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Grandpa Jimbo and Tracy Beaty pose for a photo.

Featured Article

Animal House

Maple Wood’s Vet Technology Program Educates, Enriches and Gives Back

Article by Tiffany Killoren

Photography by Photos courtesy of Maple Woods Vet Tech Program

Originally published in Northland City Lifestyle

A sign greets you when you enter the Veterinary Technology building at the Metropolitan Community College’s Maple Woods campus. It’s a colorful sign on a door that speaks to the happiness that awaits those who enter - Mutt & Meow Adoption Lounge. Inside is a comfortable room with large, framed photos of dogs and cats and a garland of adopted animal snapshots strung cheerily across its walls. The animals all look happy, smiling into the camera with looks of joyful contentment because they’ve finally found their forever (or, can’t resist - furever) homes.

The lounge is the last, joyful stop on a journey that the animals and veterinary technology students have traveled together. While some college students get assigned new lab partners as part of their curriculum, the students in this unique program are assigned a dog or cat on the first day of class. As that animal’s advocate, the students are responsible for the animal’s physical, medical, and social needs throughout the semester. They participate in the spay/neutering process, teeth cleaning, x-rays, and any additional care the animals might need. Most importantly, they are responsible for finding their new furry friends a home at the end of the term.

By offering such a hands-on approach to animal care, this program sets itself apart from others in the area.

“It really gives students a reason to be more vested in this program,” Natalie Short explains. And she should know — although she’s now the laboratory supervisor with the program, Natalie completed the veterinary technology program herself and understands the value that such hands-on training provides.

“Vet technicians are so much more than what people think,” she says. “People don’t realize how much education goes into what we do.”

Educating students in everything from monitoring anesthesia to performing x-rays, assisting in surgeries, and engaging in client education, the program is both tough and rewarding for those who complete it.   

“It’s an extremely rigorous program,” Natalie says, proud of their 96%-98% board exam pass rate compared with the 70% national average. “We have students ranging from right out of high school to some in their sixties.”

At the end of the day, it’s all about the animals and providing them with the best care possible during their stay.

“It’s great for the animals involved,” she says. With indoor/outdoor dog runs and nearby trails and creeks, the animals have both their medical needs met with plenty of socialization and snuggles along the way. “This program is well-renowned in the community,” Natalie adds. “Not many programs have hands-on experience like this.”

Celebrating its 50th year in practice, the program at Maple Woods is so much more than an educational program. Started by Dr. Carole Maltby, the program is truly her legacy, one that grew from a small house nearby to the facilities that now welcome new students each August. One of Natalie’s instructors during her time there, she remembers Dr. Maltby’s passion and love for animals which is memorialized in a touching portrait of her with a beautiful horse in the facility’s entrance.

It’s clear that this program is a win-win for both the students and animals involved, both gaining what they need to move on to the next chapter of their lives. Whether hoping to specialize in small animal medicine or work with large animals someday, the program prepares students for all scenarios based on their rotating curriculum that includes the care of horses, cows, pigs, and goats in their nearby barn. In fact, Natalie has received some fun text updates from students currently working at the Kansas City Zoo.

The small class size (around 32 students begin each August) and cozy quarters with animals running around make for a close-knit group. “Students are super supportive and cohesive with one another,” Natalie says.

As for students’ duty to get the animals adopted at the end of the semester, Natalie describes the process as “bittersweet” because bonds have formed between students and their sweet little patients. Not surprisingly, Natalie estimates that around 80% of students end up adopting an animal, many taking in the one they cared for as part of the program.

And, because animals are full of surprises, the staff and students have faced their fair share along the way, including a dog whose belly was getting a bit big from something other than treats. One can only imagine the excitement that came from an unexpected puppy litter, the adorableness of puppy adventures captured by one student in a TikTok video for everyone to love. These types of surprises are always fun because people from campus will swing by for a cuddle or two with the program’s newest enrollees.  

Joan Gorman, Veterinary Technology Program Coordinator at Maple Woods, is also an alumnus of the program and focuses her time on making sure it has the resources and support to grow to its full potential. “Our alumni are invested in this program,” she says, a point made clear by the presence of two nearby alumni volunteers in the office and class photos that line the hallway right outside.

As August hits and kids prepare to pile onto the school bus for a new semester, how fun to imagine the four-legged friends getting ready for their semester at Maple Woods with a stop by the Mutt & Meow Adoption Lounge as part of their future graduation.

Looking to adopt an animal in need? Check out MCC's Veterinary Technology’s Adoption Program, which will begin posting animals for adoption this fall semester. Keep in mind that adoption cannot officially occur until an animal's time with the program is complete, but you can always start the process and build a rapport with regular visits.    

Want to help in other ways? Donations of enrichment items are always appreciated — things like peanut butter, toys, treats, etc.

“Vet technicians are so much more than what people think. “People don’t realize how much education goes into what we do.” - Natalie 

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