27 June 2014

Shelter Medicine at Boreal College - An Interview with OSPCA's Tanya Firmage

Terri Perrin
InfoStream Staff Writer

Last year, The Ontario SPCA and Collège Boréal partnered to create a new Sudbury and District Ontario SPCA Shelter and Educational Centre. The five-year partnership is expected to allow students in the Collège Boréal Veterinary Technician program to benefit from the Ontario SPCA’s expertise (sharing manuals, protocols, etc.) and to deepen their theoretical and practical knowledge while preparing for internships, volunteer and work opportunities through the Ontario SPCA network.

Tanya Firmage presented this innovative partnership to delegates at the 2014 Urban Animal Regional Conferences as part of the Innovation Showcase

Infostream staff writer Terri Perrin caught up with Tanya Firmage, Director of Animal Welfare & Operations at the Ontario SPCA, to learn more about the new education program that teaches animal health technicians about animal shelter medicine.

Infostream (IS): Before we get started with your ‘Summit Experience’, we’d love to know more about the you day-to-day Pet Experiences working with the Ontario SPCA?

Tanya Firmage (TF): One of the high notes is that we get to see people make connections and adopt pets through our shelters on a regular basis. It is always gratifying to get updates from people who on how these animals become part of their families.  I’ve been around a long time – 23 years to be exact – and I love it when people call or write to us to express their thanks for the experience of a pet’s life. [After the pet passes away.] That’s pretty positive and happy for us. These are the moments we cherish. For me personally, seeing the change in how we do business in animal welfare and the reduction in numbers of animals in our shelters across the province is most rewarding.

IS: What was the inspiration for introducing shelter medicine training for Animal Health Technicians at Boreal College, Sudbury, Ontario?

TF: It all started with an email from the college to our North District Manager, saying ‘Hey, we have an idea!’ And it just went from there. It was innovative and extremely exciting with respect to what we can do together.

This program is the first of its kind in Canada, not only introducing shelter medicine but also animal welfare into a registered animal health technicians’ college program. The college has allotted us space within the campus and we are currently retrofitting an adoption centre there. The primary benefit is that the students will now have access to shelter animals when, in the past, they would treat and work with animals from a variety of sources. They will learn about spaying and neutering, minor dental procedures and more. They already have the facilities to run the medical care part of the program and now, they will be able to just go next door to our adoption centre for animals that need treatment and care.

IS: What is the main focus of the program?

TF: Students will deepen theoretical and practical knowledge, as well as gain ‘hands on’ experience through new internship, volunteer and work opportunities. In the past, much of the focus has been to teach students what their experiences will be like working in private practice. This expands their future career possibilities and facilitates the training of new workers capable of meeting demands in the field of animal welfare.

IS: Explain the program’s funding model.

TF: We are paying for the adoption facility to be retrofitted. Where we will benefit, from a financial perspective, are the services that we will be able to access through the veterinarians and students on the college side. It will be operated similar to all of our adoption centres but without the cost of vet care. We are still working on the logistics. We haven’t finalized the exact number of animals that can be accommodated as it will change depending on how many animals are in different stages of care. We anticipate that the adoption centre will accommodate about a dozen cats and half dozen dogs. My hope for the fall would be to bring some photographs of the facility.

IS: I understand the program is attracting interest from other educational institutions. Tell us about that.

TF: When we presented at the Central Regional Summit there was at least one person there from Ontario Veterinary College who was very interested. Word of mouth has also ignited interest from our SPCA counterparts in BC and Nova Scotia, as well as the Association of Shelter Veterinarians and the Koret Centre for Shelter Medicine at UC Davis. I expect that as the program grows we will be getting more calls from other institutions. It is an exciting time!

IS: How is it that you came to be a present this topic at the Central Region Summit?

TF: It was through a nomination. We received an email explaining the invitation to present at the Central Summit. We were thrilled. We’ve been working on it for 18-months now and looked forward to the opportunity to share our program. We were even more thrilled to be selected to present at the Summit in October!

IS: What do you hope to achieve by being an Innovation Showcase presenter at the national Summit in October?

TF: In October, I hope to have a co-presenter from Boreal College attend the Summit with me. Our goal will be to excite others about the possibilities of starting similar programs in their respective communities. I am really looking forward to it.

The 2014 Urban Animal Regional Conferences presented the second annual Innovation Showcases. Across the continent, 20 local Innovators were given the opportunity to share their stories and successes with Urban Animal subscribers. From those, eight were selected to present at the 2014 Summit for Urban Animal Strategies, October 22–25 in beautiful Lake Louise, Alberta.


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