KNOXVILLE — From appearing on the History Channel’s “Modern Marvels” to helping pet owners on “Barkitecture” to collaborating with students on publishing a book, Karen Tobias radiates enthusiasm when it comes to teaching and learning.
Tobias, a professor of surgery at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, College of Veterinary Medicine and president of the Society for Veterinary Soft Tissue Surgery, said her favorite thing about teaching is seeing somebody pick up a skill that will allow them to better handle their veterinary patients.
Even at a young age, Tobias, whose parents are both teachers, said she could explain something to someone who was struggling with a concept, and they would say, “I finally understand this.”
“I was given a gift,” Tobias said. “I like teaching, and people like me doing it, so that makes it even better. I get so much out of it because I’m appreciated.”
Tobias co-hosted a series on the DIY Network called “Barkitecture,” where she worked with new pet owners, helping them with whatever they needed. The show primarily looked at animals that were being adopted or rescued by the owners.
“One segment, we had three dachshunds who commonly have back problems, and we were going to talk about that,” Tobias said.
But then Tobias found one of the dogs had a hole between the nasal cavity and mouth where a tooth was missing — and changed the show to help the family handle that specific issue.
With past television experience, the History Channel asked Tobias to provide commentary on working dogs, such as police dogs and search and rescue dogs, and what makes those dogs special.
Tobias’ teaching experience outside the classroom has only strengthened her impact in the classroom.
“Among all the cool things Dr. Karen Tobias has done in academia, her collaboration with veterinary students to produce a small animal surgery textbook is one of the coolest,” said Michael Fry, associate professor of clinical pathology. “It was a brilliant idea that, in typical fashion, she transformed into reality.”
Every year, Tobias would ask her students if they were interested in being published so they would have a better chance of finding an internship. One year, 13 students expressed interest.
“I couldn’t come up with 13 separate ideas, so I came up with the book idea,” Tobias said. “In the end, we had 18 students contributing.”
The “Manual of Small Animal Soft Tissue Surgery” has been translated into multiple languages around the world, including Greek, Chinese and French.
Tobias does not limit her love for animals to the academic world. She has two Jack Russells, Lily and Cato, and a hound cross, Zelda, a 1-year-old rescue.
“The Boys” or “the three orange men” are Tobias’ cats — Rusty, previously a blood donor at the veterinary school; Aleks, named after a math program; and Piggie, the 23-year-old who spends the summer living with Tobias’ parents.
In addition to six pets, Tobias has two “absolutely wonderful” children – Jacob, 16, and Jessica, 15 – who she says are “the best teenagers in the world.”