Veterinary Practice: Good morning, Sasha, thank you for talking with us today. The focus of this interview is Improve International’s veterinary education Pet Gifting programme: A Priceless Gift. Can you give us an overview of what this scheme is?
Sasha: The Pet Gifting programme is a scheme designed to provide canine and feline cadavers for use in further veterinary education. By using cadavers, veterinary professionals are able to practise and learn surgical skills in a realistic environment.
We are asking vet practices to give their clients the option, at the end of their pet’s life, to donate their pet to our programme, in a similar way to gifting your own body to medical science after death.
We are asking vet practices to give their clients the option, at the end of their pet’s life, to donate their pet to our programme, in a similar way to gifting your own body to medical science after death
VP: That sounds really interesting, I wasn’t aware that was an option for pet owners.
Sasha: My team and I are working hard to raise awareness and try to get veterinary practices on board with the programme. We really want to make more clients aware of this option and the importance of it to veterinary training and, ultimately, animal welfare.
The Pet Gifting team have worked hard to create a safe and streamlined process for the client, the practice and ourselves, and the programme has been approved by the RCVS Ethics Review Panel.
VP: Do you think the general public will be open to this as an option for their pets?
Sasha: I think it’s really important that clients are given all available options, so they can make an informed decision. When the programme is clearly explained in an empathetic way and the client understands the huge benefit to our veterinary colleagues, I think more people give it consideration than you may initially think.
When the programme is clearly explained in an empathetic way and the client understands the huge benefit to our veterinary colleagues, I think more people give it consideration than you may initially think
VP: What pets are allowed to be donated?
Sasha: Currently we are receiving canine and feline cadavers. However, in 2022/2023 we will be introducing more courses that include exotic species, so would be grateful for additional donations of a wider variety of species.
VP: What happens to the pets once they are donated?
Sasha: The veterinary practice carries out the euthanasia in line with their protocol. Having gained informed consent from the client to donate their pet, the practice then contacts our team. We will then arrange collection from the practice.
Once the donation arrives at our facility, it is safely stored until there is a suitable course. At that time, the donation is prepared for the practical session.
On the day of the course, the delegates are made aware of the Pet Gifting programme and the fact that the cadaver they are working on is someone’s beloved pet.
After the course has run, we arrange for the pet to be cremated and the ashes returned to the vet practice. Alternatively, if the owner doesn’t wish to receive any ashes, they can opt for a charitable donation to be made on their behalf. Over the past couple of years, the Pet Gifting programme has donated several thousand pounds to charity.
Over the past couple of years, the Pet Gifting programme has donated several thousand pounds to charity
VP: Can the pet owners share information and pictures about their pet?
Sasha: Yes, owners are welcome to pass on pictures and a little note about their pet if they wish. This is placed with the donation on the day of the course for the vets and nurses to read. They can also leave a personal message on the Pet Gifting website.
All of the cadavers are handled with care and respect throughout the process.
VP: How long does the process take? When do owners receive the ashes back?
Sasha: We ask veterinary practices to explain to owners that we need a six-month turnaround time. The timescale is often much less, but we can’t guarantee an appropriate course will be running in the following few weeks, so setting expectations at the beginning is very important.
The Pet Gifting team arrange for the ashes to be returned to the practice, who will then pass them back to the client.
There are strict protocols in place to ensure we can track the donations throughout the process. For example, all pets must have a microchip implanted.
VP: Have you had many practices who have been unwilling to sign up or have concerns?
Sasha: There have been a few practices who have been concerned about how their clients will react to the programme being presented as an option. However, many of them find that it is readily accepted by clients once introduced as an option.
We have produced literature aimed at clients that gently and compassionately explains the programme. Many of our Pet Gifting registered practices have these leaflets displayed in their designated “euthanasia room” and use them to initiate a conversation with the client when the time comes.
However, even if Pet Gifting is merely listed as an option on the euthanasia consent form, it may elicit a question from the client and start a conversation.
I am always more than happy to talk through the process if a practice has concerns, and we can also arrange “Lunch and Learn” meetings in order to get the whole clinical team on board with the programme.
VP: Finally, how important are cadaver surgery CPD courses to veterinary education?
Sasha: I think that any vet or nurse who has attended a practical course that has involved cadavers will agree that the level of learning achieved is invaluable.
When a vet or nurse leaves a course feeling confident to carry out the skills they have learnt, this will immediately benefit the patients they see in clinic
Practising new skills or revising existing ones on actual body tissue provides an experience that is difficult to replicate with models or simulations.
When a vet or nurse leaves a course feeling confident to carry out the skills they have learnt, this will immediately benefit the patients they see in clinic. Improving clinical excellence and patient outcomes is something that all veterinary professionals are striving to achieve.