By Caroline Zambrano
Imagine watching a veterinary surgeon perform a delicate surgery or a wildlife expert handle a wriggly python at arm’s length. How about practicing pet CPR or learning how to draw blood and suture?
Kellyville teenager Callum Birchill doesn’t have to be a veterinary science student to have such animal experiences. In January, the 13-year-old will be attending Future Vet Kids Camp, a veterinary-inspired, 5-day school holiday program in Sydney, which gives pet lovers aged 9 to 16 a taste of what it’s like to work with animals.
Designed and run by veterinarians, Future Vet Kids Camp is led by vets Drs Audrey and Alison Shen from the Bondi Vet: Coast to Coast TV show and Aussie Mobile Vet.
Callum has been attending Future Vet Kids Camp for the last three years and enrolled again to get more hands-on experience.“At my age, it isn’t easy getting that hands-on experience because any animal volunteering in Australia you have to be 16 years old in most cases,” he said.
Callum enjoys ‘getting his hands dirty’ with his dogs Marley and Annie and working as a professional dog walker for Mad Paws, which his mum Carolyn Birchill helps him with.The camp offers young animal lovers an insight into the many professions in the animal industry, like being a zookeeper, animal trainer, animal carer or animal conservationist.
“I don’t want to be a vet, though I feel it is important to understand what they do,” he said. “I was surprised to discover the variety of specialised areas one can work in with animals.”
At camp, the kids also learn about genetic diseases, pet nutrition, exotic animals, surgery, animal rescue and wildlife conservation. Plus, they visit state-of-the-art veterinary hospitals for exclusive behind-the-scenes experiences, and many other exciting excursions!
During the year, the vet sisters have been heavily involved in the treatment and rehabilitation of wildlife injured by the 2019-2020 summer bushfires and hope to bring the campers some insight into what they have learnt in this area.
What Callum likes most about camp is how much campers get to be interactive with the animals, plus the vet clinics and animal centres they get to visit and meet experts from the RSPCA, dog trainers and specialist vets who come and share their experiences.
“My favourite lesson has been canine and feline blood analysis as it’s very hands on and there is so much you can understand about an animal from analysing its blood,” he said. “I also loved watching surgery on a dog where they were removing suspicious lumps from its stomach.”
The camp also taught Callum about handling dogs that he doesn’t know or dogs with behavioural issues, and how to build trust with them.
“This helps me with walking my own dogs and doing pet home visits (for the dog walking business). I am always interacting with new animals and their owners need to feel confident that I will look after their pet as well as they do,” he said.
This year, Callum has also become a youth volunteer at Taronga Zoo. Camp dates are Jan 4–8 and Jan 11–15, 2021. For program information and to register, visit futurevetkidscamp.com/