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Animal shelter staff now certified vet assistants

Wilson County Animal Shelter adoption coordinator Alyssa Whitney, left, and Manager Sgt. Rodney Harper stand inside the shelter. Both are now certified veterinary assistants. Olivia Neeley | Times

Wilson County Animal Shelter adoption coordinator Alyssa Whitney, left, and Manager Sgt. Rodney Harper stand inside the shelter. Both are now certified veterinary assistants. Olivia Neeley | Times

Wilson County Animal Enforcement officers have a new tool in their toolbox. Wilson County Animal Shelter Manager Sgt. Rodney Harper and adoption coordinator Alyssa Whitney just became certified veterinary assistants after completing a five-month program at Nash Community College. 

“Sending them was a good route to be able to evaluate the program and to bring the information back to us to see how it would benefit the entire shelter,” said Wilson County Sheriff Calvin Woodard. The certification isn’t typical for animal enforcement officers to obtain. But after research and speaking with several experts, Woodard believed it would strengthen his overall goal — obtaining a no-kill animal shelter status.

“We are leading the way,” he said.


Woodard said the extended training gives Harper and Whitney stronger knowledge and will help them recognize and quickly identify sickness in an animal and be able to assess the animal’s temperament as well. 

“By having this knowledge and extensive training, they can make valuable decisions that can help save that animal instead of putting that animal down,” Woodard said. 

He now plans to have every animal enforcement officer become certified as a veterinary assistant. This is not a requirement for animal enforcement officers now, but Woodard believes in staying ahead of the curve. 

The veterinary assistant certification cost about $180 each and was paid for through the animal enforcement training budget. 


Prior to the program, Whitney and Harper relied on veterinarians they work with on a regular basis and their own day-to-day knowledge of what they see in the field to identify issues with animals. 

But the veterinary assistant program enhanced that, giving them more education. 

“It brought everything together,” said Harper, who has been in animal enforcement for more than two decades. 

Whitney and Harper said while there were things they already knew, there were other topics that helped tremendously. 

For example, Whitney said the program helped her learn to identify worms in fecal matter. Knowing exactly how to identify what type of worms will help her even further with the protocol that might be used to treat that condition. 

The program also taught them how to restrain an animal safely while conducting a blood test that helps identify whether the animal has heart worms, lime disease or even viruses such as parvo. 


Whitney said they will now be able to have better knowledge on what information they relay to the veterinarian, which in return gives her the ability to communicate even better to animal rescue groups. 

Whitney said she will be able to call those rescue groups to know exactly what the animal is dealing with and how those rescue groups can work with the shelter to get the animal healthy to adopt out. 

“With them going through this class and this training, it helps us be able to identify the problem before we place that pet into a wonderful home and later on not have a situation where that dog has worms or severe medical situations,” Woodard said. 


Woodard said he’s been excited about bringing new programs on board at the animal shelter, including a trap-neuter-return program regarding community cats. 

Such programs allow animal enforcement officers to set up traps on a complainant’s property. Once the cat is caught and neutered, it can be returned to the property and released. A cat deterrent program is also in the beginning stages of rolling out. That program includes having ultrasonic devices and motion-activated sprinklers. These were suggestions by Best Friends, a national nonprofit Woodard is working with that helps shelter reduce euthanasia rates to attain a no-kill shelter designation. 

“Before we didn’t have the space or the opportunities,” he said. “A lot of things were limited due to the old structure (animal shelter). We didn’t have the technology we have now. Going to a no-kill shelter, all of this will help us in that.”