June 3, 2019

Class of 2019: It's a zoo out there for UCalgary Vet Med grad

Shannon Toy wants to make a difference through zoo conservation

Author

Collene Ferguson, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine

Shannon Toy worked with bighorn sheep as part of the wildlife field medicine course at the University of Calgary's Faculty of Veterinary Medicine.

Shannon Toy worked with bighorn sheep as part of the wildlife field medicine course.

Nita Hynes

Shannon Toy has always been interested in wildlife. She started working with injured and orphaned animals at the Alberta Institute for Wildlife Conservation during high school. Four years of caring for everything from hawks and owls to fawns and moose calves convinced her to pursue a career in veterinary medicine.

Today, Toy graduates from the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (UCVM). After four intensive years of study, she will cross the stage to accept her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree. But right on the heels of this accomplishment, Toy will start working towards another, longer-term goal: zoo medicine.

“Wildlife conservation is important to me,” Toy says. “And I am passionate about the positive effects that zoos can make through their conservation initiatives. Working as a zoo veterinarian is a great way to have a hands-on impact and contribute to these important conservation projects.”

Shannon Toy vaccinates an endangered greater sage grouse against West Nile virus at the Calgary Zoo.

Shannon Toy vaccinates an endangered greater sage grouse against West Nile virus at the Calgary Zoo.

Doug Whiteside

Gibbons, grouse and grizzlies

During her final year at UCVM, Toy did a variety of practicum rotations that exposed her to a range of wild and wonderful creatures. Among them, bighorn sheep in the Turner Valley area as part of a wildlife field medicine course, hornbills and axolotls (critically endangered salamanders of Mexico) at the Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg, and gibbons, “my favouite lesser ape,” at the Edmonton Zoo.

A highlight for Toy was the month-long rotation she completed at the Calgary Zoo, working with zebras, grizzly bears, and endangered sage grouse.

Dr. Doug Whiteside, DVM, senior veterinarian at the zoo was impressed. “Shannon was a great student, very engaged and motivated to pursue a career in non-traditional species,” says Whiteside, who is also an associate professor of conservation medicine at UCVM. “Shannon demonstrated a genuine passion for conservation and zoo species. She was a leader in her class for organizing events that incorporated zoo and wildlife medicine.” 

“Being at the Calgary Zoo and working with a lot of their conservation programs was an amazing experience,” says Toy. “And Dr. Whiteside and the team at the Calgary Zoo are just the best. He’s a hero of mine, for sure.”

Toy is passionate about wildlife conservation and the positive effects zoos can make through their conservation initiatives.

Toy is passionate about wildlife conservation and the positive effects zoos can make.

Nita Hynes

Next stop, Saskatoon

Toy is heading to the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatoon for a year-long exotics, wildlife, and zoo internship. Over the course of the program, she’ll gain greater clinical experience with a range of different critters, including what are known as exotics or non-traditional pets such as snakes, turtles, rodents, rabbits, birds, and lizards. “This internship will be good for getting out in practice and becoming more comfortable working with exotics. I’m looking forward to having the mentorship of the specialists at the college.”  

After her year in Saskatoon, Toy currently plans to return to Calgary and work in a mixed animal veterinary practice, “something I’ve always wanted to do.” And after that?  

“My long-term goal is doing a zoo internship and also maybe a residency,” she says. “There are lots of great institutions that offer zoo medicine internships and residencies and I look forward to learning more about them as I start my career.”