AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Community College student Mckenzie Harrison has seven plus pets in her home.

“I have a ton of pets,” said Harrison proudly, listing them off. “Two dogs, three cats, a Blue-tongue skink lizard, a python snake and fish and such.”

Each of them she cares for meticulously, and it’s not just because she loves animals. Harrison is in her second year of the veterinary technology program at ACC.

“It’s a really good opportunity,” she said.

The program began in 2014, and in 2019 the college initiated its partnership with Bastrop County Animal Shelter and Austin Pets Alive! to give students real world experience providing medical care to pets.

The pets in their care come from Bastrop’s shelter to clear kennels — thus making space for more pets to come in.

Students, like Harrison, who are in training, foster the dogs and cats at the facilities they learn and get hands on experience at, which are headquartered at ACC’s Elgin campus.

They practice providing vaccinations, routine heartworm and flea and tick preventatives, dental work, basic training, socialization and even playtime with them.

“While they’re here, the students love them like they’re their own,” said Sara Irvin, the veterinary technology clinical coordinator at ACC Elgin. Her students have 12 dogs and four cats currently in their care.

“When they arrive, they’re scared, and then as the students work with them every day, it’s so nice to watch them come out of their shells,” Irvin explained.

“I just like the chance to be around the owner and to be able to listen to the veterinarian, what they found and why that’s a concern, and actually see the owner start to understand what’s going on with their pet,” said Harrison.

When her time in the program is complete, she will be a certified veterinarian technician and will be able to work in a veterinary office to do things such as patient intake, take vital signs of her patients, prepare owners and their pets for their time with the veterinarian and help with surgeries.

Students in the program at ACC can specialize in:

  • emergency and critical care
  • internal medicine
  • zoological medicine
  • research — after graduation

Once the pets in students’ care go through the program with them, if they’re not adopted, they’re transferred to Austin Pets Alive! to be available for adoption there.

“We’re educating students as well as helping the community, making sure these animals get into great homes and get great care,” said Irvin. “I feel like we’re making them, hopefully, more adoptable animals, so hopefully when they go out into the public, they see these wonderful animals, and they’re like, ‘ok great, here’s a ready-made pet for me.'”

Join KXAN as we partner with Central Texas-area animal shelters for Clear the Shelters, an annual adoption drive and donation initiative to help get pets out of shelters and into forever homes!