Helen Woodward Animal Center gives kids exploring career a hands-on experience with animals and medical care
Emily Wasserman, 9, held a stethoscope to the belly of a 30-year-old miniature horse named Fable.
“It sounded kind of like a dragon snoring,” said Emily, one of 33 children in the veterinarian day camp held Saturday, Feb. 8, at the Helen Woodward Animal Center in Rancho Santa Fe.
Each child got a chance to listen to Fable’s “gut sounds” with the stethoscope, and for some that was the highlight of the day.
For Sofia Otero, also 9, the most exciting experience was using an ultrasound machine to examine a dachshund named Gypsy. “We found air bubbles,” Sofia said. “We saw its heart, its abdomen and its kidneys.”
Both girls said they hope to work with animals when they grow up. That’s the goal of the center’s You Can Be A Veterinarian Camp, or at least to give the youngsters an introduction to animal care.
“There’s a lot of kids out there who want to be a vet,” said Haylee Blake, education manager for Helen Woodward. “There are ways we can teach them some of the things a vet does.”
Day camp participants tried suturing by sewing together the skin on a banana. Under the watchful eye of an instructor, they used a real syringe to inject colored water into an orange section that simulated an animal’s body. They examined cells under a microscope and learned to draw blood — red-colored water, really — from a balloon.
Another popular activity at the camp was the examination of owl pellets. Owls eat their food — often mice and other rodents — whole, then cough up a pellet of bones, fur and other indigestible matter.
“The kids pick it apart and try to figure out what the animal’s diet was,” Blake said.
“Most kids don’t get exposed to this until they are in high school or college,” she said. “It’s really exciting for them. Not a lot of places offer the opportunity.”
Another of the day’s classes was how to give CPR to a canine, using a fuzzy, plush dog named Spot. Instructor Justin Norris also showed his 10 students how a dog would be sedated and its heartbeat, blood pressure and breathing would be monitored for surgery to repair a laceration. Everyone watched intently.
“We all really like animals, and we really want to help them,” said Tara Schipper, 9, who was there with her best friends Charlie Heiss and Elizabeth Hillman, all third-graders from Poway.
The one-day veterinarian camp started about four years ago as a special program for Girl Scouts. Since then it’s grown and morphed into something offered to the general public several times a year. Parents drive their kids from all over San Diego County, and sometimes farther, to participate.
The next camp offered will be run a half-day on March 7 for $77 per child. The next full-day camp will be May 3, costing $144 per child.
The nonprofit center, established as an animal shelter in 1972 by longtime Del Mar resident Helen Woodward, offers a number of services in addition to the adoptions of rescued dogs and cats.
It offers pet boarding, has an animal hospital and provides animals for a number of educational and therapeutic programs.
The stable includes horses, goats, sheep, alpacas, two miniature horses, a miniature donkey, two chickens, one duck, three madagascar hissing cockroaches, two millipedes, two hermit crabs, chinchillas, rabbits, guinea pigs, bearded dragons, one skink, frogs, tortoises, parrots and cockatiels — all cared for by employee Liberty Michel.
For Fable, the miniature horse that patiently endured repeated exams with a stethoscope, that meant a freshly brushed coat, cleanly scraped hoofs, and a braided mane and tail.
“My job is to feed them, clean up after them and make them look pretty,” Michel said.
— Phil Diehl is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune