Animal shelter workers trained as veterinary assistants

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WILSON, NC (AP) — Wilson County animal enforcement officers have a new tool in their toolbox.

Wilson County Animal Services Center manager Sgt. Rodney Harper and adoption coordinator Alyssa Whitney just became certified veterinary assistants after completing a five-month program at Nash Community College.

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

The certification isn’t typical for animal enforcement officers to obtain. But after research and speaking with several experts, Woodard believed it would strengthen his overall goal — attaining no-kill animal shelter status.

“We are leading the way,” he said.

Woodard said the extended training gives Harper and Whitney stronger knowledge and will help them recognize and quickly identify sickness in an animal and be able to assess the animal’s temperament.

“By having this knowledge and extensive training, they can make valuable decisions that can help save that animal instead of putting that animal down,” Woodard said.

He now plans to have every animal enforcement officer become certified as a veterinary assistant. This isn’t a current requirement for animal enforcement officers, but Woodard believes in staying ahead of the curve.

The veterinary assistant certifications cost about $180 each. The animal enforcement training budget paid for Harper and Whitney’s enrollment in the course.

Prior to the program, Whitney and Harper relied on veterinarians they work with on a regular basis and their own knowledge of what they see in the field to identify issues with animals.

The veterinary assistant program enhanced their skills.

“It brought everything together,” said Harper, who has been in animal enforcement 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 learn to identify worms in fecal matter. Knowing how to spot the worms and identify the type of parasite will help her determine how best to treat the condition.

The program also taught them how to restrain an animal safely while conducting a blood test that helps identify whether the animal has heartworms, Lyme disease and even viruses such as parvo.

Whitney said she better understands the kind of information shelter staff should relay to the veterinarian, which also will help her communicate with animal rescue groups more effectively.

Whitney said she’ll be able to call those rescues to know exactly what an animal is dealing with and how the groups can work with the shelter to improve animals’ health and prepare them for adoption.

“With them going through this class and this training, it helps us be able to identify the problem before we place that pet into a wonderful home and later on not have a situation where that dog has worms or severe medical situations,” Woodard said.

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

Such programs allow animal enforcement officers to set up traps on a complainant’s property. Once a cat is caught and neutered, it can be returned to the property and released.

A cat deterrent program is also in the beginning stages. That program will provide ultrasonic devices and motion-activated sprinklers suggested by the Best Friends Animal Society, a national nonprofit working with Woodard and the sheriff’s office to reduce euthanasia rates and help Wilson’s shelter become a no-kill facility.

“Before, we didn’t have the space or the opportunities,” he said. “A lot of things were limited due to the old structure. We didn’t have the technology we have now. Going to a no-kill shelter, all of this will help us in that.”