People ask me, “Why did you become a vet tech?” or more particularly, “What made you decide to become a vet tech after the age of 45?”
I had always been an animal-loving kid. I can remember when I was little taking care of my grandparent’s one-eyed Pekingese and how she would lick my face whenever she would see me. My cousin worked at the stables at Keeneland Racetrack in Lexington, Kentucky grooming horses and mucking stalls and, during every summer visit, he would take me with him, sit me on a bale of hay, and I would get the opportunity to pet the horses as they walked by going to the track for their daily exercise.
I’ve been dog- and horse-crazy since my childhood.
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I was out walking my dog when my British neighbor from up the street, who just happened to be going to his car, mentioned that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center. Thinking it had to be some kind of accident, I made it home just in time to see the second plane hit.
By sunset that horrible day, I knew that life is too short to work at a job that I dreaded (I was selling advertising at the time) and that I had to make a change. So I decided then and there it was time to follow my heart and work with animals.
A month later, I had quit my job and enrolled at my local community college to take the classes I did not take during my first college try 30 years earlier, but that I knew were needed to enroll in the Veterinary Technology program at Cedar Valley College in Duncanville, Texas.
Biology, Speech, English, and Applied Mathematics…I was the oldest student in the class, but I was determined to make an “A” in all of them. I succeeded in everything but Applied Math – I got a “B+” at the end of the course.
Going to Vet Tech school was a bit of culture shock for this unscientific, middle-aged student.
To get my Associate’s Degree, I had to take 2 full years of Anatomy & Physiology, where I learned how to look at a bare bone on a table, decide which animal it was from, which part of the body that bone belonged to, and to name all the different bumps and ridges on that bone using their scientific names. I learned how to look in a microscope and decide which type of parasitic egg I was seeing in Parasitology class. I was taught the names and uses of every kind of surgical instrument imaginable in Surgical Nursing. I learned how to reach my entire arm into a mare’s vagina to feel the foal resting in her uterus in Equine Reproduction.
Every morning for 4 semesters, I was at the campus clinic and barns at 7 am, cleaning kennels, mucking stalls, feeding dogs, cats, horses, cattle, pigs, and goats. I loved every minute of it, in spite of the mosquitoes and chiggers that only quit biting when the weather got too cold. We were out there caring for the animals when it was 100º, in the rainy muck and mud, and when the ground froze over.
I got to see births (many a pregnant dog and cat came from the local shelter and were later adopted out) and deaths. Too many of the animals selected from the shelters were aged, sick, too far gone with heartworms and just didn’t make it, despite our love and care.
Probably the most fun – and the hardest time physically – revolved around working with the spring foals every year. Those flighty, long-legged little creatures did not want to be haltered, led around on a lead rope, learn how to climb up in a trailer, leave their mothers after 7 months – but that is what they were meant to do, and that is what I had to learn to train them to do so that they could be found good, loving homes.
That was the important part of my education: every animal I worked on, whether it was in the kennel or the barn, in the surgical suite learning spay and neutering procedures, learning how to clean teeth, trim nails, de-bud baby goats – the entire program was aimed at re-homing animals that nobody else wanted.
Reading my textbooks and studying every day was a necessary evil if one wanted to succeed at this course. When I started at Cedar Valley in 2002, 50 people were enrolled in the Vet Tech program. When I graduated in 2003, 19 of us crossed the stage.
The subjects were hard, the days were long, the blood and poop and pee and vomit were relentless. This is not a career for people who don’t want to dirty their hands…or their scrubs.
Dissection on dead animals taught me musculature, what nerves and blood vessels look like, where each organ belongs…and that God made all animals basically the same. We have identically the same skeletal construction, the same organs, the same body systems. We may be put together a bit differently, but only a tiny percentage of our genetic structure is different from our furry companions.
In order to be listed with the American Veterinary Medical Association and the Texas Veterinary Medical Association, a prospective Registered Vet Tech is required to graduate from an accredited Vet Tech college program and take – and pass – two comprehensive tests.
The first one is a National Boards test that looks at everything one has learned over two years and that qualifies a passing Vet Tech to work in any state in the US. The second test is state-specific, revolving around the various laws that govern the veterinary treatment of animals in each specific state. In Texas, both tests are taken every June at the TVMA building in Austin over a 2-day period.
While I cannot say that this job is easy…I can say that this job is rewarding, exciting, different every day, and never, ever, ever boring.
I love the animals I work on. I adore the veterinarians I work with. I am very proud to say that at least two of the young people I volunteered with at my local horse barn are now working vet techs.
I want to thank Robin for giving me the opportunity to talk a bit – maybe a bit too much – about myself and my chosen career. I hope I haven’t bored you with my self-indulgence. And I promise, next week we’re discussing Mutts vs. Pedigreed Dogs.
Back to real life.