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Veterinarian Technician November 2006 (Vol 27, No 11) Focus: Equine Medicine

On the Cover: "A Talk with Kim Corby, LVT"

by Andrea Vardaro Tucker

    Kim Corby, LVT, has achieved a great deal during her 13-plus years of working with animals. Her greatest success, however, comes not from her day job but from volunteer work. "I use my skills and knowledge to educate others about animals," Kim explains. "I give back to the community and receive so much more in return."

    Giving back is important to Kim. As a self-proclaimed underdog who overcame personal struggles and loss to finally graduate with honors and become a licensed technician at the age of 40, Kim finds herself drawn to helping other underdogs — her dog Trooper being the prime example.(Trooper's story appears on page 242 of our April 2003 issue.)

    Kim's story is brimming with proof of the transformative power of an animal's love and touching examples of how animals and humans can inspire each other to achieve things they could never accomplish alone.

    What role have mentors played in your life?

    My mom was a profound influence on me. Since I was a child, she instilled in me a sense of commitment and dedication to everything that I do and taught me to believe that life really is only made up of what we put into it. She passed away from ovarian cancer at the tender age of 58. Her courage and perseverance while dealing with her mortality taught me lessons I may never be able to put into words.

    As her sole caregiver, I realized that life is way too short to not strive to be all that you want to and can be. I decided to become a technician because I felt — and still feel — that it's what I'm meant to do. My passion for animals is fierce, and I wanted to be able to give that to them. I know that my mom is looking down on me today and proudly telling all the other angels, "That is my daughter."

    And then there is Ann Wortinger, LVT, VTS (ECC). There isn't anything this woman can't do or doesn't at least try to do. Ann and I became friends when we worked together at Michigan Veterinary Specialists in South­field, Michigan. We traveled to seminars together, and Ann encouraged me to work on my writing and speak at a conference. She has always been be­hind me 150% and encourages me to reach for the stars. She's an inspiration to me and a real asset to our profession.

    Tell us about your other great inspiration.

    Trooper and I have been together since he was 10 days old, when he survived life-threatening surgery for a peritoneopericardial diaphragmatic hernia. Without surgery, he wouldn't have survived another day.

    I knew from the moment I first held his tiny, 1-lb body in my hands that, if he were to survive, he would be destined to do great things. Trooper is now 6-1/2 years old and the light of my life. He's a difference maker in this world and certainly a miracle in my life. I do a lot of work with good, sweet dogs that are calmer than Trooper (he tends to be a bit exuberant), but when it comes to knowing which person to help, he just automatically senses it.

    Trooper received his Canine Good Citizen title and therapy dog license in 2004. He's also the first and only Pet Supplies Plus canine "Pet Apprentice" (think the Donald Trump show, but for pets) and a member of Pet-a-Pet, Therapy Dogs Inc., Dog Scouts of America (he passed the "Dog Scout" test for exemplary behavior in 2005 and has since earned his Puppy Paddlers badge, First Aid badge, and Art of Shaping badge for painting with his paws), and Dr. Paws of Michigan. Together, we volunteer at eight hospitals in the Detroit metro area, participate in fundraisers for the Make-a-Wish Foundation, and visit homeless shelters. At local schools, we teach children how to take care of pets and about zoonoses. Last year, we also participated in an outpatient program called Stepping Stone with the Children's Hospital of Michigan, helping kids with brain damage learn to use the damaged portion of their brain by interacting with Trooper. Because of the success of this program, Trooper won the Michigan Veterinary Medical Association's Therapy Companion Animal of the Year Award.

    Trooper is truly a unique dog. He would do anything I ask him to do. He's also quite adept at playing the drums and piano.

    How did Trooper acquire his musical skills?

    He won a scholarship to Dog Scouts of America, a camp that helps pet owners teach their dogs to behave better. With the camp counselors' help, I taught Trooper to paint with his paws. After that, I've found that you can teach a dog how to do anything. They had an all-dog band there, so Trooper got some practice.

    When we got home, I searched garage sales for instruments. Trooper can tell his instruments apart and can play several, although he's been having a little bit of a problem playing the guitar! We were at the children's hospital recently, and Trooper accompanied the children's singing by batting on his tambourine and drums.

    What have you learned from Trooper?

    Trooper has taught me to live life to the fullest every single day, to stop and smell the flowers, to always do unto others what you would want done unto you. He has taught me about courage, strength, unconditional love, patience, perseverance, laughter, and serenity. There isn't anything that Trooper and I do together where we don't come out on top. I kind of use Trooper as a vehicle: Trooper wouldn't be where he is today if it weren't for me, and I wouldn't be where I am without him.

    Doing volunteer work with Trooper helps me to realize that there are others out there who aren't as fortunate as I am and that life isn't always as difficult or as overwhelming as I may think it is. I've always believed that pets make a huge difference in people's lives, and by providing pet therapy, I can make a difference, too.

    When did you first get involved in pet therapy?

    I've been involved in pet therapy for many years, but more so in the past 3 to 4 years. Tacia, my 12-1/2-year-old golden retriever that recently passed away, and I used to do therapy work years back. I saw the difference animals make in everyone's lives, especially the sick, the elderly, and the young. When my mother was ill, I witnessed the difference her little dog, Pepsi, and Tacia made in her final weeks. I realized then that I wanted to make an even bigger difference in other people's lives.

    How does pet therapy help?

    Some people who are hospitalized or in assisted-living homes have to adopt their pets out because they can't keep them, others because they may not leave the hospital at all. Children need something to look forward to during a hospital stay. What better than a huge, lovable dog to snuggle with?

    Animals give love so unconditionally, and they don't look at the elderly as old and frail. They put the spark back into people's eyes and get the elderly to use their arthritic hands by petting them. They encourage suffering children to laugh and play and help kids eat their meals by begging for the food themselves. They do funny little tricks that make patients laugh and forget about the next medical test coming their way.

    They are just amazing, and they do this all just by being themselves. There isn't anything more rewarding than seeing someone smile when you walk into the room with your therapy dog.

    You also volunteer your time to help needy animals.

    Yes, I foster animals and find them suitable, lasting homes. My goal is to one day buy a big, dilapidated farmhouse with barns and stables and turn it into a sanctuary for old, frail, sick, and unwanted senior pets.

    Geriatric pets pull at my heartstrings. Something about their mannerisms just melts me, and their eyes are truly the windows to their souls. They are so distinguished, and I can just imagine the stories they could tell if they could talk. Plus, more and more unwanted geriatric animals are being dropped off at shelters. These pets have dedicated most of their lives to loving their owners and deserve to receive that love back, especially at the end of their lives.

    How do you help honor pets that have died?

    Often, grief over the loss of a pet is not acknowledged in our society. But today, pets are considered a part of the family, and the loss is significant. This needs to be recognized and honored accordingly.

    At Michigan Veterinary Specialists, I started an annual memorial service called Walk the Rainbow Bridge for clients and coworkers who lost their beloved pets that year. I had just lost my mom and gone through a divorce, so I was experiencing loss in a different aspect of my life. This service helped me continue to heal, as did my volunteer work. I hope to bring the service to Anchor Bay Veterinary Center in New Baltimore, Michigan, where I now work.

    What is the most important thing other technicians can learn from you?

    Because of our love for animals, technicians can make a real difference in our communities. Educating the public about the importance of pet care and the unconditional love pets provide us is a never-ending project.

    We are the authors of our own stories. Life is what you make of it, and you can do whatever you set your mind to. I want to make a difference in this world, and doing volunteer work with Trooper is my way of giving back what was so freely given to me — unconditional love!

    NEXT: Promoting Equine Medicine: American Association of Equine Veterinary Technicians