CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University veterinary medicine students have performed more than 300 surgeries since last fall on animals from 19 different Oregon pet shelters in a cooperative program that provides supervised advanced training for the students and a needed service for the state.

Nearly 90 percent of the surgeries provided to the shelters are spaying and neutering of cats and dogs, though there also have been knee surgeries, hip repairs and eye surgeries, said Stephanie Crawford, a technician for the Student Teaching Laboratory in OSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

A few of the surgeries have been amputations, for animals that have been severely injured when hit by cars, she added.

“These are surgeries that are typically not available to shelter animals in most circumstances,” Crawford said. “We are able to utilize these patients as a teaching opportunity, allowing our students to gain valuable experience so that when they graduate, they have a full suite of skills – from diagnostic to surgical – in their portfolio. At the same time, it provides a needed service for the shelters.”

The surgeries are supervised by OSU veterinarians.

Jamie Fitzpatrick, director of operations for Heartland Humane Society in Corvallis, works with shelters around the state that have animals in need of surgery. Only shelter animals that may be adopted are eligible for the program, and they come to the OSU Small Animal Hospital from as far away as Roseburg, Portland and The Dalles. Volunteers at the local shelters provide the transportation.

“This is such an important service for these animals because without surgeries, we’d have trouble finding lifelong homes for these animals,” Fitzpatrick said. “The students are doing so much more than learning how to perform surgeries; they come to realize what a difference they are making to animals and animal lovers throughout the state.”

Only third- and fourth-year veterinary students perform the surgeries, through both their surgical courses and clinical rotations through the college, providing them exposure to radiology, anesthesia, diagnostic physical exams and other experiences. Students may also choose from a number of electives, including a short course in advanced small animal surgery that teaches them more intricate procedures – such as hip and knee repair.

This year, OSU students have performed cruciate ligament surgery on five dogs. The surgery equates to knee surgery for humans (a torn ACL, or anterior cruciate ligament, is a common athletic injury) and is not uncommon in large breeds, including labs and pit bulls.

“They have heavy hindquarters and are prone to tears in the ligament,” Crawford said. “They are also more susceptible to ligament disease, where it tears slightly over time through over-use.”

A couple of students have performed eye surgeries on Shar Pei dogs to correct entropion, a condition that causes the eyelids to curve inward.

“These types of surgeries are necessary to help maintain healthy animals,” Fitzpatrick said. “When people adopt an animal from a shelter, they want it healthy and ready to go.

“Without this service,” she added, “I’m not sure what we’d do.”

Funding to support the program has been provided to the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine by Pfizer Animal Health and Nestle Purina PetCare Company.

The list of animal shelters that have benefited from the donated surgeries includes:

  • Albany: SafeHaven Humane Society; Linn County Dog Control; Pet Adoption Network.
  • Corvallis: Heartland Humane Society.
  • Eugene: Greenhill Humane Society; Lane County Animal Regulation; Luv-a-Bull Rescue.
  • Gresham: Oregon Greyhound Association.
  • Molalla: Border Collie Rescue.
  • Newport: Lincoln County Animal Shelter.
  • Philomath: Senior Dog Rescue.
  • Portland: Golden Bond Rescue; Oregon Humane Society, Schipperke Rescue Oregon Chapter, Friends of Rescued Mastiffs.
  • Roseburg: Saving Grace Animal Shelter.
  • Salem: Salem Friends of Felines; Willamette Humane Society.
  • The Dalles: Home at Last Humane Society.

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Stephanie Crawford,