January 25, 2019

From Fossil Rim to career kicking into gear

Every veterinary preceptee has a story to tell, and the journey for Renee Jones has been unique in several respects.

A senior veterinary student at Ross University in The Caribbean, Jones will graduate on Jan. 31. She did her preclinical classroom work in St. Kitts & Nevis, her clinical year at the University of Tennessee, and she was a preceptee at Fossil Rim from Dec. 17 to Jan. 18.

Veterinary Preceptee Renee Jones conducts an optical exam on a sable antelope. Nearly a decade after she made weekend visits to Fossil Rim to study waterbuck, Jones returned to see some familiar faces and assist the animal health department before she officially becomes a veterinarian.

The native of Kansas City, Missouri has predominantly lived in Texas for the past 13 years. She attended Texas A&M and worked at the Dallas Zoo before going to veterinary school. Jones had previously made frequent visits to Fossil Rim back in 2010, driving from College Station on the weekends and sometimes staying in the Wolf Ridge Bunkhouses.

“I did my master’s research here with the African waterbuck through Texas A&M, so it was nice to come back after nearly 10 years and see a different aspect of Fossil Rim,” Jones said.

While it had been quite some time, the previous experience helped her know what to anticipate during this second stay.

“I knew I could expect lots of hands-on, fast-paced work,” she said. “At the same time, you’re dealing with potentially dangerous animals, so you watch and learn and stay on high alert for safety. The staff does such an amazing job, so I was excited to learn from them. I wasn’t expecting to learn so much about taxonomy and push myself to learn about the relationships among all the different species.

“I have done several zoo and wildlife externships, but it’s always enjoyable to get that hands-on experience. I felt really comfortable here.”

Renee Jones appreciated how much Fossil Rim veterinarians, including Dr. Rebecca Eddy (center), invested into her learning about all things animal health.

Even though it was nine years ago, Jones recalls a number of Fossil Rim staff members from those days.

“I met (Director of Animal Health Dr.) Holly (Haefele) back in 2010 when they were vasectomizing a waterbuck,” Jones said. “She probably doesn’t remember that, but I remember her, (Director of Animal Care) Adam (Eyres) and (Executive Director) Kelley (Snodgrass) from back then. Holly is just as witty now as she was then, and the animals are still her top priority.

“She brings a great energy. I even remember meeting (Intern Coordinator) Kristen (Culp) when she worked in animal care.”

When prompted, Jones reeled off a number of her favorite experiences from the preceptorship.

“I really enjoyed the darting practice to help me get better,” she said. “(Associate Veterinarian Dr.) Julie (Swenson) did an amazing job teaching me and showing me what I was doing wrong. I didn’t realize I was exhaling when shooting and dropping the barrel. That’s a good skill to have as I pursue this career field.

“We did a necropsy on a sable antelope, and it was fascinating. Working with Holly and Julie at the same time, going through our dissections, was very memorable. You hate to euthanize an animal, but to find out exactly why it needed to be done is rewarding, and you never want an animal to suffer.

“I have always enjoyed cheetah procedures, and it’s good to see how facilities do them differently. Even though a cheetah is (anesthetized), it’s always exciting when it’s a hands-on procedure with such a beautiful animal.

“Also, I got to do my first-ever vasectomy on a fallow deer. The vets make it look easy, but it’s a lot more challenging than I thought. Fortunately, (Fellowship Veterinarian Dr.) Becky (Eddy) was great to help me step-by-step.”

Renee Jones reverses anesthesia that was used on a cheetah during a medical exam.

As far as her favorite animals at Fossil Rim, it turned out to be a blend of familiar and new.

“The waterbuck will always have a special place in my heart, and the herd has grown tremendously,” Jones said. “They are so fluffy; you just want to hug them. Also, you can’t help but love the baby white rhinos.

“I’d never seen one in real life before. ‘Blake’ is definitely my favorite; that little guy is so sweet and wants all the loving.”

In the animal health department and beyond, Jones really appreciated the staff helping to maximize her experience.

“The knowledge base of Holly, Julie and Becky was very helpful for me,” she said. “They guided me every step of the way. Whether it was showing me how to do an arterial blood draw or completing the paperwork for bloodwork, they’ve all been great. (Veterinary Technician) Allyssa (Roberts) has been amazing, refreshing me on my tech skills and anesthesia monitoring.

“Fossil Rim is lucky to have her; she knows her stuff and gets the job done. I got to work with (Senior Animal Care Specialist – Hoofstock) Justin (Smith), and I was surprised to find out our high schools were less than five miles apart in Topeka (Kansas), plus we graduated the same year. He is always calm, lays the plan out and then executes it.

“I definitely enjoyed working with him. (Animal Care Specialist) Molly (Shea) has a lot of energy and knows her stuff; what an amazing, strong young lady.

“They were all influential, and you definitely notice how well the animal health and animal care staff flow together. I was happy I didn’t throw any monkey wrenches into the process while helping them out daily.”

Renee Jones joins her fellow Fossil Rim interns in draining infertile ostrich eggs that can be used for education and other purposes.

It is an exciting time for Jones, as her career awaits.

“My previous externship hired me on this (past) summer,” she said. “They own about 30 hospitals in Texas, so I’ll be doing small animal and companion exotics in North Houston. If the opportunity to move over to mixed animal practice comes up, I’d be interested. I don’t want to leave Texas, but you never know how life will play out.”

For someone who has been to 38 states and six countries thus far, why Texas?

“I love the weather in Texas,” she said. “I’m a weenie now; if it’s below 60 degrees, I’m freezing, so Houston is a better fit for me than Dallas. Texans are a very welcoming, kind people. The food is amazing here, especially Tex-Mex and street tacos; I still miss my Kansas City barbecue, though.”

Perhaps most importantly, at the conclusion of her Fossil Rim preceptorship, Jones shared some improvements to her skillset she feels will really pay off.

“When it comes to anesthesia monitoring for blood pressure, CO2 output, heartrate, and (electrocardiograms), I feel a lot more comfortable with it now, and will definitely use that in the future,” she said. “Reading and interpreting bloodwork has been difficult, but Julie gave me an outline of the four main questions I should be asking every time I read results. You are able to gather the data, but what does it mean? Again, I feel more comfortable with that than when I arrived.”

She hopes prospective preceptees will put Fossil Rim in their crosshairs.

“There are very few places like Fossil Rim,” she said. “Seeing the expertise with which the different departments work together will be great for a preceptor to witness. Even in an open field oftentimes, work is done with great efficiency. You need to be ready to go at any time, because anything can happen.

“Don’t be afraid to jump in and help, especially if you know what you are doing. Being a wallflower isn’t helpful here, because it takes a lot of hands to pick up 100 kilos of animal.”

Thinking back to her arrival in 2010, Jones encourages people just now discovering Fossil Rim to come see what it is all about.

“The biodiversity of species and how well they intermingle, even though you might never see them together in the wild, is memorable,” she said. “The topography of Fossil Rim reminds me a lot of Africa, plus you can see animals exhibiting natural behavior among a vast, open space. Seeing animals among the hills is picture-perfect.”

Renee Jones enjoys another winter day at Fossil Rim while waiting to collect fecal samples from roan antelope.

Many preceptees have their interest in animals sparked during childhood, and that was the case for Jones.

“I’m having my graduation party at the Kansas City Zoo,” she said. “It’s down the street from where my grandparents lived when I was a girl, and that’s where my love of animals started. It will be nice to celebrate being the first doctor in my family.”

-Tye Chandler, Marketing Associate 


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