Katie Dowling spent the fall season working hard and learning about a wide array of animals during her preceptorship at Fossil Rim Wildlife Center.
The Cincinnati native was in Texas from Sept. 17 to Oct. 25. She earned her degree in animal science at Ohio State and is currently in her fourth-and-final year of veterinary school at the university.
“I knew Fossil Rim was similar to a facility we have in Ohio called ‘The Wilds’, but I didn’t have experience working with free-ranging animal populations or much hoofstock experience at all,” Dowling said. “It was hard to know exactly what this would be like before I got here, but it has been an amazing experience. There was definitely a learning curve at the beginning because you get right to work.”
Speaking of a learning curve, she has not always been so immersed in the world of animals.
“I actually never owned a pet before veterinary school,” Dowling said. “I do remember my first animal experiences going to the Cincinnati Zoo; zoos have always been a really important part of my life because that’s where I got my animal exposure early on. I definitely feel like I’m making up for lost time.”
Dowling discovered Fossil Rim while on her college campus.
“At Ohio State, we have a list of programs that vet students have done before,” she said. “I believe I am the first preceptee from Ohio State in many years, but the program was still listed so I checked into the Fossil Rim website and it seemed like such a great opportunity. That’s how I ended up at Fossil Rim during my (clinical) year.”
During her final day at the wildlife center, Dowling seemed like she was ready to do the preceptorship all over again.
“This blew away all my expectations,” she said. “I remember my first day; we went out to do a neonate exam on a sable antelope. We jumped in the truck, found the baby and got right into the exam. It was surreal being in the back of a truck because normally I’m stuck in a clinic all day. It was hard at first, getting my bearings, but it’s been awesome here.”
Dowling managed to pin down some of her most memorable experiences at Fossil Rim.
“One thing that really stands out to me is the day we treated ‘Groot’ the cheetah after a rattlesnake bite,” she said. “It was a really interesting procedure to be a part of with a good outcome. Being involved on the research side of things with the (inflammatory bowel disease) study for the wolves, doing sample collection, seeing the endoscopic procedure and how the test results are applied – all of that was memorable.
“We have an addax we have been treating almost since my first day, and being involved in her case also stands out to me. I loved working with her and alongside the animal care staff on her behalf.”
As it turns out, a species mentioned in standout experiences turned up again during another topic – favorite animal at Fossil Rim.
“This is a tough decision because I like working with all of them,” Dowling said. “I would say coming in that I was drawn to the carnivores, but now that I’ve spent time with the hoofstock I think I’m leaning that direction. I really like the addax now. They are fun, and I think working with the one in particular for so long swayed my opinion.”
Dowling appreciated the help she received from the staff to maximize her experience at Fossil Rim.
“(Veterinarians) Dr. Holly (Haefele) and Dr. Julie (Swenson) were both great to learn from,” she said. “I loved riding in the van for the many taxonomy lessons with Dr. Julie and working with Dr. Holly to care for that addax was awesome. (Veterinary Technician) Allyssa (Roberts) has been amazing. She does so much for the department; she was gone for a week when I was here and I struggled trying to fill her shoes.
“I shared an office with (Fellowship Veterinarian) Dr. Becky (Eddy), and it was great getting to know her. She helped me a lot and offered good insight and mentorship advice. The animal care staff – I think I worked with everyone – it’s been great getting to work with all of them.”
Dowling pointed to some particular activities she thinks will really pay off professionally as she moves forward.
“I think the hoofstock experience I got was really invaluable, because I didn’t have any coming in,” she said. “I drew blood and placed catheters; I learned a lot about anesthesia for wild species – seeing darting in action is a completely different story than reading about it. Working with the animal care team, as well as the animal health team, on field anesthesia was new and a great experience.”
Shortly before her preceptorship ended, Dowling did a presentation on a project she’d been working on.
“I presented an overview of zoonotic diseases, which deals with the transmission of disease between people and animals,” she said. “I think it’s such an important part of what we do – to not only protect ourselves, but to protect the animals in the collection, as well. The general public should know the risk when they visit, but as long as they follow the right steps, disease transmission can be prevented. I focused on rabies, leptospirosis, anthrax, and intestinal pathogens.”
As she nears graduation from veterinary school, Dowling has her plans in order.
“I’ll finish up my clinical year, which includes my time at Ohio State, plus I’m going to two other facilities in early 2019 – the Toledo Zoo and the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha,” she said. “After graduation, I hope to get one of the year-long internships I’m applying for right now. I’m looking to get additional training after vet school and hopefully progress into more zoo-specific internships and possibly residency.”
Now that she has completed a Fossil Rim preceptorship, Dowling had some advice to share for those following in her footsteps.
“I’d want them to know that it is what you make of it; you have to be willing to get involved and try to do new things, especially if it’s something you might not be comfortable or familiar with,” she said. “Also, enjoy your time here in this amazing facility working with wonderful people to care for fascinating animals. Enjoy it while you can, because six weeks is not long enough for me.”
Dowling encourages new Fossil Rim visitors to get the most they can out of their visit.
“Fossil Rim has such a great collection of animals here, and there is such profound work being done in the field of wildlife conservation,” she said. “Fossil Rim does a great job of promoting that, but I’m not sure a person who has never been here would understand that. I think they should come see what we have to offer and keep an open mind. Take a guided tour and learn a lot from one of our great tour guides.”
-Tye Chandler, Marketing Associate