Newnan High's George uses project to protect animals she loves
By REBECCA LEFTWICH
Victoria George has been surrounded by animals all her life, and her research into the safety of dog products may someday help improve the lives of her canine companions.
George, who plans to become a veterinarian, worked with teacher and mentor Kelley Finger to research stomach pH, enzymes and pepsin and mimicked the conditions with chemicals available in the Newnan High School chemistry lab. Her resulting project – “How Safe are Dog Treats, Chews and Dog Friendly Toys?” – won second place, the Veterinary Science Award, the Special Award for Life Sciences, the Outstanding Exhibit Award and the Director’s Choice Award at the Georgia Science and Engineering Fair.
George describes some of her processes and findings in her own words:
“In order to test the digestibility of dog toys, treats, and chews I researched the canine digestive system. I determined that I could simulate a dog’s stomach acid using a diluted hydrochloric acid solution mixed with a small amount of pepsin. I purchased samples of several different dog toys, treats, and chews, cut them into similarly sized pieces and soaked them for up to 21 days in the acid solution. Some of the samples dissolved completely in the normal digestive time of 4 to 8 hours. Others partially dissolved after several days. Some showed no sign of dissolving even after 21 days.
“I also completed a consumer survey of 150 dog owners to determine if the average consumer supervised their dog while they were chewing or playing with the toys or treats. The packaging on many of the chews and toys recommends (in very fine print) that they product be used only under supervision. My survey showed that less than 50 percent of the pet owners supervise their dog while chewing or playing with the product.
“I started my research at the beginning of August, 2011, and finished the last steps in the middle of February, 2012.
“I have known that I want to pursue becoming a veterinarian since I was 13. At the age of 15, Drs. Shannon and Christy Stoffle allowed me to spend the day observing at Coweta Animal Hospital. After that first day, I was hooked. Since that time I have spent many hours at the clinic and have also volunteered with the Newnan Coweta Humane Society.
“In 2011, I went to the state science fair in Athens, with a project that I did for High School Chemistry. At that fair, they awarded a prize for best project in Veterinary Science. I decided then that my next project would be in Veterinary Science. After talking to Dr. Stoffle about several possible projects, we decided that an experiment on digestibility would be a good one.
“In dogs, the esophagus is larger than the duodenum (stomach outlet). So a dog can easily swallow an object much larger than can pass through the intestines. So if the object is not digested in the stomach it may become trapped which can cause a blockage. Many of these dogs are euthanized due to the costs involved in removing the object. I wanted to raise awareness of the potential danger to the dog. Some of the results of my experiment not only shocked me, but surprised Dr. Shannon Stoffle as well. As an example, many people, including myself, thought that rawhide chews are completely digestible. However, in my experiment, after 21 days, they had not dissolved and had actually expanded in size.
“When I went to the science fair in 2011, I did not know what to expect and what the judges looked for. However, my chemistry teacher, Mrs. Kelley Finger encouraged me along the way and gave me the drive to return to the state competition again this year. I became determined to use what I learned to improve my project. Projects at the state level are very competitive. There is also such an excitement among all the participants that everyone there becomes instant friends. The Georgia Science and Engineering Fair is an experience that I will never forget. I don’t like to “stand out” normally, but after the first year at the GSEF, I couldn’t wait to try to compete again. That year I didn’t receive any awards, but it gave me more confidence and also a goal to go after. I finally realized that it is okay to “stand out” in the field that I love so much, veterinary medicine. My life goal is to make a difference in the lives of animals. All my life I have been surrounded by dogs, cats, and horses. Even with eight dogs, six cats, and four horses that my family owns, they all become part of the family and it is hard to sit by and watch any of them suffer. So for all my mentors, (Mrs. Finger, Drs. Shannon and Christy Stoffle), and the state science fair, I now have the desire to go as far as I can to obtain my goal. I don’t think I would have had the confidence without it. So GSEF is what helped me to get over my fear of competition. For that I will always be thankful.”