To celebrate its 40th anniversary, the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine is kicking off the public phase of its ABC (Above & Beyond Capital) Challenge, chaired by Margaret Hart and Dr. Bobby Lewis.

A special anniversary celebration with Mike VI is set for Saturday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the L-Club in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

LSU has had a live tiger mascot since 1936 but the Vet School has been responsible for his daily care and health care needs only since 1976.

“Mike is assigned two vet students every two years,” explained public relations coordinator Ginger Guttner. “They are responsible for his basic care. Dr. David Baker is LSU’s attending veterinarian.”

Taking care of Mike puts these caretakers in a special fraternity known as the Krewe of Mike the Tiger. They’ll be sharing memories and Tiger tales at Saturday night’s fundraiser.

While Mike the Tiger may be the most well-known client of the Vet School, he is by no means the only one. As Guttner pointed out, the large and small animal clinics are open seven days a week, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and they never know what kind of critter may land on their doorstep.

“We treat about 1,800 wildlife animals each year,” she said. “Our release rate is 44 percent. And, while our students get great experience, we rarely get paid even though we will ask for a donation from the person who brought in the injured or sick animal.”

“Hurricane season is baby squirrel season,” said Gretchen Morgan, director of annual giving and alumni affairs. “We took care of more than 100 baby squirrels after the last hurricane. It was an all-hands-on-deck emergency. The students were even taking home the baby squirrels to bottle feed them.”

They probably didn’t mind. You don’t get into vet school on a whim. LSU is one of only 28 vet schools in the entire nation and one of eight in the Southeastern Conference. It accepts 87 students into the program each year from among 600 to 800 applicants; 59 of those spots are held for Louisiana residents.

“Almost every student has known since they were 5 that they wanted to be a veterinarian,” said Guttner.

And, while the majority of students were male for many years, that seems to be changing. According to Guttner, 75 percent of vet students today are female.

“The class of 2007 was the last predominantly male class we graduated,” she said of what is a nationwide trend. “We’re also seeing a lot of legacy students — students who had a parent, sibling or other family member graduate from LSU Vet School. We had five in one class last year.”

The education requirements for a veterinarian are very similar to those for a medical doctor, and so is the medical equipment they use to treat their animal patients.

“We have to use human machines because they don’t make machines for animals,” said Morgan, adding that vets typically use pediatric-size machines and instruments.

“Veterinary medicine is very specialized now,” said Guttner. “Just about every human specialty, we have for animals. We are home to the most board certified specialists under one roof of anywhere in the state.”

“It’s not just about the animals,” said Morgan. “Everything we do is touched by veterinary medicine.”

The LSU Vet School recently received accreditation by the American Veterinary Association. It’s good for seven years.

“This ABC Challenge takes us into the next accreditation process,” said Laura Lanier, director of development. “We have to do research, it’s a big part of our school.”

Because the school is in a unique position to diagnose and treat cancers and infectious diseases that threaten the lives of both animals and people (diabetes, breast and prostate cancer, West Nile virus), it is establishing a regional center of excellence in biomedical and infectious disease research.

According to statistics provided by the LSU Vet School, 40 percent of cats and dogs that reach age 12 will be diagnosed with malignant tumors. To treat them, the school has a linear accelerator to provide radiation therapy by delivering high energy X-rays to the specific tumor region to destroy the cancer cells but spare the surrounding normal tissue.

“Our current linear accelerator is 15 years old,” said Lanier.

“We brought it online in 2003, so now we’re looking for a new, used linear accelerator that will last us another 15 years and that can also be used to treat equine cases.”

Continuing the nearly $8 million in research, purchasing a new linear accelerator, expanding the clinic space to serve the 25,000 patients seen each year are why the Vet School has undertaken the challenge.

“We’ve already raised $2 (million) and it’s very important for us to meet this challenge and the $5 million needed to see us into the future,” said Lanier.