South Tech Academy student Michele Calaminus dries 4-year-old Jack, a schnauzer/lab mix during class. She is a senior in SouthTech Academy’s Veterinary Assisting Program and is the owner of Jack. TIm Stepien/The Coastal Star
By Arden Moore
As we usher in a new year, it is heartening to learn of teenagers leading the youngest generation toward becoming lifelong advocates and caretakers of dogs, cats and other companion animals. And, we don’t have to venture beyond Palm Beach County’s borders to illustrate this.
Case in point: About 150 animal-loving students at the veterinary assisting academy at South Tech Academy in Boynton Beach go beyond the typical high school required classes in English, geometry and biology. They also earn credit for completing eight elective veterinary classes during their four years at this charter school.
In addition to comprehending classroom lectures and passing challenging written tests, these students must also demonstrate proficiency in bathing dogs, clipping the nails of cats, performing fecal tests and learning the safest ways to restrain an injured animal.
At the helm inspiring and providing them with hands-on skills is instructor Carolee Ellison, a seasoned dog trainer and educator.
“And yes, they scoop poop for a grade,” she adds with a laugh. “We do a lot of innovative teaching. Our students not only learn about dog and cat care, but also about horses, birds and reptiles.”
On a recent Wednesday, one of the daily classroom tasks involved bathing, brushing and giving “peticures” to a few dogs brought in from pet lovers in the community. It’s a win-win for all: the dogs, the students and the owners, who receive discounted rates for having students cater to their canines.
Among those bathing the dogs was Felix Reyes, a junior enrolled in the academy. Growing up, this 16-year-old from Delray Beach thought he wanted to become a veterinarian. This lifelong animal lover is one year from entering college, but after obtaining hands-on learning opportunities at South Tech Academy, Reyes realizes that he would much rather become a veterinarian technician.
“When I was young, I got this idea that I wanted to be a veterinarian because I love animals so much, but now I realize how much school and work is involved to become one,” says Reyes, a proud owner of a pair of pit bull mixes named Bear and Poseidon. “The vet assisting academy has helped me identify the direction I really want to go — and that’s to become a veterinarian technician instead.”
That’s what this school offers — choices. And opportunities. Word about this successful academy has spread into the pet community. Some students, according to Ellison, land part-time jobs in veterinary clinics and grooming shops while still in high school.
“Not only do many go to work at veterinary clinics and other places, but any pet they own will be better off for what they’ve learned in our school,” adds Ellison.
Reyes agrees. “I’ve learned how to be calm and confident not only around Bear and Poseidon, but other animals as well. You need to be calm and confident so you do not stress out the animal under your care. I’ve also learned to be kind when teaching them something or interacting with them.”
One outreach program involves students working with Ellison to obedience train retired greyhounds, which are then paired with military veterans who may have a physical limitation or struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder. Upon training completion, these service dogs are ready to serve the veterans in need.
“This is all part of the Hounds and Heroes program,” explains Ellison. “The students and I are helping veterans who put their lives on the line. We have to individually train each dog to meet each individual veteran’s needs. The students want to help others and this is a wonderful program.”
Students also do fundraisers to cover the cost to take field trips, such as to St. Petersburg to tour a veterinary tech school and see firsthand what the college curriculum entails.
“We’ve offered this veterinary assisting academy for 10 years and what the students learn has turned out to be great for animals, the community and our students,” says Ellison. “I have the best job in the world.”
Book an appointment
Got a dirty dog? Or a shaggy one? Or a stinky cat with nails in need of trimming? Students in the veterinary assisting academy at South Tech Academy are eager to make your pet look his or her best.
Rates are $25 to bathe a dog or cat, $25 to shave small dogs and $30 to shave large dogs. The fee includes brushing and nail trimming as well as expressing anal glands and cleaning eyes and ears.
Next available dates to book an appointment are Jan. 8, 14, 21 and 27 and Feb. 4, 10, 19 and 25.
You must show that your pet is up to date on the rabies vaccine. And, the following breeds are not permitted: Doberman, German shepherd, pit bull and Rottweiler.
To book an appointment, call 369-7043 or email Carolee Ellison at email@example.com. South Tech Academy is at 1300 SW 30th Ave., Boynton Beach.
Arden Moore, founder of FourLeggedLife.com, is an animal behavior consultant, editor, author, professional speaker and master certified pet first aid instructor. Each week, she hosts the popular Oh Behave! show on PetLifeRadio.com. Learn more by visiting www.fourleggedlife.com.