Thursday, July 18, 2024

Health clinic provides care for pets and their people

SEATTLE — Whether she’s living out of her car or crashing on a friend’s couch, Grace Stroklund can’t contain her smile when she’s greeted after a hard day’s work by her dog, Nugget.

Homeless in the greater Seattle area for half of her life, Stroklund, 28, who works as a line cook, said when it comes to veterinary care for the 6-year-old Jack Russell terrier mix that brings her so much joy, she “would do anything.”

“I really don’t think I’d be working 40 hours a week and been off the streets for as much as I have if I didn’t have this little guy to come back to,” Stroklund said. “Having him just pushed me a little bit further to want to see what comfort and stability look like.”

And fortunately, in the heart of downtown Seattle just blocks from the Space Needle, Stroklund found the One Health Clinic, a one-stop health care facility for homeless young people and their pets.

Sharing a location with New Horizons Ministries’ transitional housing, the One Health Clinic is made possible by a collaboration between Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, the University of Washington Center for One Health Research and Neighborcare Health, which has provided services for more than 50 years to those struggling to access health care in Seattle.

With the oversight of a Neighborcare Health nurse practitioner and a WSU veterinarian, WSU fourth-year veterinary students team up with students from UW’s University District Street Medicine nonprofit to oversee the care of human patients and provide care for animal patients every other Wednesday. On average, the three-hour clinic hosts up to about a dozen pairs of animal and human patients. As part of the shelter medicine rotation at Seattle Humane, WSU veterinary students participate at the clinic, which is currently fundraising to expand.

“It’s an extremely different clinical setting than most people have experienced – people are there to help,” Stroklund said.

The first time Stroklund showed up at the clinic Nugget had been exposed to foxtail grass seeds that are notorious for embedding themselves in dogs’ skin and causing infections. Surgery is required to remove the seeds.

Stroklund was referred to an emergency veterinary clinic and directed to appropriate financial resources to help pay for the surgery.

“If I would have waited any bit longer, he might have had some really bad sepsis or some infection that was even worse than what he was dealing with,” Stroklund said.

In following appointments, the clinic addressed Stroklund’s health, providing preventive care and connecting her with behavioral health resources, and Nugget was also provided routine preventive care. Meanwhile, WSU students gained hands-on experience providing physical examinations, prescribing medications and communicating with clients.

Stroklund, who still co-owns Nugget with her ex-boyfriend, is especially grateful for the One Health Clinic. She recalls a $700-bill for Nugget’s initial veterinary visit at a private clinic.

“That was exorbitant for us, and we really started second-guessing if we could continue to have Nugget in our lives while we were living in a camper and trying to get ourselves to a new position in life,” she said. “Shortly after, I found the One Health Clinic.”

WSU veterinarian Dr. Katie Kuehl, who’s overseen almost every One Health Clinic put on since its inception in 2018, said both the pets and their owners would likely go without care if the clinic was not available. WSU veterinary students, she added, would miss out on unique clinical experiences and valuable lessons on the human experience and helping neighbors in need.

“As a veterinarian, I know veterinary care is expensive but extremely important and necessary for our pets, so it feels good to give back in this way to the families that struggle to access care,” Kuehl said. “At the same time the clinic leaves lasting effects on our students, from their experience with interprofessional delivery of health care to trauma-informed communication and cultural humility.”