LSU vet school open house proves popular attraction

Wendy Lincoln corralled her Netherland dwarf rabbit atop a pamphlet-lined table at the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine on Saturday, while children, parents and onlookers scurried for a chance to pet the furry creature.

Lincoln’s fur-ball friend, the smallest rabbit breed in the world, is one of hundreds of rabbits rescued by the Magic Happens Rabbit Rescue, which specializes in rabbit rescue but also houses the occasional guinea pig.

The rabbit rescue group was among several participating in the LSU vet school’s 32nd annual open house. Other participants were the Capital Area Animal Welfare Society, Baton Rouge Kennel Club, Louisiana Capital City Obedience Club and BREC’s Baton Rouge Zoo.

“Rabbits are the third most surrendered animals in the country, behind cats and dogs,” Lincoln said. “We have rescued almost 900 rabbits since 2004. It started with one rabbit and grew from there.”

Guests lined up en masse in front of the vet school nearly a half hour before the 9 a.m. opening time. They began the self-guided tour and were met with different exhibits offering the opportunity to observe, learn and, of course, get a close-up look at the animals.

Megan Bonacci, third-year veterinary medicine student, helped oversee a station where visitors could help prep an animal for surgery. A fluffy pillow served as the sedated animal, which had incision lines and lay still and ready for operation.

Eager children lined up to test their hand at surgery prep. They placed “sterile” towels on the pretend animal, then used clamps to prepare for an incision.

Organizers expect more than 5,400 visitors this year, surpassing the number that attended last year’s open house. Among the list of interesting displays attracting the broad audience were a petting zoo, an equine treadmill and a teddy bear repair station.

A favorite among the crowd was the “fistulated cow,” which means the animal has an opening cut into its stomach serving as an easy access point for research and monitoring of digestive functions. The process doesn’t harm the animal, researchers said.

A large, snaking line led up to the station, where gloved hands disappeared into the animal’s side.

“It was warm,” said Danica Tate, 14. “It’s real hot in a cow’s belly.”

Tate, unfazed by the rather graphic nature of fistulation, was excited by the extensive resources surrounding her. The aspiring veterinarian traveled from Gravette, Ark., with her state’s 4-H group.

She and her mother Denise made the rounds with other 4-H members, noting a few favorites of the day included the equine treadmill and booths that focused on animal anatomy.

The LSU School of Veterinary Medicine is the only vet school in the state and only one of 28 in the country. So, the school often attracts students from all reaches of the U.S.

Vicky Kelly, second-year veterinary medicine student from Del City, Okla., was at a table containing pathological biological science specimens like ticks and other parasites. She and a handful of her classmates were demonstrating how those in the vet field conduct different types of research.

Kelly made the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine her choice after experiencing what it had to offer and recognizing the potential she could have there.

“I did an internship at the vet school and decided to come back,” Kelly said. “I wanted more hands-on experience.”

This year’s theme was “Discover Veterinary Medicine,” which revolves around the different facets of veterinary medicine about which people may not know much. Veterinarians do a lot with research beyond caring for domesticated house pets, and by visiting the open house, people get a sense of that, said Gretchen Morgan, LSU School of Veterinary of Medicine director of alumni relations.

“We are trying to make people more aware of all the different facets of veterinary medicine,” Morgan said. “It’s an awareness builder. It also lets people know the vet school is here. It shows them the organizations in the community that may be able to help them in some way.”