Nokomis: Remembering a Local Legend

by Zach Kline, VM2015

Last Saturday the Wildlife Medical Clinic held a ceremonial “release” for the ashes of the Resident birds who had passed away in recent years. I was upset when obligations regarding my clinical rotation prevented me from returning in time for the ceremony, so I wanted to make sure I paid my respects to one of those birds who made a big impact in my life while I was working for the WMC.

An incredible animal who was truly one in a million, Nokomis’s tame personality and inability to interact normally with other Great-Horned owls made him the perfect ambassador for his species and wild birds as a whole. Gentle, calm, and curious, Nokomis handily endured educational talks in front of large groups of people for almost thirteen years with the WMC. Over that time he (along with the other resident birds) touched the lives of thousands of adults and children in Central Illinois and was certainly considered the face of the Wildlife Medical Clinic.

I spent hundreds of hours working alone during late nights, holidays, breaks, and summers during my time as WMC manager. Occasionally those days could get rather lonely or frustrating, and Nokomis’s presence was always enough to cheer me up! As evidenced by the following photos, the two of us were bent on walking the path to stardom by means of various photo shoots, newscasts, and Public Relations talks. Though he was still a wild animal who was probably just tolerating my presence, every opportunity I got to have him on glove was beyond cool. I will certainly miss our time together.

During long days between patient treatments, I would have the “big boys” out to wander about the treatment room. Nokomis and Odin spent many collective hours exploring every nook and cranny the clinic had to offer.

Here, Nokomis is seen atop his very favorite perch.

I always likened Nokomis’s behavior to that of a very curious cat. Seen in front of him is a bin full of owl pellets that the clinic would sell to elementary schools. The tupperware on top was placed to dissuade that doofy owl from his habit of eating and/or knocking the pellets off of the refrigerator.


An intimidating visage, but a genuinely benign bird. Typically, Great-Horned Owl behavior is characterized by extreme threat displays and unbridled aggression. As a human, I feel fortunate that the only angry part of THIS owl is his face.

Photo shoot for the Veterinary Medicine Website. Nokomis spent 90% of this shoot being distracted by things going on behind him, so I’m surprised we got ANY of him facing the camera.

Nokomis was greatly admired by veterinary students throughout the school, as news of his passing clearly affected WMC members and non-members alike. While still upsetting to think about, I hope that these photos convey the respect I feel for this animal for all that his presence has done for the WMC and Wildlife Conservation in General.

What is a SOAP?

by Malky Weil (VM Class of 2016)

Hello wildlife enthusiasts! Have you ever wondered how we record our treatments for our patients? We maintain a complete medical record, just like at your doctor’s office and use a method called SOAP. Here is how it works:

S/O: Subjective and Objective observations. This is where we talk about a patient’s mentation. We can call them BAR-bright, alert, responsive (if they are moving around in their cage), QAR-quiet, alert, responsive (if we find them resting but still responding to us), or non-responsive (which would be a bad sign with a patient). We also note if there were feces and urine in the cage and with birds of prey if there were casts. A cast is the non-digestible hair and bones of mice or other prey that are regurgitated while the rest of it is digested. As gross as it may seem, it’s important to note when an animal has normal excretory and bowel movements, because if those movements are absent, it can be a sign of gastrointestinal or urinary system abnormalities. We will note if there is food left over from the previous treatment, if the water appears touched, if the patient shredded all of the newspaper in the cage, and any other observation before we have our hands on the patient. Some observations are objective, such as whether or not there are feces in the cage, and others are subjective, such as what the mentation of the patient is.

The next parts of the SOAP are based on a problem list we keep for our patients. I will give an example for a bird with a broken wing as the problem. If there is more than one problem, we label it A1, A2, P1, P2, and so on.

A: Assessment. This is where we talk about our physical assessment of the problem. For the broken wing patient, we may be observing if the bird is holding its wing upright or drooping it or how the wing bandage looks. This is where we would describe how the physical therapy on the muscles is progressing. For example- “We did passive range of motion on the right wing and the muscles are inflamed, stiff, but the extension is better than it was yesterday.” We also talk about the medicine we gave for the specific problem here. With a broken bone we usually give pain medicine, because broken bones are painful. So we might add here that we gave 0.6ml of tramadol (and give the dosage in mg/kg, and concentration in mg/ml). We may also be giving a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory to help with pain and inflammation in the wing.

P: Plan. This is where we talk about what we plan on doing in the future. So for this bird case, we would say- “Continue to monitor posture, continue passive range of motion every other day, continue tramadol, and continue meloxicam until swelling recedes. Change wing wrap in 2 days.”

ADD: Addendum. This is the section we use to add anything else that does not connect to the problems, but still needs to be recorded. For example: “We cleaned the cage and refreshed the water bowl. We checked the feet and did not see any signs of bumblefoot. We left 3 mice (total 27 grams) in the cage. Patient flapped his good wing when we returned him to his cage.”

Recording our treatments is very important. There are multiple people on a team caring for our patients, and not everyone is there for every treatment. Those not there need to stay current on the case, see how the patient has been behaving, and note if there are any changes to the treatment plan. Having all that information is important when making decisions on the case as well. No one’s memory is perfect, so it is important to have a place to look back on what has been done and how the patient responded. I hope this gives you a little glimpse into what goes into keeping a complete medical record for our patients. The skills we gain doing this important work will be used throughout our careers as veterinarians.

The Wildlife Medical Clinic: A diamond in the Rough

By Maddy Erba, VM17

To the Future Veterinary Students of the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine:

It was a hot day in the middle of orientation week when Dr. Foreman explained the benefits (and setbacks) of joining clubs. It had been several long days of sitting in the classroom, listening to information about my new academic life and wishing I could go outside for a bike ride. Dr. Foreman was cautioning us about joining extracurricular clubs, especially the Wildlife Medical Clinic (WMC) which is operated by volunteer veterinary students under faculty guidance and mentorship. Dr. Foreman listed the many reasons why we should think twice about joining the WMC. He explained that to be a member you needed to go to rounds, meetings, treatments, be on a pager shift, and care for orphans. I recall the phrase “time suck” being used multiple times. The administration gave us a schedule at the beginning of first year, which I have supplied for you. If you look closely there isn’t even time to eat dinner let alone find all this magical non-existent time in the week for the wildlife clinic.

Being new to Illinois and unfamiliar with the curriculum, I heeded Dr. Forman’s advice. However, that didn’t stop me from going to the club fair and listening to the forbidden fruit of WMC. There Jenny Kuhn stood with a great horned owl perched on her arm, Nokomis. She told me the wonderful benefits of joining – how we can practice physical exams, learn to write SOAPS, practice communicating within a team, and care for a variety of species. And those are just a few of the perks. Yes, WMC is a time commitment, but it also solidifies what we learn in veterinary school.

After careful consideration, I decided to join. We were told we could leave at any time if school became too challenging, or if we decided wildlife medicine wasn’t for us. However, as long as we were members, we were expected to do all the work, go to the meetings, and be a team. On my team were five amazing team leaders – Stephanie Zec, Erica Morton, Teresa Schecker, Laure Monitor, and Amanda Kuhl. This group of experienced individuals taught me everything I know about wildlife medicine. We practiced wing wraps, how to calculate medications, how to make a splint. I learned how to put in an interosseous catheter on raptor! I practiced communication skills, something everyone can improve upon. I was applying concepts from school, asking intelligent questions, and learning by doing! By the end of my first year I had gained an enormous amount of self-confidence.

On May 1st 2014, just sixteen days before the end of the semester, I appreciated the fact that I was laying the foundation to be a skilled veterinarian. I was nervous because an undergraduate student and I were the only two people on PM treatments. I was nervous because as the veterinary student, I was in charge, and I don’t normally like taking the lead. Our patients at the time were an opossum with a distal tail amputation, an orphaned squirrel with a maxillary swelling, and an orphaned squirrel with lung crackles that we thought were from aspirating food during a feeding.

We decided to feed the two orphaned squirrels first, because we thought they would be the less challenging patients. We examined the squirrel with the swelling first, and fed him. He looked alright.

It was time to feed the second squirrel. She suckled roughly two thirds of her meal, and then started shaking. We quickly re-heated a rice sock to keep her warm as she ate dinner, and she seemed to be okay after that. But when I auscultated her heart and lungs, I knew there was a problem. The crackles in the left lung field were still present, but the more alarming observation was her heart. Normally you should not be able to count the number of heart beats per minute on a squirrel. I counted about 120 bpm. Normally the heart makes a “lub-dub” sound, but on our squirrel you could only hear the “lub” and the heart sounded like it was struggling to pump blood throughout the body. We also noted a sinus arrhythmia (which may be normal in young animals) but is still worth noting.

What do we do? We call in help from our team leaders. We rallied the troops. It is never wrong to ask for help or clarification. Amanda confirmed our observations. We determined that our furry friend was not dehydrated, and therefore did not need fluids to increase her cardiac output. So we took radiographs, which revealed an enlarged heart. This young animal had signs of a cardiomyopathy, or abnormality in her heart. It is possible that this was a congenital anomaly that had been present all along but became apparent as time went on. It was only through this valuable clinical experience that I was able to appreciate the signs of a problem in this squirrel and apply my classroom knowledge to a real case scenario.

Congratulations on making it into veterinary school. Part of being in a professional graduate program is being able to think critically, and to think for yourself. The Wildlife Medical Clinic provides you with the opportunity to learn from more experienced students. You won’t always have all the answers in vet school, but you should never feel afraid to ask for help. School is what you make of it. Your education is up to you. Learning by doing is not only enriching, it solidifies understanding of classwork. I strongly implore you to consider Wildlife Medical Clinic, take a chance, save a life, and strengthen your veterinary education.