COCC & Think Wild Partner on Vet Tech Externship

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((L)Helping a Turkey Vulture (R) Martin Jacobi | Photos courtesy of Think Wild)

Helping to care for a stressed-out turkey vulture diagnosed with lead poisoning wasn’t something Martin Jacobi ever imagined he would do.

Especially, a turkey vulture prone to vomiting as its defense mechanism.

Yet, Jacobi had the opportunity through Central Oregon Community College’s Veterinary Technician program to work with various wild animals during his externship with Think Wild, a nonprofit organization providing a wildlife support system in Central Oregon. Jacobi graduated from the two-year program this June.

Before his externship, Jacobi knew little about possible vet tech careers working with wild animals or about Think Wild, which started in 2016 and added its wildlife hospital in 2020.

Think Wild Executive Director Sally Compton said Think Wild seeks to reduce the incidents of conflict between humans and wildlife through prevention education. Think Wild provides veterinary treatment and care to injured or orphaned wildlife at its wildlife hospital. It also has a hotline to answer the public’s questions, educational programs, community outreach and volunteer opportunities. Injured birds and animals are brought to the wildlife hospital where they are treated and released back to the wild.

The partnership between Think Wild and COCC began with students analyzing fecal samples provided by Think Wild. “Professional development is important to the work we do at Think Wild,” Compton said. “We enjoy having the students learn about how to care for injured wildlife and for them to learn how their skills treating domestic animals can apply to wild animals.

COCC vet tech students are required to complete three, three-week externships. Students can select Think Wild as one of their three-week rotations.

Beth Palmer, MEd., CVT, is the director of the Veterinary Technician Program at Central Oregon Community College. “It’s been a great partnership between COCC and Think Wild,” Palmer said. “Our students get to take what they learn in the classroom and apply it at the wildlife hospital.”

She’s grateful to Dr. Laura Acevedo, who created the curriculum for externs working at Think Wild’s wildlife hospital. “Think Wild is fully invested in our students by continuing to teach them new skills while reinforcing what they have learned by allowing them to put it into practice,” Palmer said. “The partnership has really benefited the students who now know there are jobs caring for wild animals.”

Pauline Hice, director of wildlife rehabilitation, said COCC externs are both an asset to working in the wildlife hospital and ambassadors for Think Wild. “After they are done working here, the externs have offered to come back as volunteers at the hospital,” Hice said.

Hice said she has enjoyed watching the students grow in their skills in vet tech sciences. “The students get to see how what they have learned applies to both domestic and wild animals,” Hice said.

Jacobi said it was quite different working with wild animals from domestic animals, especially going from giving cute puppies their vaccines to an unattractive turkey vulture.“When working with cats or dogs, you can pet them to comfort them,” he said. “It’s the opposite with wild animals because you don’t want to create a bond with them.”

The skills he learned such as how to monitor vital signs, administer tests and give injections are similar when caring for both domestic and wild animals.

He’s grateful for the opportunity to extern at Think Wild. “It opened my horizon to other career ideas,” Jacobi said. “I am interested in learning more about wildlife medicine and plan to volunteer here. I am grateful to have this wonderful yet unusual experience as a vet technician.”

thinkwildco.orgcocc.edu/programs/vet-tech

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