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Sister Zoo Vets
Sister Zoo Vets
moose exam
Dr. Allison Case, right, and vet tech Tracy Cramer tend to a moose at Northwest Trek.

If Dr. Karen Wolf needs another skilled set of hands for a walrus procedure, she knows who to call.

And if Dr. Allison Case has a beaver or owl that needs attention while she’s out of town, she has a second clinic just a van-trip away.

The two women are head veterinarians of Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium and Northwest Trek Wildlife Park, respectively – and these sister zoos have veterinary teams with a long tradition of helping each other.

“People don’t realize there’s this crossover,” explains Dr. Wolf of the unique veterinary partnership. “I have absolute confidence that if I or my associate veterinarian Dr. Kadie Anderson were to be ill, Dr. Case could step right in. And I’m also confident that I could fill in at Northwest Trek. It’s really nice to have such a collaborative effort.”

“I see it as that we’re one large entity, sharing two zoological parks,” sums up Dr. Case.

Vet Collaboration

Dr. Kelly and Dr. Karen Wolf perform an ultrasound on Boris.
Dr. Kelly and Dr. Karen Wolf perform an ultrasound on Boris.

The veterinary crossover began years ago, when Dr. Case was a full-time veterinarian for both Point Defiance Zoo and Northwest Trek. She spent 11 years caring for animals at both places, and still has a deep familiarity with both the system and the older animals at the Tacoma zoo. Since 2017 she’s been full-time solely at Northwest Trek, but is still on call to help at Point Defiance when necessary.

“If one of the Zoo vets is out of town, I can provide help,” Dr. Case explains.

That happened recently when Bobby, a white-cheeked gibbon who has since passed away, needed an urgent exam at the Zoo. Dr. Wolf was away and Dr. Anderson was offsite at a specialty veterinary hospital helping to treat a harbor seal.

Dr. Case has also come in to help with larger animal procedures, such as for walruses or polar bears, that take many trained hands.

Point Defiance Zoo vets don’t come to Northwest Trek as often – with many more animals, their days are busy – but there’s a long tradition of the Zoo intern veterinarian spending time at the wildlife park to gain extra knowledge and experience in procedures unique to outside large-animal work – like doing moose x-rays in the forest.

Have Beaver, Will Travel

snowy-owl
A snowy owl at Northwest Trek.

And when Dr. Case is out of town, Point Defiance Zoo offers help in turn, especially with smaller, more transportable Northwest Trek animals. In late 2019 veterinary technician Tracy Cramer and two keepers took R. B. Beaver (the father of the Trek beaver clan) to Point Defiance Zoo for an ophthalmologist consultation, followed by eye surgery.

Other transportable Northwest Trek animals have gone to Point Defiance Zoo in the past, such as foxes and birds.

Sharing Red Wolves, Knowledge and More

The Trek-Zoo collaboration is in full swing with red wolves. A leader in bringing back these iconic American animals from extinction, Point Defiance Zoo cares for its breeding pack of red wolves at Northwest Trek, out of public view. Zoo vets come regularly to care for them, but Dr. Case steps in when necessary, and Dr. Wolf is the veterinary advisor for the red wolf Species Survival Plan.

Finally, while Dr. Case, Dr. Wolf and Dr. Anderson are all equally trained professionals, everyone has their area of deep experience to share across the animal kingdom.

vet tech with polar bear
Vet tech Sara Dunleavy, right, with fellow vet tech Julie Lemon in a polar bear procedure.

“Not everyone can know everything about every species,” explains Dr. Wolf. “Dr. Case has years of working with elephants from earlier in her career. She’s also extremely good with ungulates, so we bring her any hoof-stock questions we have.”

“Together we have a wide range of unique experiences and specialized training,” adds Dr. Case. “Dr. Wolf loves a deep dive into internal medicine cases, and has a tremendous amount to offer when discussing challenging medical problems. We zoo vets are always exchanging information, even across the country. The veterinary network of the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians is always buzzing with tips or studies or radiographs. That sharing is one of my favorite things about being a zoo vet.”

The two zoos’ veterinary technicians also share information constantly – one of them, Sara Dunleavy, has actually worked at both places – and even materials when necessary, such as a vaccine tray or extra medications. Before Northwest Trek purchased portable ultrasound and digital x-ray equipment, those too were sometimes shared between the teams.

“Being a zoo veterinarian involves a lot of collaboration,” sums up Dr. Wolf. “That’s what makes it fun.”

“We’re one huge family,” agrees Dr. Case.