UArizona partners with Make-A-Wish Arizona for 'veterinarian for a day' experience

Four people wearing medical scrubs stand around a metal workbench, on which stands a grey and white dog. The three people closest to the dog are examining it, while the young man furthest away looks on.

Dayson Judd, center, looks on as Dr. Randy Aronson, right, examines a dog at PAWS Veterinary Center. Judd was the recipient of a wish from Make-A-Wish Arizona, which partnered with the University of Arizona College of Veterinary Medicine and PAWS to provide Judd a "veterinarian for a day" experience.

Chris Richards / University Communications

Dayson Judd was 3 when his family first brought home a dog. Dayson's older sister, Kambria, had just started kindergarten and Dayson was at home without his favorite playmate.

Just a few days later, Judd and his new best friend – a miniature schnauzer named Tilly – were chasing toys down the hallway, having the time of their lives.

"Tilly was great," he said. "I loved playing with her every day, nonstop. Then I learned that a veterinarian took care of animals, and I wanted to take care of animals, too."

A young boy in a white and green shirt sitting next to a grey and white dog on a couch holds a medical device in his mouth with one hand while petting the dog with the other hand.

A young Dayson Judd using his nebulizer while petting Tilly.

Courtesy Judd Family

Judd has taken serious steps toward that goal. An academically gifted senior at Tanque Verde High School, he was recently accepted into the University of Arizona. He wants to enroll in the W.A. Franke Honors College, study veterinary science as an undergraduate in the College of Agriculture, Life and Environmental Sciences and one day attend the College of Veterinary Medicine.

He experienced childhood like most adventurous young boys despite living with cystic fibrosis, a genetic disorder that can cause severe damage to the lungs, digestive system and other organs in the body. He was diagnosed when he was 8 months old after experiencing a persistent cough, and doctors were able to manage his symptoms for years.

His health took a turn at age 7, leading to years of hospital visits, dozens of daily medications and treatment plans.

"From the age of 7 to 12, I was in the hospital 15 times," Judd said. "It was like a second home to me. My lung function was really low."

Just as he was entering his teen years, he joined a drug trial for Trikafta, and his health immediately began to improve. He said he feels "pretty much like a regular person" at 17. Nowadays, he enjoys playing video games, as well as tennis and pickleball with his parents.

Judd’s Wildcat journey started off strong this week thanks to Make-A-Wish Arizona, UArizona and PAWS Veterinary Center, all of which collaborated to fulfill his wish of becoming "veterinarian for a day."

"His first response was to give his wish away to help someone else," said Chet Judd, Dayson's father. "He's a very empathetic person. We support him in whatever career field he wants, but choosing veterinary medicine makes perfect sense to me, as far as his personality. He cares for animals. He's a great person."

A young man stands behind a white model head of a horse while a woman to his left watches on.

Dayson Judd practices haltering a horse on a model while lead veterinary technician Abigail Matzdorff walks him through the process.

Chris Richards / University Communications

Judd's wish day started with a tour of the College of Veterinary Medicine, where Judd was presented with his own set of scrubs and stethoscope. After a tour, he met with Dr. Julie Funk, dean of the college; Dr. Alex Ramirez, associate dean for academic programs and faculty affairs; and Shannon Salinas, associate dean for student affairs. The administrators provided insight into the profession, recounted their own journeys through the veterinary field and answered his questions about the college.

The state's first and only public veterinary medicine program, the college launched in 2020 and offers an innovative curriculum designed for students to complete a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree in three years. Most veterinary medicine programs in the United States require students to study and train at least four years. The college also uses an active learning approach to education that focuses on providing students with hands-on experience with live animals as early as possible.

After his roundtable with the deans, Judd attended a class taught by assistant professor Dr. Elaine Norton and worked alongside second-year veterinary medicine students as they reviewed coursework. After class, they discussed their shared passion for animals.

"The College of Veterinary Medicine is all about fulfilling our students' dreams of becoming veterinarians," Funk said. "We are so excited to share our college with Dayson and are excited to learn about his passion for veterinary medicine. I am hopeful that visiting the college further assured Dayson's interest in becoming a veterinarian, and through meeting our faculty and students, he feels that veterinary medicine is home, the place to build a career. We would love for Dayson to be a future University of Arizona VetCat."

After gaining insight into the educational journey, Judd met with Dr. Randy Aronson, a veterinarian and co-owner of PAWS Veterinary Center, who allowed the aspiring practitioner to shadow him for an afternoon. The duo met with pet patients, discussed treatment plans and worked in the center's lab.

"Experiences such as Dayson Judd's are central to Make-A-Wish's mission of providing life-changing experiences for children with critical illnesses," said Rob LaMaster, Southern Arizona director at Make-A-Wish Arizona. "Each wish is a custom-made, unique experience for the wish kid, their family and the community that supports them. Dayson wants to pursue a career as a veterinarian. This experience gave him insights and contacts that will help him towards that goal." 

With a newfound understanding of the veterinary profession, and contacts at the university, Judd said he is ready to embark on his journey to one day take care of animals like his childhood friend, Tilly.

"Today was better than I could have imagined, it's just amazing," he said. "The connections I have made, the people I have talked to, have all been amazing. It's helped a lot, and I am very excited."