Thursday, March 31, 2011

Hooray research!

Okay, so I'm a bit of a rat freak. I love them. I used to own four of them and I know some people will never believe it, but of all the "pocket pets" rats are actually the most sociable and personable. They learn their names, they get excited to see you when you come home at the end of the day, and some of them can even be potty trained. They're like dogs that never get any bigger than a newborn puppy.

Just to prove to you how adorable rats can be, here are my bubs hunting for peas in a "digging box" enrichment I made for them:

Emma, Gracie, Lilah and Bart; four of the loves of my life.

Through owning rats I quickly found out how little quality vet care there exists for most exotic pets, but particularly the ones that are considered expendable such as rats, gerbils and guinea pigs. I went through two vets before finding Dr. Becker, who was beyond wonderful. But still, the nearest emergency clinic that treated exotic animals was over an hour away from me, so if an accident happened and one of my rats needed a vet in the middle of the night it is very likely that they would have died before treatment could be obtained. If that's not enough for a pet owner to handle, I frequently faced people saying things to me like, "You spent how much on vet bills for a rat? They cost like five bucks, just get a new one." Or, "Just give it to me, I'll feed it to my snake." Or, "Just step on it." I'm sure you can imagine how upsetting these types of comments were, and if you can't, just picture someone saying them to an owner sitting in a vet's office about to put their retriever to sleep.

Owning my rats was an eye-opening experience that led me down the path to wanting to become an exotic animal vet to alleviate some of the stress and anxiety that other owners must also feel when trying to find quality vet care. After my experiences at Purdue and Harlan working with lab rats, the desire to improve quality of life for laboratory rodents became integrated into that motivation.

While at Purdue I had the opportunity to take a class from and work on an independent study under one of the leading mouse behavior researchers out there. I was thrilled that someone else seemed to actually give a damn about rodents and learned a lot of really interesting stuff about mice from him; such as that although rodents comprise over 90% of animal research done today they are not covered under the Animal Welfare Act for ethical care and use, and that no comprehensive species ethogram exists for the lab mouse. The experience really helped to jump start my interest in research and wanting to directly contribute to improved laboratory conditions for research rodents.

Once I got down to Ross, I approached our animal behavior professor here about the possibility of getting involved in some behavior research. I was pretty vague, I didn't really care what I did, I just missed being involved in research and wanted a project. She asked me what I wanted to do, which species interested me, and I said that I was primarily interested in laboratory rodents but that we probably couldn't get them onto the island. She said that we might and she would look into it, but if we could what would I want to do? Oh boy, oh boy! What don't I want to do? I told her about a low-stress handling study that I would like to do using a technique that I developed myself while I was a lab animal care technician at Purdue. She said she'd check into the possibility of getting rats down to St. Kitts and she would get back to me.

Which brings me to what I am so excited to share with you all! Today she emailed to tell me that we could indeed ship rats here and to start a literature review and inventory list and we would begin working on a grant proposal for next semester! I am so excited! Maybe this study will prove absolutely nothing, maybe the way we currently handle rats doesn't significantly stress them, but I'm still going to be the PI on a study of my own design and if it gets published I will be lead author! HOLY CRAP!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Kittens, redux!

So everything went very smoothly for the first two kittens, but then things went downhill from there. After Uno and Dos arrived Mama slept for three hours with no contractions. I started to get worried, as they're really not supposed to go more than two hours, max, between kittens. Right then she started pushing again and a teeny, tiny runt came out breech. I thought, "Oh, that's what was holding things up." I went to class and drove home two hours later to check on her. Not only were there no more kittens, but Mama looked exhausted. She was still having contractions, but couldn't seem to make any headway. I decided to drive her to the vet clinic for an x-ray and potentially a c-section.

There were two kittens left in the womb, one of which was lined up at the opening to the birth canal. We gave an injection of oxytocin and waited 20 minutes, but even though she was pushing hard she couldn't pass the kitten. So we went to surgery for an emergency c-section and spay.

The kitten in the birth canal died. The other one had to be resuscitated several times, but it looks as though he'll make it. Nothing is 100% certain, though. Mama is doing fantastically. She scarfed an entire can of wet food when we got home and then laid down for a much-needed nap.


When Mama's milk started to come in on Friday, I knew we were close. When she went off food this morning, I knew we were really close. When I came home from class to find my blankets, rugs and laundry ransacked in an attempt to find a nesting spot, I knew things would likely be going down tonight. Then Mama hopped up on my bed at 2am, purring loudly and meowing and pressed right up against my legs, and I felt the contractions through the blankets and knew kittens were imminent! I tried to move her over to the birthing area I'd set up underneath my desk, but after about 5 minutes she was back up on the bed with me again. She wouldn't stay in the birthing spot unless I was sitting with her, so I guess that means we're doing this together. Why Mama is the only cat I know of who doesn't seek out some dark, enclosed and private space to give birth but instead decides that I need to be actively involved in the process, I don't know. It turned out pretty okay, though, since she couldn't reach the first two to break the sac around them due to her huge belly, so I did it for her and held them, rubbing them gently with a towel, while she ate the placenta and snipped the umbilical cord with her teeth.

Anyway, prepare for daily kitten picspam, beginning with these photos of Uno and Dos. I'm sure more are on their way shortly.



Sunday, March 27, 2011

A Week.

So it doesn't have much to do with vet med, but it has quite a bit to do with me personally and my worldview. This past week was A Week, a week where atheists were supposed to replace their Facebook profile pics with the atheist red A symbol. The UNI Freethinkers had a much better idea to put a face on atheism.

Here's my contribution. It was a spur of the moment decision at 8:30 this morning, so you get me complete with full-on bedhead, no makeup and (although undetectable over the interwebs, thankfully) righteous morning breath. The message was hastily scrawled on the back of my microanatomy notes.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Let the countdown begin!

We have milk! It hasn't fully let down yet, but there is definite squidgyness underneath Mama's nipples. That means that kittens should be arriving in the next 72 hours! If I can lower the resolution on my camera to the point where video will actually upload to Blogger without being a complete, grainy mess I will certainly be filming their arrival. Otherwise, I'll just picspam the hell out of you all with screwed up, smushy kitten faces.

True fact: The amount of technical terminology a vet uses has an inverse linear relationship to their proximity to neonates.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


I just figured up my current grades in all of my classes and what I'd need on the respective final exams in order to pass my classes. A passing grade at my university means a 70% or higher. I can fail every one of my finals with as low as a 55% and still pass.

Motivation... to study... waning...

*sigh* Stupid sense of professionalism, why won't you let me be satisfied with Cs?

On the other hand, in your FACE vet school! Wooo! Yeah, you think you're so tough? Try harder next time! j/k

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Hard knock life.

While I'm studying for my second nutrition midterm on Wednesday, Mama's busy napping and looking extremely self-satisfied...

No kittens yet. Her milk hasn't been let down yet, so when it does it'll be about 3 days after that.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


It just goes to show you how busy the life of a Ross student is that this news is more than two days old. Between my two exams this week and a new foster cat to care for, I have had no time to update with this huge news.

Tuesday morning I arrived on campus and the atmosphere was positively thrumming. I got three steps from the door to the student union when I heard my name called. "We're accredited!" It took a moment to sink in and then I said, quite unprofessionally, "That's fucking amazing!" I couldn't quite believe it so I ran to check my email and sure enough, there was a letter from the dean congratulating us on gaining full AVMA accreditation.

For those that don't know, Ross was not formally an accredited veterinary medical school. That does not mean that it was a "bad" school, simply that Ross students had to pass either the PAVE or the ECFMG exam on top of the national boards that every vet student must take in order to legally practice in the U.S. As of Tuesday, that is no longer true. This means that we are on par with every accredited school in the U.S. and that now Ross students qualify for grants, scholarships and loan forgiveness that we could not previously obtain.

This is a BIG accomplishment for Ross and I am even more proud to call myself a Rossie now!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Wish fulfillment.

Ever since I was little, I've loved animals. All shapes, sizes, species, be they slimy, hairy, scaly or creepy crawly. I begged my mom for a mouse when I was seven years old but she was too afraid of them. Then, on my 8th birthday, when my dad picked me up from school a little cardboard box from the pet store was waiting for me in my backseat. My dad went behind my mom's back and spoiled me with rodents. I still think that's pretty awesome.

But one pet I was never allowed to have was a cat. My dad hated them because one attacked his sister pretty bad when they were kids and my brother had allergies to them. I swore to myself that when I moved out of the house I would get a kitty! Then I moved out, but at the time I was dating my now husband, who also has cat allergies. Well, shit.

Being at Ross for two and a half years, though, I now have the opportunity to finally have a kitty, so I jumped at the first chance to do something I've always wanted; foster a pregnant cat and witness the whole shebang, from birth to adoption of the kittens into loving homes.

So, everyone, meet Mama Linda (Spanish for "Pretty Mama", since the friend who found her is Puerto Rican and has been baby-talking her in Spanish so she responds very well to it).

She's got a little bit of contact dermatitis on her neck and head, likely from a cheap, OTC topical flea and tick medication like Hartz, which is widely available here. She's about a week from popping and I promise lots of pics of the new kittens when they arrive!