Behaviorist hired by MSU vet hospital
Amanda Rigterink has always had an interest in behavior when it comes to animals and a passion to share her knowledge with others.
Rigterink, MSU’s first veterinary behavior resident, started seeing exclusively behavior cases at the MSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital, or VTH, in June.
“My overall goal with the behavior service is to enhance the human/animal bond and to teach students about behavior,” she said.
Chairperson of the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences Charles DeCamp said having an animal behaviorist resident is significant. There are only 40 or 50 board certified animal behaviorists in the U.S.
“Behavioral issues are a very large problem for the pet-owning public and society,” he said. “A behaviorist is actually going to work with the pathological behavior in a very scientific way.”
Rigterink said veterinarians frequently are asked about behavior, so it is important for students to learn about behavior from a veterinary standpoint. Currently, they get little to no training in the field.
Animal behaviorists see cases of animals that range from aggression to separation anxiety, she said. Owners usually are frustrated or upset by the time they get referred to a behaviorist.
Owners bring in their animals for consultation and observation, she said. Then, a treatment plan is advised, which includes behavior modification therapy, training and sometimes medication.
“We always use positive reinforcement training techniques,” Rigterink said.
DeCamp said the College of Veterinary Medicine and the VTH are all about training at different levels. While MSU has a number of different specialty services for animals, such as cardiology and ophthalmology, behaviorism was missing.
“Anytime you have an additional specialty, it contributes to the overall team,” he said.
He said the grand hope is the college will develop a permanent behavior service, but this is just the first step.
Director of Ingham County Animal Control and Shelter Jamie McAloon Lampman said any type of training or assistance that helps with
the retention of animals is great. The more people learn to work with their pets, the fewer animals end up in the shelter.
“Probably close to 50 percent of animals come in because their owners didn’t know how to deal with them,” she said.
Rigterink said one of the most important aspects of dealing with an animal is to get the right information because there are a lot of misconceptions about behavior and training.
“There is hope for your animal and there’s definitely help out there,” she said. “Make sure that you go to the right resources to get that help.”