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Destination: Window on Animal Health at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences

Posted March 10

The Window on Animal Health inside the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences has gotten some attention in recent weeks as staff there cared for a few of the hundreds of cold-stunned sea turtles that washed ashore or were found in waters off the North Carolina coast in early January.

The team of veterinarians and other experts at the downtown Raleigh museum have helped nurture the sick turtles in their care - ensuring that their hydration, eating and activity levels improve and they are ready to be re-released into the warm ocean waters.

Visitors have been able to watch them work on weekday afternoons as part of the Window on Animal Health exhibit, which is on the second floor of the museum's Nature Research Center. The exhibit gives visitors an actual window into how the museum's Veterinary Services team cares for the animals in the museum's collection and, occasionally, creatures like those sea turtles who come from the wild.

It can be captivating work. Dr. Dan Dombrowski, the museum's chief veterinarian, likes to point out that there are typically two levels of nose prints on the windows as people look through - a lower one for the little kids and a higher one for the adults.

"It's a lot of fun," Dombrowski said. "We have the luxury of the ability to do good medicine, evaluate clinical patients and we get to share that."

Dombrowski and his team mostly care for the museum's collection, which is comprised of about 1,700 vertebrates, including fish, reptiles, amphibians and birds, along with 1,000 to 2,000 arthropods, such as insects and spiders. The group, which includes students, interns, volunteers and veterinarians from N.C. State, works daily to treat animals that are sick and also provide annual well check-ups (just like us humans should have).

From 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., weekdays, visitors can watch the check-ups, sick visits and procedures. You might see a fish, kept wet by lying on a sponge, so it can be operated on. You might see a leopard gecko with a growth get evaluated to determine whether it's cancer or some other malady. You might see staff attempt to settle a squirmy ferret during a well check-up.

Two-way audio gives the museum's staff opportunities to explain to the audience what they're doing. It also lets visitors ask questions.

On one recent day, a young boy asked staff if their work on a sea turtle was hurting the creature. The response: Nope! It's no different than when his mom cut his fingernails.

Dombrowski said his staff enjoys the two-way communication because it gives them a chance to explain their own work to the public. And, it's another opportunity to show kids exactly what veterinarians do and what might happen when they drop their own pet off at the vet's office.

"They make it accessible," he said. "If you don't grow up with this stuff, you don't know it's possible."

The Veterinary Services staff also conducts research as part of their work. So, recently, visitors could watch as Dombroski and others did a study on sea urchins and anesthesia. That research has been submitted to a scientific journal for review.

"We will have the kids, the teachers and the doctor and they all ask really good questions," Dombroski said.

Window on Animal Health is open 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., weekdays, and on some weekends during the museum's special events. It's on the second floor of the Nature Research Center. Admission to the museum and center is free.

The museum is raising money to help cover the cost of the care for the turtles. The museum's website has more information about you can help.

Go Ask Mom features places to take kids every Friday. For more, check our posts on parks and playgrounds and Triangle family destinations.

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