WESTFORD -- While freshmen entering Nashoba Valley Technical High School may choose the Veterinary Assisting program because of their love of dogs and cats, the instructors want to make sure the kids know that veterinary medicine goes beyond the everyday pet.
The Veterinary Assisting program recently finished its second year since Nashoba Tech added it, and the centerpiece is the Angell @ Nashoba clinic, run by Angell Memorial Medical Center and Nashoba Tech, and located inside the school.
But every two weeks, instructors Kate Hawkins and Instructor Kirsten take a group of students to Cultivate Care Farm in Bolton, where they can become
accustomed to working with everything from horses to turkeys.
"In the clinic, they get mainly dogs and cats," Hawkins said, "so this gives the students exposure to other types of animals. They have goats, chickens, hens, sheep, ducks, so they can see how to behave around these types of farm animals."
The experience has already paid off for some of the students. One day at the farm, Jackson Jeffery, an incoming senior from Pepperell, noticed that a duckling had been trampled by bigger ducks and that one of its legs was broken, so he created a makeshift splint and placed it on the duckling's leg.
Deb Madera, clinical director of Cultivate Care Farm, said the students have been helpful around the farm. Cultivate Care is part of a larger group of farms that provide
mental-health care through tending the farm and its animals.
"It's a place to come and have treatment while working with animals,"
she said. "It provides patients an opportunity to feel helpful and useful, in addition to receiving mental-health care. Patients do chores, and they engage in farming. It's been hugely successful."
Madera said the care-farm model has been around for 100 years in Europe. The farm's website says its mission is "to operate, maintain and expand Care Farming for humans and animals to heal and grow therapeutically through mental health, wellness, and community outreach programming."
And it's well-prepared to provide such care. According to Madera, as of the end of the 2016-2017 school year, the farm had four horses, six sheep, three alpacas, two chinchillas, a farm dog, chickens, turkeys and at least 16 goats.
That also means students in Nashoba Tech's Veterinary Assisting program will have no shortage of animals that aren't dogs and cats with which to learn.