PULLMAN — Wearing a longer-than-tall surgical gown, TK Jones, 6, listened intently to his stuffed dog “Puppy”‘s fake heartbeat through a stethoscope.
The Pullman boy was helping to assess whether Puppy was stable enough to receive stitches. The puppy’s vital signs were good.
Soon he was being cared for by veterinary students from Washington State University. They tied wire to one of his paws and wrapped one of his legs in bandages.
The activity was part of an open house Saturday at the WSU College of Veterinary Medicine in Pullman that drew hundreds of people.
Dozens of children, including TK, brought their toys to the open house “Teddy Bear” clinic for repair. In doing so, they learned a bit of animal medicine from the third-year vet students who provided the imaginary treatments.
Each child had the chance to wear the same types of surgical gowns, caps and gloves that vets wear for surgery.
The students helped the boys and girls make plans to take care of their stuffed animals. Then the children took the steps with the veterinarians in training. Among the patients were a giant lavender teddy bear, a boa constrictor and a hyena.
For TK, much of the experience was familiar, said his mother, Connie Jones.
Her father is a veterinary student and TK wants to follow in his footsteps. At home, TK bandages the family’s pet dog and watches the microscope slides her father prepares for him, she said.
“I really like animals,” TK said.
Earlier in the event, Andrew Boharski helped 9-year-old Jillian Butcherite of Pullman repair a tear in the belly of her toy Pokemon named Leafeon, which also had a bandaged limb.
Boharski patiently showed Jillian the stages and let her know that once they were completed, the prank would no longer fall off the Pokemon.
“It’s our suture,” he said. “I’ll start it for you and then you can do it.”
Afterwards, Jillian said she was thrilled to have her Pokémon on the mend. The tear was so old that she can’t remember how it happened.
The experience gave her a little insight into the work of vets, she said.
“I learned that it’s kinda hard and it’s kinda easy,” Jillian said. “The stitching was a bit difficult to get through. … But the packing was really easy.
The children and students benefit greatly from the clinic, said Raelynn Farnsworth, chief medical officer of the WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital.
The clinic helps kids learn what happens when they take their pets to the vet, information that makes them less nervous when it happens for real, Farnsworth said.
“The (students) are so excited,” she said. “I think it energizes them for their profession. School is really difficult. It helps them remember why they are attending veterinary school.
The clinic was one of dozens of activities for families during the open house.
Not far from the clinic, a club of veterinary students specializing in marine animals organized a game on the challenges of restoring polluted waterways.
Using tongs, two players competed to see who could remove the most aluminum soda can tabs and plastic pieces in 30 seconds from water-filled basins while leaving the Swedish candy fish in square.
Less than two hours into the open house, what started out as clear, sparkling water was cloudy, said Aquatic Club president Crystal Liu.
The tags that were attached to the plastic had fallen off and were particularly difficult to grasp.
“It kind of shows how difficult it is to get trash out of the ocean,” Liu said. “Things sink down and float up.”
The crowd of people visiting the teddy bear clinic, playing Liu’s game and stopping in front of more than 20 booths, event coordinators said.
It was the first time he had been in person since the COVID-19 pandemic began, said Thomas LeClair, a first-year veterinary student, who led the efforts of the Student American Veterinary Medical Association of the WSU to host the open house.
Some institutional knowledge was lost and Pullman residents feared they would not remember it.
Those concerns disappeared just before the doors opened, LeClair said.
People were waiting outside. A total of 50 children and 70 adults attended the open house in its first hour.
“There was a huge turnout,” he said. “It was really exciting.”