Resting in a corner next to an examining table, taking small breaths, Coqueta expressed resignation and a kind of sweet tranquility. Her eyes, almost hidden under tufts of white fur, lit up slightly when Sarah Matthews, a fourth-year veterinary student at Colorado State University, greeted her. Then the 6-year-old Shih Tzu collapsed against a member of staff as Matthews performed a physical examination and lingered over the animal’s abdomen.
Moments later, Matthews spoke with Dr. Graciela Guzman, a veterinarian and clinical instructor at the Denver Dumb Friends League Veterinary Hospital at CSU Spur, about her impressions and what they might mean. Coqueta was barely eating, according to her owner, yet her stomach was swollen and tight like a balloon.
Both were concerned.
Guzman outlined possible trajectories for the day and where they could all lead based on Coqueta’s symptoms and stomach bloat. “If it’s a lump,” Guzman said, “we can talk about it when we start having a conversation about quality of life.”
Protecting and supporting “quality of life” – for animals, as well as pet owners and caregivers – is a primary and oft-stated goal for the Dumb Friends League and at the organization’s new animal hospital in CSU Spur. The hospital, which opened in January and occupies a prominent location on the first and second floors of the campus’ Vida Building, provides donor-subsidized care to hundreds of pets each week.
It is also an educational center for students from the CSU College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences to complete an externship in community veterinary services as part of the year-long clinical experience series that concludes the graduate program. Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM).
While other rotations emphasize cardiology, anesthesia and other specific aspects of veterinary care, often exploring the limits of possible treatment, a two-week experience with Dumb Friends League, taken this year by 60 students in a class of 150, focuses on providing care when client resources are limited.
Day students spend a week at the SU’s Leslie A. Malone Center shelter, where the focus is on learning neutering techniques, dentistry and other practices used to care for unowned animals. At CSU Spur, externs spend a week supervising the receipt of supervised counseling while participating in all aspects of the care of animals brought into the facility. “For many, this is their first taste of being a real veterinarian,” said Daria McKay, director of community veterinary services for the League.
Guzman (BS, ’98; DVM., ’03), who has been a veterinarian with the Dumb Friends League in various capacities since 2010, started as the organization’s clinical instructor in August. Typically, she supervises three or four externs who spend the week at the hospital, alternately serving as teacher, mentor, and problem solver. While the DVM program necessarily introduces students to the “gold standard” of veterinary medicine, it coaches them in offering “incremental care,” a tiered approach to diagnoses and treatments when financial resources are at a premium. limited. She helps externs guide owners through a variety of subsidized care options while recognizing the trade-offs and sometimes confronting the need to make difficult care decisions.
The reality and the need to deal with such trade-offs, Guzman said, and not always be able to offer “perfect” or workable solutions, can be exhausting. She models an approach centered on expanded compassion for externs.
“I want them to see how to appreciate being a veterinarian through all the challenges we face,” Guzman said.
The challenges encountered on a Tuesday morning in September were varied. As Coqueta waited for a decision on next steps, a husky rested gingerly in a kennel, its muzzle pierced with dozens of porcupine quills. Kimber, a boxer believed to be 4 years old, had sore legs and showed troubling signs of hip dysplasia.
After reviewing Kimber, Larissa Kozlowski, a fourth-year student from New Mexico interested in pursuing general small animal practice after graduation, reflected on the externship experience at CSU Spur.