An outreach project, run by alumnus and senior lecturer Andrew Gardiner, helps the homeless of Edinburgh whilst also teaching students about the impact of the veterinary profession on society.
As a student at the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, Andrew Gardiner volunteered for the animal charity PDSA, then based on George IV Bridge in Edinburgh's Old Town.
It was a building that, by the 1990s, was creaking under the strain of excessive demand. Andrew particularly remembers the many trips up and down stairs with sick and injured animals; a history that is invisible to current visitors to the building.
The people having a drink in Bar Kohl (Slighhouse) have no idea of the intense medical dramas that took place where they now sit!
Despite the stairs, it was an experience which made a lasting impression and, after graduating in 1992, Andrew decided to pursue a career that included time working with the Blue Cross and PDSA, as well as in private practice. He also volunteered overseas for a number of different animal welfare charities.
When Andrew returned to the Dick Vet as Senior Veterinary Clinical Lecturer in 2008 he also began clinics at Dunedin Canmore Hostel in Leith; a homeless hostel which allows clients to bring in their companion animals.
In the hostel Andrew carries out veterinary health checks, treatment of minor injuries, routine vaccinations, worming, microchipping and gives advice.
He first became aware of the issue of homeless animal owners after watching a documentary film made by two colleagues. 'Sleeping Ruff: Edinburgh Street Dogs and Their People' comprises a series of interviews with homeless dog owners in Edinburgh and the problem of finding accommodation which accepts dogs is a recurring theme.
Having animals in hostels and similar environments is good for everyone, clients and staff alike. Animals are great diffusers of tension and anxiety.
The outreach project also provides an excellent opportunity for students to witness the intense bond between homeless people and their pets, to observe the effectiveness of community-based programs and gain a first-hand understanding of the impact of veterinary profession on society.
Unfortunately the number of students that can accompany Andrew is limited as the vets are often working ‘out of a box’ in cramped conditions with vulnerable people.
Andrew, and fellow vet Dr Amy Jennings, offer their time and services free of charge but additional funding would allow for a wider community animal health and welfare programme across Edinburgh.
Ideally Andrew would like to create a dedicated clinic space in which to treat animals and provide educational outreach activities directed at vulnerable people who would benefit from animal contact. Students, and perhaps not just those studying veterinary medicine, could be more actively involved.
The veterinary school has always contributed to the lives of the less fortunate animals and humans of Edinburgh – our founder, William Dick, operated a ‘poor clinic’ from his premises. It would be good to continue this worthy tradition in ambitious new ways.
If you are interested in supporting Andrew's work in the community, please contact Sandra Chilton.