Dr. Pam Wittenberg’s first step toward her dream of starting a veterinary camp was throwing an animal themed sixth birthday party for her daughter JoJo, an aspiring veterinarian, complete with stuffed animals and radiographs.
Now 9, Jojo is her mother’s assistant at Dr. Pam’s Animal Vet Camp, hosted each summer by the Santa Rosa Recreation and Parks Department. Students practice surgery by stitching up bananas and learn about skeletal systems, cancer and amputation by meeting The Captain, Wittenberg’s three-legged dog.
During the school year, Wittenberg, 46, teaches veterinary technician courses at Santa Rosa Junior College and hour-long after school enrichment classes through Santa Rosa City Schools.
She also continues to practice medicine at the Four Seasons Animal Hospital in Lafayette, which she joined after graduating from the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine in 2000.
Q: Tell us about your childhood pets.
We always had animals cycling in and out of the house. I think we had three cats and three dogs and a bunch of fish at one time. We also lived with a creek in the background, so I had a lot of experience with nature. That really made me love animals and science and want to pursue a career in that.
Q: There’s a difference between loving your own pets and practicing medicine. What about animals made you want to become a veterinarian?
It’s like I tell the kids in my class. You have to love animals, but you can’t spend all day loving animals. You have to also like talking with people. I was a really social child. I always got in trouble for talking too much in class.
As for animals specifically, I always say that animals are more perfect creatures than humans in so many ways. They’re amazingly adaptive, kind of like kids, and they’re fascinating.
Q: What’s the attraction between kids and pets?
No. 1, they’re cute. No. 2, they’re fuzzy. Every kid is drawn to animals in some way, whether it’s a reptile or a dog or a horse.
Q: What’s the difference between teaching kids and teaching adults?
If you put 100 adults in a room and ask, “Anyone ever have diarrhea? Anyone ever have lice?” none of the adults would admit that they have. But all the kids do. They’ll spend hours telling you about their GI distress or how horrible the lice infestation was in their house. It’s great.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you give your students?
We talk about studying hard in school, especially science and math. But any job you have, you should be able to find joy in it somewhere. That’s the magic of veterinary medicine — you always have the animals there to give you that sense of humor you need along the way.
Q: What do you enjoy about practicing medicine rather than teaching it?
There’s a lot of crossover because every day at work, I’m teaching people about how to take care of their animals. It’s the perfect job for me because I get to talk to someone about their animal, talk about science, solve a problem, meet really interesting people and really interesting animals.