It's was an ambitious formula to tackle on a Sunday, but on July 28, more than 40 Foothill College students, one instructor and six Bay Area veterinarians teamed up for eight hours to perform small animal surgeries on “pocket pets.” The surgeries included spay and neuter procedures on rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs, rats and mice, as well as teeth trimming on rabbits and a chinchilla. The animal-patients are all clients of the Bay Area-based North Star Rescue and Sacramento-based Cavy Care Guinea Pig Shelter & Sanctuary, both non-profit organizations. Surgical services are not available to the public. Also, the college cannot accept walk-in animal-patients at any time.
The team of professional veterinarians, as well as students who are enrolled in the popular Foothill College Veterinary Technology Program and their instructor donated their services and expertise to help more than 20 small animals become more adoptable. The animals do not have owners, but event organizers hope that after the surgical procedures, forever families will adopt the animals. Many of the patients are rats that were discovered in the Florida home of a hoarder. North Star Rescue paid to have the rats flown to the Bay Area.
“Veterinary technology is a hands-on job, and students must receive hands-on training to fully master the concepts we teach in the classroom,” says Foothill College Veterinary Technology Instructor Sandra Gregory, R.V.T., M.Ed., who also graduated from the Foothill Veterinary Technology Program in 2001. “These 40 individuals are now Foothill students, but very soon, they’ll be the working professionals who will assist in surgeries on your family’s beloved pets. The more hands-on training they receive, the more qualified and confident professionals they’ll be when your sick or injured pets arrive at the veterinarian’s office.”
Under Gregory’s supervision and working with six local veterinarians, the Foothill students from beginning to advanced levels of the program, and even a few program alumni, were responsible for numerous tasks at the July 28 event. Working as a two-member team, each pair cared for two to three animals during pre-op, operation and post-op phases.
Pre-op activities include weighing the animal; calculating the appropriate drug dosage for the animal; administering medications and fluids to the animal; preparing all surgical instruments and preparing the animal by shaving it and scrubbing the surgical site. Next, each student team entered the surgical suite with the animal where they assisted the veterinarian, and induced and monitored anesthesia throughout the procedure. Finally, during the post-op phase, students assisted patients with recovery, including monitoring vital signs; administering pain medication; dressing the animal’s post-operative incisions and washing and sterilizing instruments and soiled areas.
“There are no other places that do what we do for small animals,” Gregory said. “There are many spay and neuter events for dogs and cats but there is nothing like this for small animals at any other vet-tech school or university. Nor is there a shelter that does surgeries on this level.”
The small animal surgery experience is a unique learning opportunity for Foothill students. Participating in multiple pocket pet surgical procedures is a rare occurrence that students can add to their professional resumes. In addition, the number of hours that students participate can be used toward competition of the program’s required internship hours.
“Everyone benefits from this event–the rescue groups, the students, the animals and the veterinarians,” Gregory said. “My reward is seeing Foothill students’ excitement and contributing to their sense of professional accomplishment. I’m proud of everyone who participates in this event because they do it out of love and for hands-on experience, not for money.”
If the animals were to receive the operations at a shelter or private animal hospital, the cost could range from $100 to $300 per animal per procedure. The small animal surgery event was sponsored by the Foothill College student chapter of the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America. In addition to generous donations, Foothill students raised money to purchase supplies such as anesthetic gases, oxygen, drugs, gloves, gauze and other items.
There are 41 students, ages 18 to 56, who make up the current senior class of the Foothill program. Program graduates have gone on to find employment locally and nationally at facilities such as Stanford University laboratories, Adobe Animal Hospital, Mid-Peninsula Animal Hospital, Sage Center, Wildwood Veterinary Clinic, Marine Mammal Center, Banfield Hospitals, San Francisco Zoo, Sacramento Zoo and Peninsula Equine, to name a few.
A rigorous combination of classroom lecture, hands-on lab assignments and on-site clinical experiences, the Foothill College Veterinary Technology Program is one of only seven such programs in California, and the only program accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association Committee on Veterinary Technician Education & Activities serving the greater San Francisco Bay Area. Foothill’s animal care instruction facilities are licensed by the United States Department of Agriculture's Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service.
Students who complete the 93-unit program earn the associate in science degree and are then eligible for state licensing as a registered veterinary technician (R.V.T.). According to Foothill College Veterinary Technology Program Director Karl M. Peter, D.V.M., graduates of the Foothill program have a long track record of greatly exceeding the average scores on state and national licensure examinations, including 100-percent pass rates on the veterinary technician national exam and a better than 95-percent pass rate on California's R.V.T. exam. To be considered for the two-year program's selective admission process, students must complete general education and prerequisite courses. Evaluation of applicants and selection of students for admission is done using a competitive, point-based application process.