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As the veterinary technology program at Alfred State College continues to attract students, it also has begun attracting students' pets. In a move to ease separation anxiety (the students' or the pets'), and to expose vet tech students to different species, the Agriculture and Horticulture Department has established a vivarium, an enclosed area, for keeping and raising animals for observation and/or teaching basic techniques that are used in research and veterinary practice. Pet owners are responsible for the care and feeding of their animals, and the animals are used in the labs to instruct vet tech students on the handling and care of, sometimes, exotic species.
"The vivarium was established as a place to keep the laboratory and ‘exotic' species that are housed for our courses," notes Kathleen Bliss, '92, instructor in the vet tech program. "It was started in the small animal lab as that is where the same kind of animals were housed in the past. The lab is locked for the safety and security of the animals at all times," she adds.
At first, just mice, rats, gerbils, and hamsters inhabited the vivarium. When Bliss took over the lab animal course several years ago, she asked for a "few other critters" to help expand the class information and experience. Additions include two snakes that are permanent residents; Lilo and Stitch, oscars (a species of fish from the cichlid family; the species is also a popular aquarium fish); and Fred the Plecostomus (a general name for a type of freshwater tropical Central and South American fish. Plecos are extremely popular in aquaria for their ability to clean tanks by eating algae growth. Plecostomuses are omnivorous but, in the wild, feed mostly on plant material at night) that live in a donated 120 gallon tank.
In addition, every fall welcomes a guinea pig or two, ferrets, rabbits, and Bliss's painted turtle Rosie and Russian tortoise Gypsy. This fall there are two cockatiels (sweet-tempered birds found across the outback regions of inland Australia; they favor the Australian wetlands, scrublands, and bush lands) and a black-lined plated lizard (found in dry rocky semi-open habitats in central to southern Africa) on loan from SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor Vicki Bolton, Ag and Hort Department chair.
"We try to have some kind of birds so that students can learn about avian species. Most of the animals are used during the lab animal and exotics course. The students in that course are responsible for caring for and monitoring the animals. It gives them a better idea of what goes into their care, which may help them talk with clients in the future when consulting on choosing a pet," notes Bliss.