Last year’s Fund-a-Need campaign to raise money for animal simulators — high-tech training tools for Thompson Rivers University’s (TRU) veterinary technology program — was hugely successful. The campaign raised over $180,000, allowing the program to purchase two lifelike horses, a cow and a calf.
Since ordering the simulators in mid-2022, the campus awaited their arrival with great anticipation. They’re here now — and they’re amazing.
“They are incredible. The models have taken our large animal instruction to a whole other level,” says Heather Shannon, chair of TRU’s veterinary technology program. “We are so, so grateful.”
When the initiative was announced last year, 23 donors contributed, including several locals who stepped up in a big way to fund the need. Major donors include Guy Mercier and family, the Equine Foundation of Canada (EFC) represented by BC Director Pat Crema, and Ellen and Mark Brown. While the donors come from a variety of backgrounds, they are all horse owners who understand from personal experience the value of having well-trained veterinary technicians.
“The models are big-ticket items for this program and I think they will be very useful,” says local philanthropist and long-time TRU supporter Guy Mercier, whose daughter Aimee is a veterinarian and TRU alum. “I know how important high-quality education is for veterinary and animal health professionals.”
TRU students have daily hands-on experience with small animals on campus, while large animal work is carried out at TRU’s teaching facility in Knutsford. There, students interact closely with livestock, wildlife and birds. For students with no experience handling large animals, it can be intimidating. That’s where the simulators come in.
Simulators help students build confidence
“Large animals like horses and cattle can sense if you’re apprehensive or unsure,” says Shannon. “By practising on the simulators, the students are going to feel more confident when they’re working around the animals. It’s going to make a difference for the live animals, too — they’re going to be more relaxed because the students are more relaxed.”
Pat Crema knows how important safety is when handling large animals. She has been working with equines for more than 50 years and has been involved with EFC since the 1990s. Crema was a faculty member in TRU’s nursing program for many years and when she heard about the Fund-a-Need initiative, she immediately advocated for the Equine Foundation’s support.
“I’m loyal to TRU and I feel it’s an excellent university that I’ve seen grow from the ground up,” she said, adding she sees how beneficial hands on learning is for students. “Having the models where students can actually see what happens to the animals internally when they have colic makes the program that much more valuable.”
The large animal simulators were purchased from Calgary-based company Veterinary Simulator Industries. TRU’s veterinary technology program first acquired an equine head from the company, which allowed students to practise injections, but now that the program can make use of entire manikins, learning opportunities are greatly expanded.
“The simulators are so realistic,” she says. “The cow, you can actually milk, and the horse you can take blood from,” said Shannon. “It’s an amazing way for our students to learn.”