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Elmhurst animal clinic partnership offers more care for pet owners

Cindy Johnson of Elmhurst holds on to a kitten at Elmhurst Animal Care Center on May 11 as she and husband, Joel, try to decide which to adopt to be a buddy for their 12-week-old tuxedo kitten.
Cindy Johnson of Elmhurst holds on to a kitten at Elmhurst Animal Care Center on May 11 as she and husband, Joel, try to decide which to adopt to be a buddy for their 12-week-old tuxedo kitten.

ELMHURST – After 10 years of caring for Elmhurst pets, the Elmhurst Animal Care Center's veterinarians are turning some attention to the owners they've come to know so well.

While some may not initially understand the clinic's new partnership with the Ovarian Cancer Symptom Awareness' Veterinary Outreach Program, animal center owner Sandra Faeh said it makes perfect sense.

"I just think there's something about that animal connection," Faeh said. "It just opens people up."

Between showing off dog tricks and adopting out 19 dogs and six kittens at the clinic's 10-year-anniversary celebration this month, Faeh announced the new partnership in front of a group of about 100 people.

OCSA co-founder Vallie Szymanski remembers growing up with a military veterinarian father and the health questions he would sometimes be asked by friends and family. One of OCSA's other co-founders and Szymanski's dear friend, Susan Roman, was diagnosed with stage three ovarian cancer in 2009, a battle she later lost.

Szymanski and Roman knew animals and veterinarians would be part of the solution to raising awareness about the deadly cancer, so they launched OCSA in 2010 and the outreach program in 2012.

"Our whole mantra is, you take care of your pet, which is important, you need to take care of yourself," Szymanski said.

VOP aims to spread awareness, not diagnosis, about the often-overlooked symptoms of ovarian cancer through veterinarian partners.

"Obviously we are not MDs and we will never pretend to be MDs," Faeh said. "I always qualify that when someone asks me a question."

Still, Szymanski and Faeh agree that veterinarians can offer benefits to human health by recognizing symptoms and advising pet owners to see their doctor when they relate concerns about their own health.

"It's a neat connection," Faeh said. "I feel like there's so much that veterinarians can offer, and some people recognize that, but a lot of people don't recognize it."

Faeh said she has experienced first-hand many clients who bring in their pets and share their own health concerns with her. She thinks people may visit their vets more often than their own doctor because owners tend to worry more about their pets than themselves.

"You hear about their whole lives, graduations, their kids, their grandkids, and I think they are definitely more comfortable telling us," she said.

Szymanski said she noticed the comfort level animals bring with her own dog, Ch. Sharrah's Khalin. People will stop by when she's at health fairs to visit the pup, but end up discussing their own health with her as well.

"He's really been a catalyst for people to open up," Szymanski said.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, more than 80 percent of graduating veterinarians are female. It's another reason Szymanski said OCSA belongs in veterinary offices.

For more information about OCSA, visit

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