Aspca Animal Poison Control Center Veterinary Technicians Respond To Emergencies With Team Work, Tenacity

“My dog just ate an ant trap!” “My cat chewed up my Easter Lilly!” “I’m sure my Beagle swallowed my blood pressure pills!” “Will the weed killer I just put on the pasture hurt my horses?”

Karen Swain takes a detailed history and answers a concerned owner’s questions.

These questions and thousands more like them are answered each day by the veterinary technicians on staff at the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center. Established in 1978, the Center provides assistance to pet owners and veterinarians who need answers quickly about toxic chemicals, dangerous plants, products, or other substances via a 24-hour-a-day, seven day a week hotline. Staffed by 25 veterinarians, including five board-certified veterinary toxicologists and 10 certified veterinary technicians, the Center is located in Urbana, Ill., and is an allied agency of the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine.

Veterinary technicians play a huge role at the Center, where success often relies on staff members working together to quickly handle an emergency call. On a recent day at the Center, Karen Swain, a veterinary technician, takes a call from a concerned pet owner whose overactive dog helped itself to a gel-filled cold pack. Veterinary technicians who answer the phones like Swain follow a protocol that allows them to gather information in a very efficient manner. Calmly, Swain takes an accurate history from the owner, detailing the dog’s symptoms, and checks her database for the contents of the cold pack . . . all at the same time. The database of information available to Swain and the other veterinarians and veterinary technicians handling the calls at the Animal Poison Control Center is extensive. After entering the information on one of two computer screens in front of her, Swain talks to a staff veterinarian before giving further instructions for the owner. On a given day, she may handle up to 50 calls similar to this one. In fact, in 2001 alone, the Center handled more than 65,000 cases.

While Karen Swain fields phone calls, veterinary technicians Tamara Foss and Mindy Bough play a different role at the Center. Foss comes from Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky, and she does research on new and existing products to determine their individual components. Foss’ research is critical because in order for the staff at the Center to accurately answer questions about how a particular substance may affect an animal, they must have the contents of the product readily available.

Working with Animal Poison Control Center has many perks including being able to bring your dog to work.

Bough, a graduate of Parkland College in Champaign, Ill., is responsible for the development of the vast library system that the Center staff has at its fingertips. She gathers and catalogs information on every conceivable animal species and develops clinical and therapeutic information to be used in the call center. The Center’s web site, is also Bough’s responsibility and is built with the consumer in mind. Much information can be found on the web site regarding pet safety, including press releases and tips on protecting pets from common but dangerous household hazards. The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center Web site was also recently expanded to provide information and answer questions for the public on the recent outbreak of the West Nile Virus.

The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center is a true example of the veterinary team at work. Most of the calls to the Center are urgent in nature with an animal’s life potentially on the line. Although this type of atmosphere could translate into stress for the staff, the environment at the Center is anything but stressful. Employees bring their dogs to work, and sit in an open environment where they can immediately get support or advice from a co-worker, or from the Center’s state-of-the-art informational database. Information specific to animal poisoning as well as an extensive collection of individual cases ” more than 500,000 ” involving pesticide, drug, plant, metal and other exposures in food-producing and companion animals is contained here. It is truly comforting to know that this team is on the job when you need them.

NAVTA is a nonprofit organization that represents and promotes the profession of Veterinary Technology. NAVTA provides direction, education, support, and coordination for its members, and works with other allied professional organizations for the competent care and humane treatment of animals. Incorporated in 1981, NAVTA is the national organization devoted exclusively to developing and enhancing the profession of veterinary technology.


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