Furry patients give disabled students something to smile and learn about in Georgia, where an AAHA-accredited veterinary hospital partners with a vocational program that benefits everyone involved.
A 15-year partnership between the Animal Medical Center and a local high school special education program gives students an opportunity to work with pets and gain independent living skills.
Cathy Griffith, a teacher at Lakeview Fort Oglethorpe High School’s special education program, schedules students to work several hours a day at different community venues. The veterinary hospital is a favorite choice. Student tasks range from washing dishes to folding towels, and perks include befriending the patients.
It is a mutually beneficial arrangement, said Britt Schaffeld, DVM, owner of the Animal Medical Center (AMC) shown to the right with a patient and Evan Franklin, a student who gives pets the attention they deserve.
“Miss Griffith and her students make sure each animal gets lots of extra attention,” Schaffeld said. “Any way you look at it, with this program everyone wins.”
Griffith, whose three cats and one dog are treated at AMC said, “The whole class has observed my cat’s checkup and Dr. Schaffeld even let them listen to [my cat’s] heartbeat.”
The clinic also treats the class hamsters. “One poor hamster had to have his leg amputated but thanks to Dr. Schaffeld, Meatball, our three-legged hamster, led a long and happy life,” she added.
“We have a wide variety of students and abilities,” Griffith said. “For some, it’s like a real job. For severely disabled kids, being with animals helps them to learn to react or respond.” For example, a boy with severe difficulties, who did not display much emotion, brightened significantly at the veterinary hospital.
While he was there, his demeanor changed, Griffith said. “His face lit up as he’d gently pet the kittens.”
Michelle Griswold, a tenth-grade, special-education student with pets at home, said “My favorite part is working with the animals, but I am learning responsibility and am making friends with the animals, the other students, and the people at the Center.”
This article originally appeared in PetsMatter Volume 2 Issue 4, published by the American Animal Hospital Association. Copyright © 2009 AAHA. Find out more.