Easing the grief through memorial tributes
When Jim Dobie lost his golden retriever Angus to cancer in 1996, he was surprised and touched to learn that his veterinarian, Dr. Lloyd Abbey (WCVM ’77) of Edmonton, Alta., had made a memorial donation to the Western College of Veterinary Medicine’s Companion Animal Health Fund (CAHF) on his behalf.
“I certainly never expected that and didn’t even know such a program existed,” recalls Dobie. “And I decided that I would do the same for my friends and family when their animals passed away. I found that people were pleased with that kind of recognition.”
Recently Dobie and his wife Terri Schindel decided to make a regular monthly donation to the veterinary college’s pet health fund in addition to the memorial tributes. Their commitment was influenced by a strong relationship with their veterinarians as well as Schindel’s personal connection with the University of Saskatchewan – she’s an alumna of the College of Pharmacy and Nutrition.
“We depend on and value ongoing learning in our fields and have chosen to support the CAHF for all that it represents,” explains Dobie. “We want to support the education of future veterinarians, the ongoing professional development and consultation services for veterinarians and also the research that leads to new developments in companion animal care.”
The CAHF fills the bill for all of those goals by supporting specialized veterinary training, innovative research and the introduction of new technology. The not-for-profit organization helps to fund a wide range of companion animal health research studies at the WCVM as well as the purchase of vital equipment and new technologies at the WCVM’s Veterinary Medical Centre.
While Dobie and Schindel have no particular area of research in which they are interested, they believe that there’s a broad spinoff benefit from their investment in the fund.
“Whether it’s a young veterinarian who makes a discovery or some little thing somewhere that just advances the cause of companion animal health, it’s the idea of contributing to a research-based fund. It doesn’t matter where the advances are made, be it orthopedics or cancer or diabetes. It all contributes.”
That philosophy is shared by many veterinarians who particularly appreciate the idea of supporting a charitable organization dedicated to animal health. For many years Dr. Brian Gibbs (WCVM ’70) of Saskatoon’s Central Animal Hospital has been donating to the CAHF memorial program on behalf of his clients as a way of expressing sympathy with their bereavement.
“Their reactions are always positive. They appreciate that you’re trying to do something of benefit to other pets on behalf of their pet. And I know it leads them to donate themselves.”
Gibbs values the opportunity to help support studies directly related to the health of companion animals and has seen the significance of their findings in helping veterinarians treat a wide range of health issues including cancer, arthritis and hip dysplasia.
“The CAHF supports studies that are going to give value back to pets and benefit pets in the future. It’s a very beneficial cause that is not only going to be helpful to pets but could eventually have applications to people.”
While the CAHF focuses on companion animals, the veterinary college’s Equine Health Research Fund (EHRF) provides similar support for horse health research. Since 1977 the EHRF has played a major role in making the WCVM a national centre for horse health research and specialized training.
For years, equine veterinarian Dr. David Paton (WCVM ’78) of Aldergrove B.C., has been a regular contributor to the EHRF. His practice, Paton & Martin Veterinary Services Ltd., began by donating to the fund whenever they held a fundraiser and eventually made it their policy to recognize the clients who had lost their animals by donating on their behalf.
“It’s a very traumatic event when someone loses a horse, and I think our donation acknowledges that we really care for their horse and them and their emotional well being,” says Paton. “It also helps them recognize that there is a fund that looks into and researches for the health of the horse – and that contribution may well benefit another animal down the road.”
While Paton values all of the research supported by the EHRF, he’s particularly interested in the work being done at the biochemical level — especially studies investigating endotoxins and their devastating effect on a horse that has colic or has had colic surgery.
For clinicians like Gibbs and Paton as well as for pet owners like Dobie and Schindel, memorial donations to the CAHF and the EHRF provide a unique opportunity to offer comfort while advancing the cause of animal health. And as Dobie points out, the payback is significant in the long run with benefits for anyone who has a special bond with an animal.
“As time has gone by, the scope of veterinary practice has broadened, and the types of veterinary care that are provided now are leaps and bounds ahead of where things were even 10 years ago, “says Dobie. “Without research, we would not be where we are today.”