Hands-On Experience

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 25, 2003

What's orange, white and furry all over?

Quite possibly the next cover model for Glamour.

She may not make the cutest girl in the world, but she sure makes for one cute guinea pig.

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Heidi Collier, a 10-year-old student at Covenant Christian School, entered a photograph of her pet guinea pig Carrot Cake (C.C. for short) in a Pike County 4-H photography contest and won first place.

Her photograph will advance to districts later this year.

Heidi's award-winning shot was not easy to make.

"It's really hard to make them hold still,' she confessed.

"I had to take 12 different shots before I got one."

Heidi took her shot with a digital camera, put the photo in a plastic slipcover and mounted it to heavier paper to get it ready for competition.

Her photo competed with other pictures of landscapes, people and animals.

Heidi joined 4-H this year through her school and enjoys every minute of it.

"All of my projects are in animal science or veterinarian science," she said, "because I want to be vet when I grow up.&uot;

The bright young girl is already off to a good start.

On a sunny day, you can find two stacks of cages on her driveway full of rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters and rats.

Yes, she even has rats.

&uot;I think I like them almost as much as she does,&uot; her mom Gayle Bush laughed.

Heidi started with a guinea pig when she was four and the she got a rat for Christmas when she was six.

Since then, her collection has grown to over a dozen small animals.

With the help of her mother, Heidi breeds and sells her animals.

&uot;Mostly we just take them to Troy Pets,&uot; Heidi said.

&uot;The give us store credit for them.

That's how we got my rabbits.&uot;

Sometimes she and her mom take her rats to hospitals and labs in Nashville, Tenn., where they called home until last summer.

&uot;It is such a great experience for her,&uot; Heidi's mother said.

&uot;It gives her a lot of variety and hands-on experience.&uot;

Heidi knows all about hands-on.

&uot;Having these pets is a lot of hard work,&uot; she said.

&uot;You have to give them a lot of love and care.&uot;

She said she's also learned a lot about small animals in general and plans to deal specifically with them when she starts her practice.

Unfortunately, her beloved C.C. went MIA over Christmas break after the family dog knocked several cages over and has not been able to share in Heidi's success.

Although her stunning good looks were passed on to her daughter Pepperoni, Heidi says next year's photo will be butterflies.

No matter what the project, the outcome will be the same.

Heidi is learning up-close and personal what it means to be responsible and how to use her talents to her advantage, and that's enough to make any young person's future picture