Trained animal shelter employees to become veterinary assistants

Wilson County Animal Welfare Officers have a new tool in their toolbox.

Wilson County Animal Services Center Manager Sgt. Rodney Harper and Adoption Coordinator Alyssa Whitney became certified veterinary assistants after completing a five-month program at Nash Community College.

“Sending them was a good way to evaluate the program and bring the information back to us to see how it would benefit the entire shelter,” said Wilson County Sheriff Calvin Woodard.

The certification is not typical of animal welfare officials. But after researching and speaking to several experts, Woodard believed that doing so would strengthen his overall goal — to gain no-kill shelter status.

“We’re moving forward,” he said.

Woodard said the enhanced training will give Harper and Whitney a better knowledge and will help them spot and quickly identify diseases in an animal and be able to assess the animal’s temperament.

“Through this knowledge and extensive training, they can make valuable decisions that can help save this animal rather than kill it,” Woodard said.

He now plans to have every animal welfare officer certified as a veterinary assistant. This is not a current requirement for animal welfare officials, but Woodard believes in staying ahead of the curve.

The veterinary assistant certifications cost about $180 each. The welfare education budget was used to enroll Harper and Whitney in the course.

Prior to the program, Whitney and Harper relied on veterinarians they work with regularly and their own knowledge of what they see in the field to identify animal problems.

The veterinary assistance program expanded her skills.

“It brought everything together,” said Harper, who has served with the animal welfare agency for more than two decades.

Whitney and Harper said while there were things they already knew, some topics covered in the course helped tremendously.

For example, Whitney said the program helped her spot worms in feces. Knowing how to recognize the worms and identifying the type of parasite will help her determine how best to treat the condition.

The program also taught her how to securely hold an animal while taking a blood test that helps determine if the animal has heartworm, Lyme disease and even viruses like parvovirus.

Whitney said she better understands what kind of information shelter workers should share with the vet, which will also help her communicate more effectively with animal rescue groups.

Whitney said she can call these animal rescue services to learn exactly what an animal is dealing with and how the groups can work with the shelter to improve the animals’ health and prepare them for adoption.

“As they go through this course and training, it helps us identify the problem before we put this pet into a wonderful home and don’t have a situation later where this dog has worms or serious medical situations,” Woodard said.

Woodard said he’s excited to bring new programs on board at the shelter, including a trap-neuter-return program for community cats.

Such programs allow animal welfare officials to place traps on a complainant’s property. Once a cat is captured and neutered, it can be returned to the property and released.

A cat defense program is also in its infancy. This program will provide ultrasonic devices and motion-activated sprinklers proposed by Best Friends Animal Society, a national nonprofit working with Woodard and the Sheriff’s Office to reduce euthanasia rates and help Wilson’s shelter achieve a no-kill -to become a facility.

“Before, we didn’t have the space or the opportunities,” he said. “A lot was restricted by the old structure. We didn’t have the technology we have now. Going to a no-kill shelter, all of that will help us with that.”

About Clayton Arredondo

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