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Ward Tech students get head start on veterinary careers

Rachel Gorga, 16, left, of Manorville, and Ana

Rachel Gorga, 16, left, of Manorville, and Ana Figueroa, 18, of Hampton Bays, measure the vitals of Breezy, a 6-year-old Samoyed, on Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014. The two are students in the animal science program at H.B. Ward Technical Center in Riverhead. Credit: Tara Conry

Wearing scrubs and a stethoscope, Ana Figueroa, 18, of Hampton Bays, attended to her first patient of the day Wednesday -- a fluffy 6-year-old Samoyed named Breezy.

While her classmate, Rachel Gorga, 16, of Manorville, held the dog’s leash and looked at the stopwatch on her iPhone, Figueroa listened to the dog’s breathing.

Measuring a canine’s respiratory rate, pulse, temperature and weight are among the skills Figueroa and Gorga have learned through the animal science program at H.B. Ward Technical Center in Riverhead, part of the Eastern Long Island Academy of Applied Technology. But this was the first time they were performing these procedures on animals about to be examined by a veterinarian.

“It feels more professional,” said Gorga, a junior at Manorville High School and a first-year animal science student.

Veterinarian Jack Heller, of Westhampton Beach Animal Hospital, donated his time to turn the classroom into a clinic, offering some services by appointment to the public at reduced rates.

Lori Beckmann, a licensed veterinarian nurse who teaches the animal science and canine careers classes, said it took her eight years to find a veterinarian willing to work with her students, who use the class to explore potential careers in the veterinary field.

“This gives students an opportunity to not just work with me, but work with a professional and use their skills … in a clinical environment,” she said.

Heller said he embraced the opportunity to show the students what he does, provide pointers about handling animals and hopefully, inspire some future vets.

“We enjoy what we do and when they see that, it really makes them more interested in progressing in the field,” he said.

Throughout the day, the 27 students in the program worked the reception area, groomed the animals – 12 dogs and 1 cat – took their vitals and restrained them while Heller and his assistant conducted exams.

Juniors Sydney Huot, 17, of Miller Place, and Alexandra Norstrom, 16, of Southold, were tasked with holding Breezy’s sister, Molly, a 12-year-old Samoyed, while her blood was drawn.

“You really need to be on-point and know what you’re doing,” said Huot, of working alongside the vet.

Huot said the animal science program has been “fantastic” and plans to pursue a career in the field.

“I would like to get into a vet program,” she said. “I don’t really know if I’d be working with pets per say. I’d rather [work with] larger animals … horses or even ones in zoos.”

Every Friday, students offer low-cost pet grooming services to the public. To make an appointment, call 631-208-2015.

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