Wilbur is a happy, affectionate Golden Retriever mix who never walks anywhere, he trots. His favorite activities include running with mom at the track, taking a sniffing adventure with his sister Pork Chop, and keeping an eye peeled for the neighborhood cat. Wilbur is now living his best life thanks to the skilled doctors and staff at the Lois Bates Acheson Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

When Wilbur was just a puppy, he was diagnosed with an abnormal growth of cartilage in his shoulder, and referred to OSU for surgery. Dr. Jennifer Warnock, a professor and orthopedic surgeon, successfully removed the diseased cartilage and Wilbur’s shoulder got better. At the same time, Dr. Warnock discovered that Wilbur had hip dysplasia, a joint deformity common in some dog breeds. She recommended non-invasive treatments to strengthen his hips and minimize pain.

Over the next eight years, Wilbur’s mom, Debbie Franke, took good care of him, including regular physical therapy, and anti-inflammatory drugs, but eventually his hip dysplasia got worse. “His trot was painful, more like a bunny hop,” says Franke. This summer, she brought Wilbur back to OSU for a total replacement of his right hip.

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Suitcase recovery station in the free clinic in Falconiana, Costa Rica.

When protests against the Ortega dictatorship in Nicaragua turned violent in April, OSU members of the International Veterinary Student Association met with Dean Tornquist to discuss whether to go forward with the annual service trip to Nicaragua. The group decided it was not safe and, with much regret, the trip was cancelled; but veterinary students would not be where they are without grit and determination, and Kelly Riper (Class of 2020) decided not to give up yet. She enlisted the help of Assistant Professor Brianna Beechler to try to find an alternate location.

Dr. Beechler has done a lot of public health research in third world countries; she used her contacts in Costa Rica to search for a community that did not have access to veterinary care, and could house a portable clinic and thirty volunteers. In June, she and Costa Rican veterinarian Dr. Andres Rodriguez found two tiny villages near Palo Verde National Park that fit those parameters. Riper began planning the trip, but immediately realized she had a big problem: “It was right after finals week and everyone had scattered across the country,” she says. “They had either gone home, or were working for the summer.”

Eventually Riper managed to round up seventeen OSU veterinary students, a large animal surgeon, three students from Tuskegee University, and two Oregon veterinarians. It was just barely enough to staff a clinic.

For ten years, the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine has been holding free clinics in the same location in Nicaragua, so they had a well-defined plan for logistics, and a book of instructions for the next year’s group of volunteers. This time Riper and her team were flying blind.

“We weren’t able to scope out the site, or meet any of the people, so we didn’t know what to expect. We didn’t know if we were going to see ten animals or 400,” she says. “It was also really challenging to take over planning so late in the game, especially since I had not gone before. I was trying to make sure that all the pieces that normally exist would be there this year too.”

Another hurdle for Riper: Most of the volunteers had plane tickets for Nicaragua that had to be changed, and many of the airlines did not fly to an airport near Palo Verde National Park. She was able to solve that problem too. “We rented two 12-passenger vans and drove them all the way across the country – a four-hour drive,” says Riper. “I was really proud of our students for stepping up to drive on poor roads in a foreign country.”

And you thought your college roommate was bad.

Once they arrived at their destination, the accommodations were more primitive than in Nicaragua, and had existing ‘tenants’. “We had three rooms with five bunk-beds each,” says Riper. “On our first night, we had to clear out all the bugs, scorpions and tarantulas. Some of us really had to face our fear of bugs in a hurry.”

The OSU group held three days of free clinics in two different villages. “They were so small, you can’t even find them on Google maps,” says Riper. “They gave us the elementary school classrooms that they use every day; they moved the kids to the cafeteria while we were there.”

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Tazz is a red kangaroo who lives with his family of dogs, people and two other kangaroos. He was bought at an auction in Missouri by Christine Dobratz when he was seven months old, and although he is now four feet tall, he is a lap roo at heart. He and his kangaroo pals, Buddy and Cricket, are gentle and friendly, and like visit elementary schools where they get lots of attention.

The three kangaroos enter their house by hopping up a ramp. In September Tazz somehow got stuck under the ramp and could not get out. When Dobratz found and released him, his back leg was obviously dislocated and he could not hop. She rushed him to a local veterinarian, where x-rays established that there were no long bone fractures, so the vet stabilized the leg with a wrap. When Tazz did not improve, Christine contacted Dr. Mike Huber, a large animal surgeon at the OSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital. He agreed to see Tazz and offer some treatment options, so Christine drove all the way from Kelso, Washington to Corvallis for a consultation.

“Once I met the doctors at OSU,” says Christine, “I went from feeling at a total loss from not being able to help him, to a new hope for his survival.”

Dr. Huber ordered a CT scan which revealed small fractures near the ankle joint, torn ligaments, and a dislocated foot. He consulted with two orthopedic surgeons in the OSU small animal hospital, Dr. Jeffrey Biskup and Dr. Jennifer Warnock, both of whom repair bones in dogs and cats many times a week, but had never worked on a kangaroo.

The three surgeons did a lot of research, and after much discussion of options, came up with a plan: attaching an external fixator plate for initial stability of the ankle joint, and insertion of pinned crossbars between the shin bone and foot. Christine supported the plan. “I felt so relieved with three doctors involved in his care, and knowing they were the best I could get,” she said.

Although anesthesia can be challenging with exotic animals, the surgery went well and Tazz recovered without incident. “He was not a very stable patient under anesthesia,” says Dr. Warnock. “Dr. Riebold and his team did a terrifc job of keeping him alive and asleep.”

Once he was out of surgery, Dr. Huber designed and built a custom-made bandage cast. “One of the biggest challenges was keeping him quiet, and preventing him from using his very dexterous hands to destroy the bandage,” he says.

Tazz is home and moving around the house. His cast was recently removed, but Dobratz will have to keep the leg wrapped for several months. [You can see a video here.]

“This case was a great collaboration between large and small animal doctors,” says Dr. Warnock. “Tazz is such a beautiful animal; those eyelashes are a mile long!”