Dressed in a surgical gown longer than he was tall, T.K. Jones, 6, listened intently for the pretend heartbeat of his stuffed dog “Puppy” through a stethoscope.
The Pullman boy was helping assess if Puppy was stable enough to receive stitches. Puppy’s vitals were good.
Soon he was being attended to by Washington State University veterinary students. They fixed thread on one of his paws and wrapped one of his legs in bandages.
The activity was part of an open house Saturday at WSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine in Pullman that attracted hundreds of people.
Dozens of children, including T.K., brought their toys to the “Teddy Bear” clinic at the open house for repairs. In the process, they learned a little about animal medicine from the third-year veterinary students providing the imaginary treatments.
Every child had the chance to wear the same types of surgical gowns, caps and gloves that veterinarians don for surgery.
The students helped the boys and girls develop plans to care for their stuffed animals. Then the children did the procedures with the veterinarians in training. Among the patients were a giant lavender teddy bear, a boa constrictor and a hyena.
For T.K., much of the experience was familiar, said his mother, Connie Jones.
His dad is a veterinary student and T.K. wants to follow in his footsteps. At home, T.K. puts bandages on the family’s pet dog and looks at slides under a microscope that his dad prepares for him, she said.
“I like animals a lot,” T.K. said.
Earlier in the event, Andrew Boharski had helped Jillian Butcherite, 9, of Pullman fix a rip in the belly of her toy Pokemon named Leafeon, who also had a limb bandaged.
Boharski patiently showed Jillian the steps and let her know that once they were finished, the stuffing would no longer fall out of the Pokemon.
“This is our suture,” he said. “I’ll start it for you and then you can do it.”
Afterward, Jillian said she was pleased to have her Pokemon on the mend. The tear was so old she doesn’t recall how it happened.
The experience gave her a little insight into the job of veterinarians, she said.
“I learned it’s kind of hard and it’s kind of easy,” Jillian said. “The stitching was a little hard to get it through. … But the wrapping was really easy.”
Children and students gain a lot from the clinic, said Raelynn Farnsworth, chief medical officer of WSU’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital.
The clinic helps children learn about what happens when they take their pets to the vet, information that makes them less nervous when it’s happening for real, Farnsworth said.
“The (students) get so excited,” she said. “I think it kind of energizes them for their profession. School is really hard. This helps them remember why they are attending vet school.”
The clinic was one of dozens of activities for families at the open house.
Not far from the clinic, a club for veterinary students who specialize in marine animals had a game that taught about the challenges in restoring polluted waterways.
Using tongs, two players competed against each other to see who could remove the most aluminum soda can tabs and bits of plastic in 30 seconds from basins filled with water while leaving Swedish candy fish in place.
Less than two hours into the open house, what had started as sparkling clear water was murky, said Crystal Liu, president of the Aquatics Club.
Labels that had been attached to the plastic had fallen off and were particularly tricky to grab.
“It kind of shows how hard it is to remove trash from the ocean,” Liu said. “Things sink to the bottom and float to the top.”
The crowd of people visiting the teddy bear clinic, playing Liu’s game and stopping by more than 20 booths, was affirming to the event’s coordinators.
This was the first time it was held in person since the COVID-19 pandemic started, said Thomas LeClair, a first-year veterinary student, who led the effort of WSU’s Student American Veterinary Medical Association to put the open house together.
Some of the institutional knowledge was lost and there were worries Pullman residents might not remember it.
Those concerns disappeared just before the doors opened, LeClair said.
People were waiting outside. A total of 50 kids and 70 adults attended the open house just in its first hour.
“It’s been a huge turnout,” he said. “That’s been really exciting.”