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Article - The laboratory that helps your pets needs your help

The laboratory that helps your pets needs your help

The laboratory that helps your pets needs your help

UNL's Veterinary Diagnostic Center needs to raise money for new state-of-the-art facility.

Posted: Wed, Aug 1, 2012

Barclae has earned the right to wear those cool doggy shades.

He's earned the words on his red doggy shirt:

Wonder Dog.

The Scottish Terrier has stayed a trooper these past few years despite everything he's had to endure. Skin cancer on his right front paw. Two surgeries to remove two toes. Bladder cancer, twice. Chemo. More surgery ...

"Barclae" is a Scottish name. (It's pronounced "Bark-lee.") Barclae Wagger. That's his full name. He just turned 11.

"He's just the most easygoing dog you'd ever like to meet," says Doug Kozisek of Council Bluffs, Iowa. "We also have a female Scottish Terrier who's 3 years old – his ‘sister,' Nikki Nessa – and she's a handful. She just does nothing but bug him all the time, which is probably not the best thing in the world for him right now. But he tolerates her.

"He just keeps plugging along."

Two years ago, Doug and his wife, Deb, found that growth on Barclae's paw. Their Omaha vet, Dr. Martin Ramm, suspected malignant melanoma, a serious form of skin cancer that can spread quickly. He took a tissue sample.

Then, as Barclae recovered from anesthesia, the three humans had a conversation that went something like this:

Dr. Ramm: We're going to ship the tissue overnight to the Vet Diagnostic Center at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. There's a vet down there, Dr. Bruce Brodersen, who's one of the best in the area at diagnosing cancer.

Deb: Ship it overnight? If it gets there sooner, would it make any difference?

Dr. Ramm: It might.

Deb (turning to Doug): Well then let's do a road trip.

The couple had no idea what to expect 40 minutes later as they entered the VDC building, which is located on UNL's East Campus. The building was small and old, definitely not state-of-the-art.

But they trusted their Omaha vet. If he considered this Dr. Brodersen's work to be state-of-the-art, that was good enough for them.

"We walked in and at the little cubbyhole/check-in window, we told them, ‘We need to have Dr. Brodersen take a look at it right away,'" Doug says. "So they tracked him down and he came out for a while to talk to us. He was a very pleasant man. We were very impressed with him."

They gave him that tissue sample from Barclae.

***

That day was the first time Doug and Deb – who've been dog lovers for decades – had ever heard about UNL's Vet Diagnostic Center.

"We had no idea it was there," Doug says.

They're hardly alone.

Most veterinarians in the state know about it. Many send their samples there. Many producers of cattle and pigs know about it, too, because their bottom lines depend on quick turnaround of samples for diagnoses to prevent diseases from spreading in their herds.

But most pet owners don't know about it at all, even though Dr. Brodersen and the other dedicated workers at the VDC see between 15 to 30 cases a day that are family pets like Barclae Wagger.

Most pet owners don't know these facts about the VDC:

  • Dogs make up about 25 percent of the caseload.
  • Cats make up about 5 percent.
  • Besides cattle and pigs, the VDC also does pathology reports on chickens, sheep, horses, goats. They check samples from bats for rabies and samples from birds for West Nile. They check deer and elk for chronic wasting. One time, they even took a sample from a giraffe.
  • The VDC is the go-to lab for Omaha's acclaimed Henry Doorly Zoo. A few years back, when its penguins were mysteriously dying, the VDC figured out the cause: Lead poisoning. (The lead belts that divers wore when cleaning the penguins' tank had been leaking.)
  • The VDC quietly plays an important public health role for the state by watching for outbreaks of diseases that can jump from animals to humans, like West Nile.
  • As this world becomes more globally connected, and as more people from other countries travel to Nebraska, a greater risk exists that foreign diseases will travel here, too. The VDC is always on the lookout for those diseases.
  • If terrorists use a bio-weapon like anthrax in Nebraska, the VDC will be there to do the necessary diagnostic work.

And most pet owners don't know that the Vet Diagnostic Center is in a time crunch right now, despite getting a generous appropriation of $50 million from the state to build a new, state-of-the-art building on East Campus.

It's in a time crunch because that $50 million comes with strings attached – 5 million of them. To get the $50 million and start constructing the new building, the University of Nebraska must first raise $5 million from private donors.

People at the VDC feel they must raise that money by Jan. 1 because that's when a national accreditation team will re-evaluate the VDC. Earlier this year the VDC received a five-year accreditation. But that's provisional, based on the VDC getting that new state-of-the-art building.

The current building, built in 1975, doesn't meet current regulations. It's small and outdated. The ventilation system is inadequate.

If the people at UNL can't show progress in raising money toward it by Jan. 1, they fear losing the full accreditation. Though the VDC would not close, it could lose much of its business and prestige – fewer people would want to send their samples to a place that's not accredited.

Besides serving the whole state, the VDC and its staff also teach UNL students, who get to experience real-world lessons in its labs – cases like Barclae Wagger's.

"It's the foundation of our whole program," says David Hardin, who's head of the Veterinary Medicine program at UNL. "Once pieces start crumbling away, you can survive quite some time. But you're crumbing away."

***

Ann Bruntz grew up on a farm near Stuart, Neb. She works for the University of Nebraska Foundation. She raises money for UNL's agriculture and natural resources programs. Her farm background helps. She's raised millions of dollars for scholarships for agriculture students and agriculture programs at the university. She loves what she does because she sees the good things private money can do for students and the state.

She knows how important the VDC is to the state.

But trying to raise this $5 million for the VDC, she says, has been challenging.

People think that because the University of Nebraska Foundation's total assets are about $1.8 billion, it can just give the VDC the money it needs. They don't realize the vast majority of that amount comes from endowed gifts from donors for specific programs at the university – in other words, that money's already spoken for.

Bruntz is hoping that pet owners in the state, once they see how important the VDC is to the health of their pets, will come through in a big way because:

  • There are 465,820 pet dogs in the state.
  • There are 525,521 pet cats.
  • There are 72,232 pet birds.
  • There are 46,435 pet horses.

"Think of all the pet owners in Nebraska," she says. "What would happen if each of them gave $5?"

The key to meeting this goal, she says is to raise awareness about the VDC among pet owners.

Pet lovers.

People whose pets are part of the family.

People like Doug and Deb Kozisek, who want the best care available for their Barclae Wagger and Nikki Nessa.

They were "extremely pleased" with the level of service they received at the VDC.

"They did the best they could and made a very stressful situation a little less stressful," Doug says. "They did what they promised, and really turned it (the diagnosis for Barclae) around quickly.

"We've got to get the word out. They're really stuck in that little building. They could use better facilities."

If you'd like to help the VDC raise the $5 million it needs in order to get a new state-of-the-art $50 million building, please give online or contact Ann Bruntz at the University of Nebraska Foundation, 800-432-3216.

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