Vet Student Volunteer Experience

By Paige Roth

Growing up, my family wasn’t big on volunteering. We always admired families that made a weekly appointment at their charity of choice, but skillfully justified our lack of participation with busy schedules or commitments that would one day make us more capable, generous philanthropists. During a particularly lean year I remember asking my mom why we didn’t volunteer more (read: why are we such lousy, selfish people), to which she good-naturedly responded, “I am my own charity.”

While I feel like most people my age pride themselves on over-committed schedules, keeping up the appearance of a break-neck pace to convey competence and possession of their life’s direction, my schedule really isn’t that busy. Even with a full time job and grad school, I find myself with infinitely more downtime than I ever had in undergrad. I immediately went in search of a vet-school-relevant way to fill it.

One of my short-term goals is to acquire more small animal experience. I was offered a position working as a kennel assistant, but couldn’t afford (financially or egotistically) to spend 40 hours a week cleaning cages for $8 an hour. I realized I could get similar experience volunteering at an animal shelter that could open the doors to positions like  a veterinary assistant – some clinics are willing to train these employees as long as they have some relevant animal experience.

Most animal shelters have organized volunteer programs that will work with your schedule – perfect for someone who works full time. I chose to volunteer at the Houston Humane Society. They had a very thorough volunteer training that covered not only the shelter’s policies and public health protocols, but also taught us basics of animal behavior and how to handle a variety of animals. The shelter also offers monthly courses for additional learning that can expose me to new subjects, like handling exotic animals, nutrition or grooming. Besides, it happens to be the shelter where we rescued Scout, so the least I can do is pay it forward.

After only a few hours of volunteering, I have learned a lot about the special health concerns pertaining to shelter medicine. As a dog walker and matchmaker for potential adopters, I have been exposed to a wide range of animals and can asses a variety of temperaments more quickly. Volunteering also means hanging out with other die-hard animal lovers, which makes it easy to stay motivated to keep checking vet school boxes.

I will continue to chronicle my journey and the various approaches I’m taking to fulfill my clinical hours. I would love to hear about your experience! What did you get out of volunteering? What tips do you have for vet students in need of hours?

Saving Scout: Rescuing a Dog with Heartworm Disease

By Paige Roth

“We’re just looking. If the right dog declares itself, we can talk about it,” – the serial dog rescuer’s famous last words.

We rescued our first dog almost a year ago, and had been considering adopting another for several months when Scout declared herself. John wanted a dog’s dog – one we could take running, who might catch a stick, swim in a lake and wouldn’t look out of place lolling its head out of the pick up truck.

Scout 1
Scout’s first day of sweet sweet freedom.

Scout was all of those things. A distinguished pointer mix, she looked ready to chase a pheasant. Agile, cuddly, a bit of a ham, a natural athlete, and, most importantly, approved by our miniature schnauzer, we were sold. But of course, there was a hitch.

Scout was heartworm positive. Coming from Colorado, we had honestly never worried about heartworm disease (you can see why on this incidence map) until a Texas vet suggested we test our first dog. And in Texas shelters, it seems like every other dog is positive for the disease. Afraid of the price tag and the follow up, we had passed up numerous dogs simply because we didn’t think two grad students had the resources to treat it.

As we turned to survey the next kennel, a purple sticker caught my eye, “Treatment sponsored.” Optimistic and uninformed, we asked a volunteer to meet her.

From down the hall, another volunteer’s face lit up, “Wait one minute. I need to tell you about Scout (then Sam).”

“This is my favorite dog,” the volunteer, Abbey – with whom we are now on a first-name basis – said, “She is the best dog and she’s been stuck here since February.” It was now the second week of May.

On cue, Scout rolled on her back, thumping her tail in the dirt.

scout and paige

“We noticed her heartworm treatment was sponsored, is that typical?” John asked.

Abbey grinned sheepishly, “No. I did it. It’s the reason no one would adopt her.”

Abbey had paid for the $450 treatment with her teacher’s salary. If that wasn’t a vote of confidence, I don’t know what is.

“What do we do next?” we asked in unison.

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The new decorations on my kitchen counter.

If you are considering adopting a heartworm-positive dog, here are a few things we’ve learned:

  1. Can our current dog catch heartworm from the infected dog? No. The disease is transmitted by mosquitos, so as long as your healthy dog is on monthly heartworm preventative, you have nothing to worry about.
  2. How long does treatment take and what’s involved? Treatment takes about three months. This includes pre-treatment medication, a series of three shots (administered monthly), and heart and lung exams to make sure the treatment is working. Click here for more details.
  3. What’s the owner’s job? Besides shelling out about $450 for treatment and chauffeuring to appointments, the most important part of heartworm treatment is limiting the dog’s physical activity. They are basically on house arrest for the duration of treatment so ensure their blood pressure doesn’t get high enough to circulate the worms from the heart to other blood vessels or the lungs, which can cause lethal clotting. Click here for tips on entertaining your dog while on bed rest.
  4. Can it be cured? Once the dog has undergone treatment, they are considered cured as long as they remain on regular heartworm prevention.

Treating heartworm is a nasty business, but like any good pre-vet student, I’m up for the task. Stay tuned for more Scout updates as we get her health back in good standing!

My Return to Horseback Riding

By Paige Roth

I am the classic tale of the little girl who has ridden horses since she was five years old. In high school, my time at the barn took up a substantial but delightful chunk of time out of my social life and taught me the canonical lessons mother’s often use to justify exorbitant spending on their daughter’s school-night hobby. But at 18, when I signed my college acceptance letter for an out-of-state school, riding taught me the biggest adult lesson yet – how to give it up. I sold my beautiful dutch warmblood, who I trained from a gangly 5-year-old who trampled the stable-hands his first day of the truck, to a mature, well-mannered event horse, donated my riding gear and wondered how I would ever fill the gaps in my schedule.

For four years in undergrad, I committed myself to the “real college experience,” which in my case meant extra library time, and only rode horses occasionally summers. But when I got to grad school and finally had a reliable paycheck, I decided I was going to do the first less-than-fiscally responsible thing I’d ever done – get back into horses. And it was the best decision ever.

hershey 3

I joined my school’s equestrian team and started taking weekly lessons at a hunter jumper barn. An eventer by training, I was a fish out of water, and my inner leg strength was an embarrassment. Even though I’m an avid runner, nothing can keep you in riding shape except hours in the saddle.

Because my high school horse schedule generally consisted of me hacking around after school with minimal supervision, a strict lesson schedule worked wonders for my progress and confidence. Though I missed having my own horse, riding a different lesson horse each week– and I was lucky to be at a barn with at least twenty wonderfully schooled horses to choose from – made me an adaptable and thoughtful rider.

It took about six months of lessons for me to really start to feel like my old self. Old habits reared their ugly head – leaning too far to the right, getting to relaxed about my deep heels – but I had uncovered this important part of myself to keep me grounded as I navigated the most tumultuous transition of my young adult life.

hershey 2

I am now planning to lease, and ultimately buy my own horse, and have been offered a position teaching beginner riding lessons part time. I even have my first show this weekend (expect a post). And though I will never buy clothes unless they’re on sale and manically monitor my savings account, this has been the best investment for making me feel like a complete person again – instead of a corporate robot or beleaguered grad student.

As for vet school? My hours at the barn are always the thing that keep me motivated to sign up for harder classes, find my volunteer opportunities, and stay the course. Because every time I drive home from the barn, I can’t wait for the day I’m making a similar drive home from work.