Comet and Cupid were the main attraction at the third annual Reindeer Express, hosted by the USU School of Veterinary Medicine on Friday evening at the USU Animal Science Farm.
Santa Claus brought his sleigh team to his head reindeer vet to make sure the reindeer are healthy and ready for a long trek on Christmas Eve. Isaac Bott, a veterinarian and USU alumnus who is an international authority on reindeer, performed check-ups on the reindeer four times throughout the evening in front of an audience as Elf Sam and other USU vet students assisted.
“This year has been the best year yet,” said Sam Kalis, or Elf Sam, as the USU vet student was referred to as during the event. “It gives people an idea of what a vet actually does. It allows them to understand beyond the experience of taking their dog to the vet.”
Donning a complete elf costume, Kalis helped Bott care for Comet and Cupid and shared facts with the audience about reindeer’s three-chambered stomachs and the many uses of antlers.
“To watch all of the kids that are so excited to see the different kinds of animals is so fun and so relatable,” said Tanille Paniogue, a first year vet student. “I love being able to work with and understand so many different species.”
The students, along with the 2,000 guests, interacted with the reindeer, horses, donkeys, cattle and a camel. Santa and Mrs. Claus sat at the end of the arena, just past the horse-drawn sleigh, with a consistently long line of children waiting their turn to talk with Santa.
“It is such a popular community event and it has been so rewarding to see the involvement from the community,” said Dr. Dirk Vanderwall, a professor and the department head of animal, dairy and veterinary sciences. “The fact that we can tie in the spirit of Christmas from a veterinarian medical side of things is just such a neat opportunity.”
Booths lined the indoor arena offering opportunities to learn about animal surgeries, vaccinations and how to find your elf name.
Vanderwall, or Buddy Fruitcake as he was dubbed by the vet students handing out elf names, said the goal is to usher in the holiday season while raising community awareness about the vet school.
“We hope we have youth here that are considering a career as an animal doctor,” Vanderwall said, “or maybe this is the night that sparks a fire for some youth to look into being a vet.”
Kristin Larsen brought her four children to see all of the animals.
“The little ones loved the animals that came close to the fence so they could touch them,” Larsen said. “They had a great time, and we will come back next year.”