Plant City students help rescue crews prepare for animals in distress

Tampa Tribune
April 14, 2010

Area pet owners can rest a little easier thanks to some students and instructors at Hillsborough Community College’s Plant City campus.

The veterinary technician program presented fire rescue crews from Hillsborough County, Plant City and Temple Terrace with animal first aid kits that they can use on pets in distress.

Veterinary Technology Club members made the presentation during an April 8 animal safety fair at the campus.

“My students worked for one year to make a difference in the community,” instructor Carrie Jo Anderson said. She came up with the idea for the emergency kits for animals after starting work at the HCC program last year.

Veterinary tech students Cindy Robinson and Tara Caldwell headed up Vet Tech Club fundraisers to buy the kits. The 45 students designed cat beds and collars to sell at a pet adoption expo, among other fundraisers that generated a total of $750.

John Gicking, critical care veterinarian at Florida Veterinary Specialist & Cancer Treatment Center in Tampa, along with Anderson, demonstrated the use of the kits to the fire rescue teams.

The kits include equipment to administer oxygen to animals. The kits will come in handy when crews answer a call such as a fire and find that a pet also needs help, officials said.

“We will deploy them. Your efforts will not go to waste,” said Jim Wilson, Plant City’s division chief for emergency medical services.

Anderson responded, “It means the world to us that you use these.”

The plastic boxes hold oxygen masks that are designed to fit an animal’s snout and will allow local firefighters to resuscitate dogs, cats, birds and ferrets. Smaller animals can be placed inside the box and given oxygen through the side vent, which provides protection against an aggressive animal.

“I never knew something like this existed,” Plant City Fire Rescue Capt. Vincent Probst said as he and his crew members Paul Grasso and Jamee Lee sifted through the kits.

The kit presentations were just part of the fair, where the students and instructors offered visitors tips on such topics as bite prevention, animal first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation and more.

HCC started its vet tech program in 2007. Students who go through the two-year program will be licensed to help veterinarians in a variety of ways, including helping examine pets and dressing wounds, among many other duties.

“It’s a tough program, and there are a lot of things to teach,” said veterinarian Vincent Centonze, who is the program director. “They have to get an idea for things like medicine. They will not diagnose, but they still have to know about it.”

The U.S. Department of Labor lists vet tech as among the fastest growing occupations in the country, he said.

“I like teaching; we need good qualified vet techs. There’s such a need,” Centonze said.

The program based at HCC’s Plant City campus off Park Road is the fourth of its kind in the state. The next class of 22 students graduates in May and instructors are preparing them to take the veterinary technology national exam in order to gain their licenses.

“We turn out the best techs in the state,” said Anderson, who is a vet tech.

Sarah Ambrose, a 21-year-old veterinary technology student, said the Plant City program has given her the opportunity to embrace her dream of working with animals.

“We had labs once a week where Animal Services would bring in dogs and cats for things like treating eye conditions or spaying and neutering,” she said.

Although her veterinary tech exam is still weeks away, Ambrose has already secured a job at the Florida Veterinary Specialists and Cancer Treatment Center.

“I love it! It’s a career that I want,” she said, while holding the leash of her 5-year-old Labrador retriever, Mukiwa, who was a part of a first aid demonstration by Ambrose and her classmates, 23-year-old Macara Wells and 24-year-old Kristina Adkinson.

The trio has spent three days a week together for the last two years. All three agree that the time was well spent.

During the safety fair, they gave out information and tips on treating pet injuries to visitors that included 17-year-old Miranda Wasden.

The Armwood High School senior attended the fair as she considers her options as her graduation draws near. She has a stable of horses at home, so working with animals has always been a dream of hers.

“The more they’ve talked, the better understanding I’ve gotten of what’s it’s like. It’s interesting,” Wasden said.

Wasden’s mother, Tuwanna Lane, said she pleased her daughter was able to get a perspective on the vet tech program at the fair.

“They said it’s tough but worth it,” Lane said.

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