Story by Madeline Patton
The Stevenson Companion Animal Life-Care Center at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) is a unique piece of the college’s outreach and service efforts.
The center provides the physical, emotional, and medical care and companionship for pets whose owners are no longer able to care for them prior to entering a retirement home, being hospitalized, or predeceasing their pet.
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, many of the CVM’s programs and activities were temporarily stopped; however, the Stevenson Center has carried on thanks to the dedicated staff and students who continue to dedicate their lives to caring for these animals.
As part of their job at the Stevenson Center, veterinary students live and work there day and night. A benefit of having students live on-site is that they are able to provide 24-hour care and companionship for the animal residents.
Second-year veterinary student Sierra Key has worked for the center since 2015, her freshman year as an animal science major at Texas A&M. For two years, she was a daytime worker, but in 2017, she was asked to move in.
“I gradually got into the resident position and haven’t looked back,” Key said. “I’ve learned so much from this job, living with all of these different animals, being able to take care of the geriatric animals, and just seeing them all the way through. You don’t get that kind of experience in practice.”
Two canine residents that came to the center from the same home, Chen and Twinkie, have especially taken to Key and have become her study buddies, keeping her company while she does her online veterinary school courses.
“Chen and Twinkie sleep in my room with me,” Key said. “They got here when I moved in to become a resident, and now they’re with me all of the time; they’re my babies.”
In the midst of COVID-19, the students’ daily schedules and responsibilities have not changed. They are responsible for the animals from 5 p.m., when the center’s staff members leave for the night, to 8 a.m. the next day, plus all day on weekends and holidays. When she is not on shift, Key says she works on her classes, treating it like a normal day.
“Social distancing is a big rule here,” Key said. “I think that’s probably the hardest thing, just because we all want to be together and love on all of the animals at the same time. We each select a couple pets and take turns, basically. But it all works out.”
When COVID-19 started to progress throughout the state and then to Brazos County, Texas A&M University and the CVM took measures to protect faculty, staff, students, and the community, at large. The Stevenson Center has taken protective measures, as well, to not only protect those working, but, also, the animals that reside at the center.
“We have limited hours for the day staff because they had to make sure they are respecting social distancing and making sure nobody else comes in,” Key said. “We’re not doing tours at this time, and we’re not having anybody come in and do maintenance work. We’re not allowed to have visitors or friends over right now, which is totally understandable.”
Ellie Greenbaum, the associate director of the Stevenson Center, and Dr. Henry L. “Sonny” Presnal, director of the Stevenson Center, continue administration of the Center from home while their full-time employees continue caring for the pets and the center during the week.
“During the pandemic, the Stevenson Center has delayed all tours and has limited anyone from entering the center other than our employees,” Greenbaum said.
“There are four devoted veterinary students who live at the center and are caring for the pets every evening and weekend as they always do,” she said. “All of our employees are exceptional and are committed to fulfilling our mission of providing the best in care to our resident pets. Since the nature of our business is essential, the center is carrying on business as usual thanks to our one-of-a-kind staff.”
Contact Information: Jennifer Gauntt, Director of CVM Communications, Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences; firstname.lastname@example.org; 979-862-4216