“It’s mutually beneficial. Because, we’re a teaching program, we have to have access to animals,” said Dr. Brenda Woodard, director of the Vet Tech program. “We have a constant flow of animals from the shelters who need rehabilitation. We are teaching while we are helping the animals become more adoptable.”
Students learn to check and treat animals for parasites, position animals for x-rays, administer anesthesia and vaccinations, assist with surgical procedures like spaying and neutering and conduct general health screenings. The Vet Tech Club raises funds to purchase vaccines, toys and medicine for the animals and seeks donations for supplies.
“Many people in our community are working so hard to save animals’ lives,” Woodward said. “As an example, we work with Hope for Paws, a no kill shelter that houses about 25 dogs at any one time. We have performed heartworm tests on two groups of their dogs over the last couple of weeks. They brought the dogs here, and the dogs worked in bandaging lab in return for the heartworm tests. We have done a couple of low-cost spay/neuter days for them during the past year. We did about 10 animals for their last one.”
One of Woodard’s special cases is George, a red and white stray hound taken to the city shelter by someone who saw the dog frequently and knew he was injured.
“He was emaciated with a shattered hip joint, probably the result of being hit by a vehicle. The shelter personnel contacted us for help.” After evaluating George and bringing him to a healthy weight, Woodard and students in a surgical class performed an amputation of his hind leg. Weeks later, George was healing, healthy and in need of a home.
“George is doing much better. We do that sort of work whenever they have a special case, and it’s a great learning tool for our students,” Woodard said. “They feel that we are involved in saving animals and they get to study the medical aspects of the case.”
“Ideally, we have the animals for one semester, but we keep them as long as we need to.” Woodard said. “They are all special because they work so well with students and the students do get attached to them, but the goal is to find them a great home.”
Student Shelley Alford of Deville was involved in the amputation of George’s hind limb and his rehabilitation.
“It was a pretty amazing surgery to see for the first time,” she said. “Luckily George is a very special, amazing dog and this incident hasn't dampened his personality at all towards people. George is still happy and always willing to please with just a little quirk of having only three legs instead of four.”
Student engagement falls in line with the Vet Tech program requirements of 10 hours of service. In addition to volunteering with Hope for Paws and the city shelter, some students work with the Happy Tails program at the Natchitoches Detention Center where animals are cared for by inmates. Alford helps train dogs in basic behavior to make them more adoptable. She is a recipient of the Call to Action Animal Welfare Scholarship, a project-oriented award that requires students to develop initiatives to improve animal welfare. Vet Tech students also organize fund raisers, such as bathe-a-dog days, events that are held two or three times a semester that raise money to defray the cost of vaccines and supplies.
According to Woodard, there are 56 students seeking associate degrees in the program and 30 seeking bachelor’s degrees. Alford is a double major pursuing a bachelor’s degree in veterinary technology as well as pre-veterinary medicine.
“I want to be able to work as a veterinary technician while I am going to school to become a veterinarian,” Alford said. “My dream has always been about working with animals and it's definitely coming true. My dad owned a dog kennel where he trained dogs for friends and then branched out into a business. My dad taught all of my siblings, brother and sister, how to train dogs for duck hunting as well as obedience, so I put that to good use working with the Hope for Paws dogs.”
In addition to dogs, the Vet Tech lab houses several felines. Veterinary Technologist and instructor Jessica Hudspeth, who oversees animal care and supervises students, recently visited the shelter to collect feces for a parasitology class and returned with a litter of kittens. Alford helped care for those, too.
“Our 10 kittens are all sweet amazingly cute kittens, with five of them being litter mates,” Alford said. “They were diagnosed with some horrible diseases. I got the chance to be one of the students the first week we had them to administer medicine twice a day to them. They were pretty cute even being sick. They were so small and now they are definitely the mischievous, sweet kittens that we all love here in the Vet Tech Department.”
“More and more people want to take care of animals in the community,” Woodard said. “When we first started, it was really just the city shelter and the Humane Society. The number of people working with the animals has really expanded. More and more people are devoting more of their time and energy to taking care of animals.”
Jenn Helander, director of Hope for Paws, said the students’ volunteer efforts are invaluable to her organization.
“We would be lost without the NSU Vet Tech program,” Helander said. “We are blessed to have the program in place and the support of the students and Dr. Woodard and Jessica. It’s hard work running a shelter. The students help in many aspects, with socializing the animals, bathing, walking the dogs, cleaning kennels and making sure they have food and water.”
“The Vet Tech program has helped us tremendously,” said Juanita Murphy, volunteer for the Natchitoches Humane Society. “We’ve taken several dogs to Dr. Woodard for diagnoses or heartworm checks. Sometimes our organization can’t pay for those things. I have so much respect for Dr. Woodard and Jessica.”
The experience is also invaluable for students like Alford, who intend to devote their careers to animal care.
“My love for animals small or large does not waver,” Alford said. “Along with working here at school with the Vet Tech Program I also work in Alexandria at Fitzgerald Animal Hospital. I get to see plenty of neat and crazy things along with some pretty sick animals, and I enjoy working there so much, I learn a lot every time I work there and here at school.”