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Ferrets In Veterinary Program

A ferret owner and rescuer is helping ferrets of tomorrow by introducing vet tech students to ferrets today.

Rebecca Stout
Posted: June 8, 2015, 3:45 p.m. EDT

two ferrets sleeping
Courtesy of Sandy Repper 
The faces of two ferret ambassadors!

Sandy Repper of New Mexico has championed ferrets much of her life in a variety of ways. She rescues ferrets and generously offers many of them sanctuary. She uses her creativity and talent for writing short stories and poems to inspire ferret lovers online. Her stories often appear on the Ferret Mailing List (FML) on the Internet. Ferrets have greatly benefited from her advocacy and her efforts to bring public awareness to them for many years. But she has possibly impacted ferret lives the most by doing the simplest of things. She has found a way to help save ferret lives in a tangible and far-reaching way just with some visits to a nearby college.

A Need For Ferrets In College
When Repper isn’t dancing with her weasel war dancing friends or watching her favorite hockey team, the Tampa Bay Lightning, she takes time to visit Central New Mexico Community College, (South Valley Campus) with her ferrets. Her ferrets aren’t going to college as students but as teacher aids in a veterinary technology lab. 

Dr. Daniel Levenson owns Southwest Veterinary Medical Center in Corrales, New Mexico. He has known Repper and treated her ferrets for the better part of 17 years, over which time he developed a great friendship with her. During his "off time,” Levenson is a guest lecturer at an accredited program that mostly relates to exotic animal medicine for licensed vet nurses at CNM. 
"There is one specific class where I need live animals so students can get a 'feel' of a live ferret — and other animals,” he said. "Lectures are good, but nothing is better than hands-on experience for learning about exotic pets and how to care for them!” 

When the need first arose, he immediately thought of Repper, and so he invited her and her furry little helpers to assist him with his lessons. 

Repper and her ferrets help Levenson address basic ferret care and common health issues found in ferrets, such as adrenal disease, insulinoma, lymphoma, arthritis, hemangiosarcoma (a cancer of the skin), mast cell tumors, cysts, broken canines and more.

Just as importantly, Repper talks with the students about what it is like to live with ferrets and answers questions about food, bedding, playtime and grooming. The visits also help the Technology program meet its accreditation standards for the CVTEA (Committee on Veterinary Technician Education and Activities) by helping students meet a long list of competencies; examples of these deal with ferret restraint, handling and basic care procedures. 

vet holding ferret
Courtesy of Sandy Repper 
Dr. Levenson said that meeting and holding a ferret is invaluable experience for vet tech students.

Meeting Ferrets Up Close
What does a usual visit involve? Repper explained.

"I bring the ferrets in after the class work for a lab on handling, how to do or assist the vet in doing tests, where things are located on a ferret, how to ask the client about the pet and what is going on,” she said. "When the vet is done, I give tips.” 

Those tips include giving a syringe full of FerreTone to distract a ferret during shots or implants.

"The students get to handle the ferrets, after cleaning their hands first,” Repper said. "I always insist on that, as does the vet. I let them know that some don’t react well to scruffing, so a treat may be the other alternative to anesthesia.” 

Although the visits are part of the school’s intensive lessons, they are also fun for everyone involved. After all, who wouldn’t want a visit from the adorable, little furry clowns? Levenson most certainly does. 

"I love their playful attitude and outlook on life,” he said. "I grew up on the movie Beastmaster where the ferrets were thieves and saved the day! After that, I was fascinated with them. Everything is either food or something to play with — or both.”

Best yet the ferrets also get a kick out of the visits. The movie The Beastmaster showcases how ferrets crave adventure. Although they have to tolerate the make-believe treatment demonstrations, they get to go on wonderful adventures and get extra cuddles from everyone at the school.

two ferrets in carrier
Courtesy of Sandy Repper 
In addition to the students learning about ferrets, the visits to the college also enrich the lives of the ferrets!

Spreading A Ferret Legacy
Amanda Archuleta is a very experienced, registered veterinary technician who teaches in the Veterinary Technology program. She is also very appreciative of the time that Repper gives to the school. 

"Ferret day is a fun day at school!” she said. "I enjoy giving the students opportunities to handle animals that they haven’t been able to before, animals that they won’t necessarily see in a lot of their clinical practices.” 

Passing on passion and hands-on knowledge of ferrets is one way Repper makes her mark in the world. 

"Sandy loves her ferrets and considers them her kids,” Archuleta said. "Her dedication to her ferrets and ferret rescue is obvious, and that dedication and passion helps pass enthusiasm for exotic animal medicine on to the students.”

Each one of the students who passes through those doors will carry real-world experience and personal knowledge that textbooks simply cannot provide. Repper’s love for ferrets is said to be contagious. Students can’t help but become "infected” themselves. As a result, a ripple effect takes place when students graduate from the classes and work with future patients and colleagues. Who knows how far reaching those ripples are and how many ferret lives might be saved as a result. 

"I will be there if the vet needs me, as long as I’m able to do it,” Repper said. "Helping out the ferret cause where and when I can.” 

As Repper’s experience shows, the cool thing about being a small animal champion is that there are unlimited ways you can do it. Anyone, and I do mean anyone, can benefit animals in very powerful and meaningful ways. Just get creative and think outside of the box to find them. 

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Posted: June 8, 2015, 3:45 p.m. EDT


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Ferrets In Veterinary Program

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Reader Comments
Hello, I was so very happy to read this, I am a ferret owner of 4 , and find it very hard to find a vet specialist that deals with ferrets. There are only 2 in about a 100 mile radius of were I live , which is not at all convenient for me if I have to rush my fuzbut to vets I'm looking at over and hour drive.. So we are in need of more Ferret Vets. This is good to read , that they are in deed letting vet techs no more about these guuys :).. Cant wait until there will be more Ferret Vets then just 2.. Thank you so much!.
ALEXANRIA, FUQUAY VARINA, NC
Posted: 1/9/2016 11:53:49 AM
I wonder if something similar could be done at veterinary schools. There seems to be a severe shortage of ferret knowledgeable vets around the U.S. Although having a student treat your ferret isn't ideal, in some parts of the country I wonder if treatment of ferrets at a veterinary school might be preferable to the treatment they receive at the hands of ferret-ignorant vets. I'm always shocked looking at ferret forums and hearing about the crazy things people experience and hear (and, unfortunately, often believe) from vets who know little or nothing about ferrets. Basic information about keeping ferrets in cool temperatures (below 75 F), feeding a meat-only diet, and spreading out vaccinations and being prepared for reactions never seems to reach many vets and ferret parents.
Kathy, Germantown, MD
Posted: 7/10/2015 1:58:43 PM
Fabulous article. I have had ferrets for 15 years, and am planning a relocation. I wish I could help the new local veterinarian physicians/staff, to take the interest and treatment for ferrets, not so scary. They do have their special medical concerns; but with a lot of interest/research, and hands on experience; will come to love the animals; and feel comfortable treating them.
Cathy Dayton, Sunset Beach, NC
Posted: 6/18/2015 5:12:11 AM
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