A little-known program at UC Davis is helping veterinary students become better surgeons, while providing much-needed care to some of the area’s most disadvantaged pets.
The community surgery service at the school’s large animal clinic has been around for more than a decade, but senior veterinarian Dr. Lauren La Rue said few pet owners know about it.
The service is part of a surgical rotation where veterinary students in their final year perform spays, neuters, amputations, bladder stone removals and other staple procedures on live pets. Because it’s a training program and subsidized by school tuition, the surgeries are offered at a discount.
“It depends on what the procedure is, but it might be anywhere from $600 to $1,200, for things that would be two to three times that cost in practice,” La Rue said.
The students are supervised by professionals, but the work is hands-on. They take the pet’s vitals, administer anesthesia, and shave and prepare them for surgery. They’re also involved in pre-operative steps such as bloodwork and X-rays, and they’re responsible for giving clients an after-surgery care plan.
Brittany Bazeley, a senior veterinary student at UC Davis, said the work helps her prepare to be an equine veterinarian when she graduates.
“It gives you a different perspective, whereas if you’re just in a lab doing cadavers you’re still very respectful of the animal, but it has a different weight and responsibility when you have a live patient,” she said.
La Rue books about 20 surgeries a week, but she said the program has the capacity for more. Most of their patients come from about 15 shelters and rescue organizations in Sacramento and Yolo counties. They also take referrals from the Mercer Clinic, a veterinary clinic in Sacramento for pets whose owners are homeless.
Any owner who is struggling to afford a surgery for their pet can contact the community surgery service. The pet must have medical records from another veterinarian.
“I’m surprised by how many veterinarians are unaware of our service,” La Rue said. “We want to get the word out so we can have, for us, more patient load. But we also want to help more animals.”