Vet students get hands-on experience at a local dog show

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Watching Australian cattle dogs fly over jumps and border collies sprint through tunnels has given student vet Natalia Sytch a greater appreciation for purebred dogs and their abilities.

“Right now it’s popular for people to go and adopt dogs from shelters, and it has to happen,” said Sytch, a sophomore at the College of Veterinary Medicine who competed in the 36th Wine Country Circuit Dog Show, held on September 29. through October 1 at Sampson State Park in Romulus, New York.

“But there’s a kind of lack of appreciation for purebred dogs,” Sytch said. “It’s really impressive to see how the animals can be trained, and how skilled and intelligent they are. And that’s not necessarily something you can get if it’s not a purebred animal.

The agility event is a pre-set obstacle course featuring tunnels, weaving poles, jumps and seesaws.

Sytch was one of 20 students who participated in the dog show‘s mentorship program, which pairs Cornell veterinary students with breeders, judges and dog club exhibitors. The program was launched in 2021 by Sue Hamlin, the now-retired executive director of Cornell’s Baker Institute for Animal Health. Modeled after a similar program at Tufts University, the mentorships help familiarize veterinary students with some of the 200 breeds the American Kennel Club recognizes as purebreds, Hamlin said.

“They’re going to see good ones, and they’re going to see bad examples of the breed,” she said. “And some of these dogs that you rarely see, at least in a certain part of the country.”

Sytch met Russ Hastings, president of the Elmira Kennel Club and the Finger Lakes Afghan Hound Club, who told him that the lean, lanky Labradors competing in the agility event were “field labs,” trained to mimic the jobs they were originally raised to do.

“Now there’s no other purpose but to be a companion,” Sytch said of most pets. “So doing agility training is really valuable. Because when owners engage their dogs in this type of training, it’s actually very healthy for the dog behaviorally and mentally. It gives them goals, something to work towards, keeps them busy, and prevents negative behavior. And as future veterinarians, we can ask our clients, “Have you ever considered competing with your dog?” Do you know this kind of training?

Vet students hung out at the vet tent to watch Cornell residents caring for show dogs. Left to right: Veterinary student Anna Lia Sullivan, Neurology resident Dr. Patti Lawler, Veterinary student Hannah Flamme, and Veterinary student Amber Davis.

In addition to students participating in the mentorship program, another group shadowed Cornell veterinarians who provided free medical care to show dogs and answered questions from owners.

While following neurology resident Dr. Patti Lawler, student vet Hannah Flamme saw an English lab enter the vet tent with a paw laceration that occurred before the competition. Despite being given antibiotics, her owners feared it wouldn’t heal. Flamme said Lawler quickly got down on the floor to do a physical exam and let her check the paw.

“Fortunately, it was at a time when we didn’t really have to do much,” Flamme said. “But I think they were just happy to hear from a veterinary professional that the injury was not something that needed to be treated urgently. It gave them peace of mind that they were doing what they wanted. required for a highly prized show animal.

Show dogs line up for the conformation event where they are measured on how well they conform to their particular breed standard.

Later that day, they saw a Scottish hunting dog suffering from diarrhoea. Lawler determined that the owner’s choice of treats—chicken necks—may have been too hard on his stomach, especially when dealing with the stresses of travel, and advised a change in diet.

“She was a great teacher,” Flamme said of Lawler. “I really admired her communication skills. She did a great job of briefly and eloquently explaining to owners exactly what was going on with their pet.

Sytch also said the experience helped her learn how to communicate with knowledgeable breeders. His mentor explained how frustrating it can be for breeders to interact with disregarding vets.

“[Hastings] says, ‘When you go to the vet as a breeder, sometimes you’ve bred this [breed of] dog for 40 years. So when we come to see you at the veterinary clinic, give us at least a few minutes of your attention and listen to what we have to say, even if you know better. We really appreciate it,” Sytch said.

Flamme said she thinks her experience at the dog show will be invaluable in her future career as a small animal GP.

“I know that one day I will have clients in the breeding and show industry,” Flamme said. “I now have a greater appreciation for what they do and the time, energy, attention and compassion that is devoted to what they do.”

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