At veterinary school in Charlottetown, there is little instruction on the treatment of python pneumonia.
But that’s one of the ailments Halifax’s Dr. Trina Bennett has treated in her exotic animal practice in Sarasota, Fla.
Bennett, who’s been in Florida for a year and half, doesn’t remember a time when she didn’t know she wanted to be a vet.
“I knew it was going to be something with animals because I love them, so my backup plan if I didn’t get into vet school was going to be in conservation,” said Bennett.
The 28-year-old had a hamster and a rabbit growing up and now has one house pet, but nothing exotic.
“And the reason is the more you learn about those species, the more you realize how intensivethe care is for them,” she said. “And when youwork long hours and have a busy schedule, I don’t think I’d be able to provide that for them. So, I’m lucky that I get to play with them, and I just have a cat at home. They’re pretty low maintenance.”
After graduating from UPEI, Bennett did an internship and residency in Saskatchewan with a veterinarian who specializes in exotic animals. From there she moved south, where she suspected there would be demand for her skills.
“Florida is famously lax on requiring permits and that sort of thing for exotic animals. Although, if I’m being honest, you’ll find them anywhere. In Saskatchewan, we were very busy. A lot of animals are considered exotic that you wouldn’t necessarily think, including rabbits, ferrets,parrots of all kinds, dragons. And a lot of those are common household pets, but they are considered to be exotic,” she said.
“The other main reason that I am in Florida is because after four years of Saskatchewan, I don’t want to be cold anymore.”
Bennett works with a couple of small local zoos, one of which keeps flamingos, and she recently did surgery on a baby ring-tailed lemur, putting in pins to stabilize a fractured arm. She does surgery most days, but doesn’t encounter many dangerous animals, at least that are pets.
“I don’t see venomous snakes because I don’twant to put anyone at risk, and I also don’t see primates because they can be dangerous and carry certain diseases. Beyond that, we’ll see anything here. Probably the more dangerous animals that we’ll see are actually wildlife that people will bring in and we’ll treat.
“Yesterday we had a bald eagle brought in here, and they require protective gear. Lots of birds of prey and we’ll see raccoons and the occasional fox,” said the vet, who also treats pythons, but only those owned by people.
“The wild python is a completely separate problem, but we’ve had a couple of bald pythons brought in. They get sick, too. They get reproductive issues, what we call egg-bound. They’re full of eggs and you may have to surgically remove them because they’re not able to pass them on their own. We saw one with pneumonia, which happened because it’s actually been pretty cold here the past few weeks.”
Bennett said snake illnesses are diagnosed like those in other animals — taking blood, doing X-rays and biopsies, and taking a sample of a mass.
Reptile owners in Florida can be caught off guard when the prescription is providing extra heat.
“With reptiles, when they’re not within their preferred optimal temperature zone, their immune system doesn’t work and they’re left open to whatever pathogens are around,” said Bennett, who said she sees something new at work every day.
On the day she spoke to The Chronicle Herald,
she was getting ready to see a pet squirrel, which was going to be a first, and had recently treated a nine-kilogram red-footed tortoise that was lethargic and not eating, “which is the classic vague reptile illness sign,” said Bennett.
“Turns out there was a giant bladder stone. We did surgery and hospitalized it for a while, placed a feeding tube . . . and she recovered, so that’s one of my favourites.
“It used to be that one option was to cut through the shell — literally make a window to giveaccess — and then you replace that window anduse plaster to keep that shell there. Now the practice is, as much as you can, don’t do that because there is bone under there, so it’s really invasive. So what we do is pull the back leg down . . . to an access point where we can enter. Unfortunately, the stone was so gigantic, the size of a fist, we had to go in and break it apart in order to remove it.”
Bennett said nobody has a job as good as hers, and that she’s looking forward to the chance to treat a manatee or a sea turtle, “or a pygmy goat, because they’re so cute.”