The Writing Life, With Animals
Combining her love for veterinary medicine with writing, Katelyn Laury ’12 has written a book that tells the story of a special dog and comforts children facing craniofacial surgery.
You might rightly imagine that a student in veterinary medicine at the University of Pennsylvania would have her hands full of science, but what happens when that student also cultivated a love for writing while an undergraduate at Washington College?
That would be the story of Katelyn Laury ’12, whose book Lentil Goes to Surgery is now offered to children undergoing craniofacial surgery at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). Laury, who majored in biology in the pre-veterinary track at WAC, is now at vet school at UPenn, finishing up her clinical year.
The children’s book is the result of a class she took about the bond between humans and animals, and a program she became involved in called Best Friends. The program, created by the Penn Vet Dentistry Department, brings together animals who undergo craniofacial surgeries for issues like cleft palate with children at CHOP who endure similar surgeries.
“Some of the dogs have the same problems as the children,” Laury says. “The dogs don’t realize they look different. Humans don’t treat them differently, they’re just as happy as they were beforehand. So it’s kind of refreshing to see how the dogs can react in this situation. We’re trying to get these kids to see how upbeat these dogs are and send the message, ‘You don’t have to feel different, you can still be happy.’ ’’
For her class project, Laury focused on a French bulldog named Lentil who came to Penn for surgery on a cleft palate and lip. He became something of a cause célèbre, with his own Facebook page and a blog. Laury asked his owner if she’d be game for Lentil becoming the star of a children’s story.
Using Shutterfly for the book’s backgrounds, and photos from the owner, Laury wrote the story of Lentil, which tells all about the dog’s experience and is aimed at young children who are likely afraid of undergoing the same thing. The book was funded by Penn Medicine’s Edwin and Fannie Gray Hall Center for Human Appearance.
“I wanted to do something that was a meaningful project that I could pass on to other people,” Laury says. “I did get credit for it, but ultimately it turned into something much bigger than that because I did get to meet some of the craniofacial surgeons at CHOP and we did a big presentation to them about our group [at Penn Vet]. I never thought I’d be over at the human hospital presenting a book!”
Laury says she always knew she wanted to go into veterinary medicine, but she also loved writing. While at Washington College, the two went together well enough that she worked at the Writing Center tutoring other students.
“When I came to vet school I figured that was the end of my writing,” she says, until she came up with the idea for the children’s book. “All of these children are quite young, and I wanted it to be an easy read for them but also show how well Lentil has progressed. I wanted to say, ‘You can still go and play and have friends too.’ Sometimes trying to say that simply and in a textual way can be difficult. I went through it several times.”
Laury finishes her clinical studies next spring, and she’s not entirely sure yet whether she’ll immediately embark in a general practice or whether she will specialize. She enjoyed two externships at the Philadelphia Zoo and the Camden Aquarium where she was able to work with “exotics,” animals like sea turtles, reptiles, and even an octopus.
A Presidential Fellow when she enrolled at Washington College, Laury was also a member of the Cater Society of Junior Fellows, and she was recognized by the College’s Theta chapter of Phi Beta Kappa as one of nine freshman to achieve a GPA of 3.9 or higher.
“My activities at Washington College have shaped my life at Penn,” Laury wrote in a letter of thanks to the Hodson Trust, through which she received a large enough scholarship to attend WAC as an undergrad. “My love for lab animals has remained with me through the years, leading me to become the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee chair of our Special Species Symposium. After seeing the desperate need for veterinary services when I was in Ecuador as an undergraduate, I was also compelled to join the Darwin Animals Doctors, a non-profit veterinary service that aids animals on the Galápagos Islands.”
Lentil Goes to Surgery, though, has been her most unexpected and fulfilling project while in vet school. “I truly believe my involvement in this project is a testament to my liberal arts background at Washington College that taught me to pursue my interest in all fields,” Laury says, “not just those pertaining to my major.”