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Two vet students, a dog, and its owner.

Veterinary students Marie Louderback and Carl Larson visit Marine McTeague and her dog, Phoebe. (Phoebe recently died from diabetes complications and other causes.)

Veterinary students make house calls for senior pet owners

By Mariah Carroll

June 2, 2006

What do the elderly do when they can't take their dogs to the vet? Those who are residents of St. Paul's North End and South Como neighborhoods are fortunate: They can call on University of Minnesota veterinary students to make house calls through the Block Nurse Program.

The Block Nurse Program is a senior home care agency made up of nurses, home health aides, and volunteers. The program's mission is to keep seniors in their homes for as long as possible. Currently, there are 17 neighborhood block nurse programs in the metro area, providing services to and helping 529 seniors live safely and happily at home.

Rebecca McComas, assistant clinical professor, discovered the program as a way to connect veterinary students to the community.

"Last spring, I attended an undergraduate health career fair on campus and I was looking for ways to get students out in the field, working with pets," McComas says. "The Block Nurse Program was a great program to collaborate with, get our students involved, and be of service to seniors. This is our students' first experience working with people and their pets."

The Block Nurse Program experience was added to the professional skills course curriculum required for second-year students. Each fall, veterinary students pair up and visit a senior's home. They gather a medical history and conduct an exam of the pet. They leave a health report card with the senior and make a referral to a veterinarian, if necessary.

"This is a great program; the seniors are excited and honored to have veterinary students in their homes," says Chris Langer, program director and volunteer coordinator for the North End-South Como Block Nurse Program. "They value their pets and only want the best for them."

Last year, members of the North End-South Como Block Nurse Program cared for Marine McTeague. Veterinary students Marie Louderback and Carl Larson visited McTeague and her dog, Pheobe. Pheobe had diabetes and was severely ill when the students met her. They reassured McTeague that she was doing a great job caring for Pheobe, but that her condition was worsening. Five days after their visit, Pheobe passed away in McTeague's loving arms. Because of the students' reassuring words, McTeague knew she had done all she could do and that Phoebe had lived a good life.

"I will never forget when Carl was petting Pheobe and told me she was a nice dog. Having the vet students at my house meant so much to me," says McTeague.

For more information about the Block Nurse Program, contact The Elderberry Institute at 651-649-0315 or 1-800-320- 1707 or online at Elderberry.

Republished from Profiles, a publication by the College of Veterinary Medicine.