FAIRMONT — On a snowy Saturday afternoon, local veterinary tech students earned hands on experience as they provided curbside service to local pet owners.

Students at Pierpont Community and Technical College pampered area dogs by offering nail trims and warm baths inside the Hunt-Haught Hall vet tech lab on campus. Students carefully clipped each dogs nails before lifting them into a metal basin where they lathered and rinsed their coats. Since last March, the dog washing events have been on pause due to restrictions from COVID-19.

Usually, each month, area pet owners drive to the campus, walk in their pooch and sit in hallways until their dog is shiny and clean. But now, COVID has changed the rules.

Morgan Johnson, president of the Student Vet Tech Association, said the monthly dog wash events help fund the club’s educational activities throughout the school year.

“And it provides good experience for almost every student. Especially some that aren’t working in clinics. It gives us time to practice what we’ve learned in class and apply it in real situations,” said Johnson.

Vet techs learn a number of skills in school, ranging from surgical nursing to exotic animal nursing.

“You learn how to work on large animals, surgery protocol, how to clean instruments ... you know everything a human nurse would do and even more,” said Johnson.

Johnson works in a clinic herself, so it hasn’t been too hard for her to get hands-on experience during the pandemic. However, she said she knew it has been a struggle for some students especially because they can’t go to shelters and help out where they normally would gain much-need experience in the field.

“It’s been a little bit harder learning things in class and not being able to take them out to the real world,” she said.

Johnson said being able to connect with people and animals alike is the best part of the services provided Saturday.

“I think it’s really important,” she said.

Johnson’s fellow student,Jenna Westfall said the dog wash event helps her and her classmates sharpen their skills on the dogs and cats they cared for Saturday. She said during the pandemic it has been difficult to hold events like the dog wash due to their campus being closed to the public along with COVID safety guidelines in place.

“It was a struggle to try to hold it but we were very persistent that we wanted to do it and we made it work somehow,” said Westfall.

As an animal lover, Westfall said she loves meeting all the dogs and actually getting hands-on experience with them.

“With COVID we haven’t been able to do a whole lot with animals so getting to do stuff like this really helps us learn a lot,” she said.

Second-year vet tech student Mckayla Sloane loves her field of work and animals. She said it’s all about making animals feel better and getting them happy and healthy.

“It’s never boring and it’s always something different, so it makes it interesting everyday,” she said.

Sloane said working with animals hands on is a lot of fun but it can also be quite tiring.

“If you get a dog that may be on the more aggressive side you go to touch a toenail they may snip at you so then you have to figure out that situation and how to go from there. It’s definitely challenging,” she said.

Sloane echoed that it has been a challenge working with animals through the pandemic. A lot of vet offices are offering services curbside where techs travel in and out of the building and talk with pet owners over the phone.

“Also, too I was told by a doctor that a lot of people went over on their quarantine and got new pets, therefore we’re getting a bunch of new pets into the vet offices,” said Sloane.

She said the dog washing program is valuable because it gives the students an opportunity to use their skills.

“With these pet washes it helps our students out a lot. It helps us practice restraint before we go into the actual offices and deal with what’s really about to come at us,” she said.

Reach Sarah Marino at 304-367-2549

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