PENDLETON — For more than 20 years, they’ve been best friends. For the last 10, they’ve been co-workers and teammates, working toward a common goal of making Tri-County Technical College’s Veterinary Technology program the best in the United States.
When Dr. Peggy Champion assumed the role of Department Head/Veterinarian in 2004, she and longtime instructor and Licensed Veterinary Technician (L.V.T.) Christee Williams made a pact – they agreed to retire at the same time.
That moment has come – and it’s bittersweet for both.
Peggy, a University of Florida graduate, has been a practicing veterinarian for 32 years, and it’s been a lifelong career for Christee as well, who has a total of 32 years as an L.V.T. and instructor since graduating as the outstanding senior from Tri-County’s program in 1982.
Their last day is Aug. 8.
“We will miss the students. Before final exams, every morning started with a call or a text or a conversation with a student about us not being here this fall,” said Christee.
But the time is right, they say, to retire from what has been much more than a job to them.
They leave with memorable moments about their passion for the profession, the program, the students and Tri-County Technical College.
The two began as a team in 1989 when Peggy joined the College as department head following Dr. Eddie Anderson’s retirement. She went back to private practice in South Georgia a year later, but they kept in touch over the years and in 2004 the department head position opened up and Peggy came back.
They clicked from day one.
“If you are really, really lucky as a veterinarian or a veterinary technician, you will work with someone in your career who complements your strengths. Christee complements me and vice versa. We realized that early on, and we used it to the program’s advantage and in our friendship. I remember meeting Christee when I was interviewing for the job in 1989 with Dr. Anderson, and thought, ‘wow, we will be friends.’”
“We have a real camaraderie and respect for each other and know what each is capable of,” said Christee. “It’s like we have known each other all of our lives.”
That bond and trust only enhanced the program and their teaching, both agree.
“We make a good veterinarian/veterinary technician team,” said Peggy.
“We know each other’s thoughts and can anticipate what each needs next in labs and surgery. That’s what amazes students when they see us work together,” added Christee.
There are times neither uttered a word during an emergency surgery.
“Afterward, we would hold a round robin and discuss the emergency and our actions so students could learn why we did what we did,” said Peggy.
Peggy says it was a big decision to leave private practice in 2004 to lead the Veterinary Technology program.
She had three years’ teaching experience at Abraham Baldwin College but had spent most of her career as a veterinarian.
“I wasn’t quite committed yet and as I was discussing the pros and cons, I’ll never forget what Christee said to me. She said you can help one animal at a time by being a vet or you can help thousands by putting out good technicians. That made my decision. Christee is the best technician I’ve ever worked with,” said Peggy.
Christee was named the South Carolina Association of Veterinarian’s Technician of the Year in 1996 and received the Presidential Medallion for Instructional Excellence in 2011.
She also is a member of the South Carolina Association of Veterinary Technicians and serves as the regional representative on the SCAVT state board. She served as treasurer of the board from 2001-2011.
Christee says she learned the value of the teaching experience through her instructor and mentor, Dr. Anderson, who, when he received emergency calls from his former clients, would gather the class and they would take off to the site of the injured or sick animal. It’s the first and only time Christee has seen a horse with tetanus.
She saw the importance of increasing clinical learning experiences and competencies and incorporated it into her lab teachings.
Students work with all shelters in three counties to aid in animal spaying/neutering and adoption. Twice a semester, Adoption Days are held on campus for pets (cats and dogs from the animal shelters) that have been cared for during the semester as part of the program. All animals are up to date on shots and have been socialized and introduced to basic commands.
Community service activities are woven throughout the semester to allow students to make a difference for the campus and the community. Projects have included participation the J.D. Massey Horse Show as a student fundraiser and the development of a campus meditation garden outside of Halbert Hall.
The Student Chapter of the North American Veterinary Technician Association (NAVTA) purchased Feline Leukemia FIV combo tests and donated them to Anderson Animal Shelter, along with donating time to the American Saddlebred Association of the Carolinas horse show.
In 2005, following Hurricane Katrina, Dr. Champion and Stephanie Brown, licensed veterinary technician/adjunct instructor, volunteered to treat 12 dogs rescued from the streets of New Orleans.
The College’s student chapter of NAVTA was named the Student Chapter of the Year for 2005. Peggy and Christee traveled to the North American Veterinary Conference in Orlando where they accepted the award. This was the first time Tri-County’s chapter submitted a nomination and the chapter’s first national accolade.
In 2011 PAWS (the Anderson Animal Shelter) moved to a larger, more state-of-the-art facility, necessitating the processing of more than 200 animals. It was a huge undertaking that included safe transport of animals, physical exams, diagnostic testing, vaccination and medical record updates, bathing, and grooming.
Peggy, Dr. Elizabeth Bryan, Christee, Stephanie Brown, and 20 Veterinary Technology students assisted the shelter in transporting and processing all of its adoptable dogs. It was an incredible experience, said Christee.
“That day we vetted around 80 animals in four to five hours. Dr. Powell later hired a technician, our 2011 Outstanding Student, Alice Anderson, as a result of observing our techs that day.”
Peggy, who received the Presidential Medallion for Instructional Excellence in 2008, always has known that technicians are an integral part of the practice.
“I’ve always worked with credentialed technicians since I graduated from vet school so I understand their value.”
Veterinary technicians work closely with veterinarians and other members of the veterinary team to deliver quality animal health care. Their primary responsibilities in a veterinary practice include animal nursing, administering medications, assisting in surgery, taking radiographs, inducing and monitoring anesthesia, client education, hospital management and laboratory duties.
As the trend in veterinary medicine has moved toward multi-doctor practices and high technology, a greater need for well-trained technicians has been created.
“If we are allowed to perform our technical skills, it frees the doctor up to practice veterinary medicine and leaves more time for him or her to run the business,” said Christee, who began working in 1974 as an assistant at a veterinarian’s office when she was a senior in high school and has witnessed the transformation of the profession.
“Today the veterinary technician’s responsibilities are endless. Veterinary technicians are an extra set of hands for the doctor and allow him or her to concentrate on the tasks of making a diagnosis, writing a treatment plan and performing surgery,” said Christee. “The best-run hospital is one where the entire team is utilized to its potential.”
“We both really look forward to work. We have had the same goal from the day we met — this could be the best program in the U.S., if not the world. We have the administrative support and we couldn’t have done it without that,” said Peggy, who acknowledged Dr. Lynn Lewis, dean of the Health Education Division, as a major part of moving the program forward.
“I had a plan when I came here to make this the best program in the U.S. I said if I have help, we can do this. Lynn became part of the plan by acquiring funding for much needed equipment. She has been behind us 100 percent and made a huge difference,” she said.
“Everyone here has the passion to go out and make the world a better place for animals. We have incredible expertise here,” said Peggy. “We are fortunate to be followed by two faculty members/graduates, whose work ethic, respect and rapport are much like what Christee and I have.”
Ashley Brady, evening instructor, will take over department head/day instructor duties and Stephanie Brown, longtime adjunct instructor, will take over Ashley’s former job as evening instructor. Dr. Jennifer Chavis takes over Peggy’s job this fall.