Trip to the Vet with the Washington Park Branch Animals

Written by Danny Pirtle
    Friday, 21 June 2019
Trip to the Vet with the Washington Park Branch Animals

If you’ve been to one of our Urban Ecology Center branches, you have probably visited one of our Native Wisconsin Animal Rooms and seen the many cold-blooded critters that call the UEC our home. Our education animals are an important part of our mission to provide kids and families with life-changing encounters with the natural world. A lot goes on behind the scenes to make this happen: the animals need to be fed, their homes need to be cleaned, and we need to make sure they remain healthy. That last item is made much easier thanks to the generosity of Lakeside Animal Hospital.

For many years, Lakeside Animal Hospital has given all of our resident education animals a free, annual checkup!

Taking the animals for the annual checkup is an adventure unto itself. Here is an account of our trip to the vet with the animals from Washington Park. The first step is to get all of the animals into their individual travel crates. This image shows three of our turtles in their travel crates: Jaws on the bottom and Global and Burger Queen on top. Andre the bullsnake is in this picture as well. He travels to the vet inside of a pillow case – can you find him below?

Stack of three plastic bins. The bottom bin contains a turtle. The two are side-by-side and contain one turtle each. There's a tied up pillow case sitting on top.

The Washington Park animals went on their vet visit in February. Since all of our animals are cold-blooded, we had to turn the heat on high in the car in order to keep them warm. I was accompanied by Katie, a community programs educator at the Washington Park branch. By the time we arrived at the vet’s office, we felt like we had been spending time in the sauna!

At the vet, we unloaded all of the animals and got settled into the exam room. We were greeted by Dr. Rebecca Dallwig. Dr. Dallwig examined each animal one at a time, recording their weight and making observations about their physical appearance and health.

For weighing the animals, Dr. Dallwig had to get them to sit still on the scale long enough to record a weight. For some, like Ms. Jackson here, that meant putting them into a container with barriers to ensure they wouldn’t walk off of the scale.

Turtle peeking over the edge of a container.

All of our animals had healthy weights, but naturally, some were a little over or a little under. Andre, for example, was a little on the underweight side, so we have started to feed him more mice each week.

After getting a weight, it was time for the exam. Dr. Dallwig looked over each animal thoroughly, including their eyes, mouths, shells, feet, legs, and tails. Most of the animals were cooperative throughout the exam, but sometimes they required a little coaxing, such as Toby the painted turtle, who needed some encouragement to open his mouth.

Hands gently pressing the sides of the turtle's head. It's mouth is open.

One of the highlights of the exam was when Dr. Dallwig showed us the inside of Andre’s mouth, pictured here. Underneath Andre’s tongue is an opening called the glottis. The glottis is the snake’s air-hole, entirely separate from its throat. This allows Andre to continue breathing, even while he is slowly swallowing a snake whole!


All of our animals went back to Washington Park with clean bills of health! We are so grateful to Dr. Dallwig and the staff at Lakeside Animal Hospital for agreeing to examine our animals every year. With their help, we will be able to share these natural ambassadors with kids and families in the Milwaukee area for many, many years to come.

Danny Pirtle

Danny Pirtle

Danny grew up on the shore of Lake Michigan in Racine, Wisconsin. After spending time studying the natural world (and seeing a whole lot of birds) in Minnesota, California, Indiana, and Australia, Danny returned to Milwaukee and is now the Animal Care Coordinator at the Urban Ecology Center. Danny’s favorite bird is the Pigeon Guillemot and their favorite nature sound is the trill of the American Toad. When away from UEC, Danny can be found walking with Sara (their partner) and Reydog (their dog) on the Oak Leaf Trail, hosting trivia downtown, or curled up with the latest Star Wars novel.


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