COLLEGE STATION, Texas— The students who live there lovingly refer to it as a retirement home for pets.
Melissa Pawlowski is one of those students; she has a special bond with a dog named Ethel Mae.
“There’s just some dogs that, honestly, they pick you,” said Pawlowski, a third year student at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
Pawlowski along with three other aspiring veterinarians live in a house tucked away on the campus of Texas A&M University.
The four students share the house— with a few extra roommates.
“It’s not what you’d expect,” said Pawlowski.
It’s called the Stevenson Companion Animal Life Care Center.
“It’s kind of like a retirement home for animals,” said Timothy Turner, a resident at the Stevenson Center and a student at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine.
Ellie Greenbaum is the Associate Director of the Stevenson Center and explained that they care for people’s pets who are no longer able to provide care for them.
“They’ve made arrangements with us to take care of their pets by providing an endowment for their care,” said Greenbaum.
The income from the endowment provides care for the pets for the rest of their lives.
Currently, the Stevenson Center has 37 pets living there— 17 dogs and 20 cats.
“Our main priority is for the comfort and well-being of all the pets these owners have entrusted to us,” said Greenbaum.
While it may sound like nursing home for aging pets, it’s anything but that.
“It’s more set up like a home,” said Pawlowski, one of the four students who lives at the Stevenson Center full-time and takes care of the animals.
“We take turns working in the morning and work in the evenings,” said Sierra Key who’s still an undergraduate student at Texas A&M, and has applied to the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine.
“Having the responsibility and honor to be able to take care of these animals after their owners have passed away is so rewarding,” said Key.
Key’s roommate, Sam McDonald, said they treat the animals there like they would a personal pet.
“They get to go in our rooms, we study with them at night, we get to celebrate the holidays with them,” said McDonald.
Dr. Henry “Sonny” Presnal has been with the Stevenson Center for almost 20 years, and knows the story of each and every animal living there.
Presnal said the students are learning valuable lessons about caring for animals.
“Our students here are being exposed to a multitude of different personalities of animals,” said Presnal, Director of the Stevenson Center.
The Stevenson Center is under the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and the animals at the center receive care from the Texas A&M Small Animal Hospital for the remainder of their lives.
“When they [pet owners] establish an endowment, they’re supporting veterinary medical education,” said Presnal.
Dr. Stacy Eckman with the College of Veterinary Medicine supervises the students and the program at the Stevenson Center.
“It’s one of kind and it’s really special for Texas A&M, and it gives the students an opportunity to see what this really looks like in practice,” said Eckman.
Eckman said the students are learning many lessons outside of the classroom that will prepare them for a career in veterinary science.
“I’ve learned so much for becoming a vet, and just seeing all these cases on a 24 hour basis because we’re not able to see that in the clinic,” said Key.
“I think in the future, it’s really going to help because being here, we’ve got an array of different kinds of diseases processes, and having 40 animals at one point, you see a bunch of different things,” said McDonald.
They’re also learning other important lessons, including how to say goodbye.
“It’s made me more compassionate with end of life care because we’ve dealt with that a lot here,” said Pawlowski.
Eckman said the home-like environment benefits not only the students, but also the well-being of the animals.
“It’s just incredible to see how they all come together from such different environments and backgrounds and get in that environment where they’re very clearly loved and very well-cared for,” said Eckman.
That includes the one celebrity who also lives at the center.
Reveille VIII retired a few years ago from being the mascot at Texas A&M and now lives full-time at the Stevenson Center.
She’s the only first lady of Aggieland to live out her life at the Stevenson Center.
"We want people to know that she's retired and living well. She's very content and she's just a wonderful dog," said Presnal.
"She's pampered and fluffed just like she was when she was an actual on-duty mascot and really living it up in retirement," said Eckman.
And, even in her retirement, she’s still getting a lot of attention.
“I never expected to get an opportunity to live with Rev,” said Turner.
He said that he and Reveille VIII have a good rapport and says she often sits with him when he’s studying or watching TV.
“She is actually very camera shy,” said Turner.
“I think she feels like she served her time,” he added.
Reveille VIII is just one part of the big family at the Stevenson Center.
It’s a place that lives and thrives from the genuine love given to these animals every day.
“We are compassionate, we are dedicated to our jobs, we give it our all, and we are all hard workers here,” said Pawlowski.
“And we’re all proud of being Aggies,” she added.
To learn more about the Stevenson Companion Animal Life Care Center, click here.