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Creatures Great and Small
The human-animal bond is one of life’s simplest and purest connections, and the doctors and students at OSU’s Center for Veterinary Health Sciences are on the front lines.
By DYRINDA TYSON
Stinker the cat’s long journey through cancer was almost over.
“Everyone was in tears,” says Debbie Smith of the appointment in January 2011. She’d brought Stinker to the Boren Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, the clinical arm of Oklahoma State University’s Center for Veterinary Health Sciences, as she had so many other days over the last three years. Today was different.
“They’d done everything they could do, and they knew it,” she says.
So Smith packed up Stinker and carried him out of the Stillwater clinic for the last time. The cat died days later at home in Choctaw in the arms of her husband, Ed.
The cancer had finally won, but not without a fight. Stinker was twelve years old when his regular veterinarian found a mass in his throat and referred him to OSU. He endured three rounds of chemotherapy under the stewardship of two veterinarians, Brandy Dugas and Jennifer Chang. Those treatments gave him twenty-two months of remission, followed by another eight after the second round.
Both doctors gave the Smiths their cell phone numbers and urged them to call with any questions or concerns.
“I tried not to bother them too much because they have enough on their plates,” says Smith. “But every time, if I had to, they were just so nice about it.”
She felt she should call Chang, who took over Stinker’s care after Dugas left OSU, to let her know he was dead.
“Dr. Chang, bless her heart, when I called to tell her Stinker had passed away, she cried with me,” Smith says.
A mere month later, in February, the Smiths were back at the clinic with their twelve-year-old Brittany spaniel, Kit. What had first appeared to be Cushing’s disease, brought on by the body’s overproduction of cortisol, turned out to be another too-familiar C-word: cancer—specifically, thyroid cancer with a tumor too fixed to be removed surgically. Chang delivered the news apologetically.
“I think they get involved with their people and their patients,” Smith says. Kit takes chemo in pill form every other day, visiting the OSU clinic once a month for evaluation.
“She’s doing fairly well,” Smith says.
And so the fight goes on.
Some 11,000 animals make their way through OSU’s teaching hospital each year, some on the hoof and some of a feather, but the majority—about 7,880—are the Stinkers and Kits of the world, beloved pets with families anxious to keep them happy and healthy.
OSU’s Center for Veterinary Health Sciences has spun together a program allowing it to train tomorrow’s veterinarians while taking care of today’s patients. Its total enrollment is 345 students, with 82 slots open in the first-year group. For the class of 2014, 120 Oklahoma residents vied for 58 of those openings.
More telling, though, may be the 358 out-of-state residents battling for the remaining 24 spots. The United States boasts only 28 veterinarian schools coast to coast.
“There aren’t many of them,” says OSU President Burns Hargis. “It’s a real asset to have one here.”
The lucky ones enter the program after wrapping up their undergraduate work, generally with majors like animal science, biochemistry, molecular biology, microbiology, and zoology. They spend the first two years in the vet program in the classroom and laboratory learning the ropes.
“It’s very challenging and rewarding,” says Alexandra Kondos, a student from Tulsa who also volunteers at the Humane Society of Stillwater.
In years three and four, it gets more hands-on, and the Boren Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital becomes a very important part of students’ worlds. The hospital—opened in 1981 and named for then-governor David Boren, who secured some of the funding for the facility while in office—acts as classroom, lab, and place of healing, and within its walls, students handle everything from the family guinea pig to a prize stallion.
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Oklahoma State University’s Center for Veterinary Health Sciences is located on the west end of the Stillwater campus. cvhs.okstate.edu. To reach the Boren Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, call (405) 744-7000.