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Dog Doctors Turn Kids On

by David Pittman



When Carrie Unger took a pair of Bernese Mountain Dogs to a local elementary school, she got immediate and dramatic results. One frightened girl even jumped on top of her desk when these two “Dog Doctors” ambled into the room. Less than an hour later, the same little girl cried when “Jack” and “Alison” couldn’t come home with her.

Paige Carmichael, professor of pathology at the University of Georgia’s College of Veterinary Medicine, assisted by veterinary students like Unger, travels to schools to speak to kids about veterinary careers.

“Lots of children, particularly in underprivileged and minority demographics, are not aware of and therefore not interested in careers in veterinary medicine,” Carmichael said. It’s important to reach them when they’re young, she added. “If they don’t see this field as an option now, they probably won’t seriously consider it when they get older.”

A short program introduces clinical and laboratory aspects of veterinary medicine. Kids listen to the dogs’ heartbeat with stethoscopes and look at X-rays of the animals while Carmichael explains how the dogs are used in her research — such as on a disease that affects the liver and brain — while remaining beloved family pets.

The Dog Doctors program introduces children to the pleasures and responsibilites of pet ownership while exposing them to career possibilities in research and veterinary medicine.

“I may not always spark an interest in veterinary medicine,” she said, “but I may at least spark an interest in animals and a comfort with pet ownership.”

Soon after the program’s inception it became apparent to Carmichael that even people who’ve had some familiarity with pets and veterinarians are often unaware of the field’s varied manifestations. Teachers and administrators were often surprised to learn that lots of veterinarians, like physicians, are specialized. “While many vets are still general practitioners and treat all diseases in all animals, with additional training we can specialize in treating skin or brain diseases or even non-traditional animals like dolphins and kangaroos,” Carmichael said.

So she expanded the program to include the full range of Georgia schools, though she continues to target mainly the elementary ages. Unger herself was introduced to dogs in primary school, and seeing children’s reactions reminds her of why she got into veterinary medicine in the first place. “It makes me feel like we make a difference,” she said.

For more information, access This program is supported in part by a grant from the Office of the Vice President for Public Service and Outreach at UGA.


Research Communications, Office of the VP for Research, UGA
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