their skills with clients. “I always like to talk with the client and around the pet first without ever putting my hands on them. Just kind of watching them what they do and then that way they get used to me and my voice,” Batty said. “And a lot of times if mom is happy, or dad is happy then [the pet] kind of relaxes in the room and they relax around you.” 

“It's really helpful because in school we get a lot of the gold standard of all these really big, crazy diagnostics or expensive treatments, and it's nice to see more real-world applicable things, because not, everyone's always going to have the money to do the top of the line stuff necessarily,” Irvin added. “So it's nice to see the different options and doing what we can to help people out is really cool.”   

From Toby to Taz

Taz is looking healthy with no concerns. He gets his vaccines, and heads back into his crate. Batty then walks him back out to owner Pat Beehler. 

Beehler has been coming to PAW Team for more than eight years. Her previous pet, a dog named Toby, recently passed of old age, and Beehler “got Taz about a month ago,” she said. She adopted Taz from her neighbors who were no longer able to care for him.

In addition to medical care, Beehler also utilizes PAW Team’s pet food bank and gets any medications needed for Taz from its pharmacy. Today, she is also helping another neighbor get enrolled to utilize PAW Team’s services.

“They have everything you need,” Beehler said. “It is so awesome to come in here. I love it. So, the more students you can get out to help us out here, the more we can get the dogs and cats in.”