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John Oliver the Cat

30 Nov
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Dramatic reenactment of our first meeting.

Labor day weekend this year, I had plans to meet some friends for brunch in Chelsea. I woke up late and hung out in bed watching old episodes of Last Week Tonight.

As I lay there, I heard a clear, distinctive meowing which almost sounded like it was coming from my apartment. It took me a couple of minutes to realize it was coming from outside. Still in my pajamas, I put on my rain boots and rain coat (it was POURING) and headed outside to investigate. I stood at the side entrance to my building where my landlord parks his car and listened. I heard nothing. Maybe it was a stray cat passing by. Maybe one of my neighbors adopted a cat. As I turned to go back inside I heard it one more time. A tiny, little meow.

After looking around, I finally saw a little ball of fluff darting between the garbage cans. I didn’t think I’d be able to get to it, so I headed back inside to text Dr. L.

IMG_5136She guilted me into going back in the rain. Nothing in me wanted to, other than my sacred duty and pledge as a veterinary technician to help the furry creatures of the world. I grabbed an old beach towel and went back out. The cat did not want to be caught, but I kept following him around until I cornered him by the recycling bins and blocked his escape with a grate. Once he ran from me and hit the grate I grabbed him with the towel and swaddled him close to me. He didn’t fight, didn’t cry, he almost seemed to relax in my arms. I got him into my apartment and dumped him in my bathroom while I figured out what to do next.

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Scared little kitten hiding behind my toilet.

I made myself presentable and grabbed an old gym bag to put him in. I took an Uber into the city, and I kept peering into the bag to make sure he was okay. He was shaking and looking at me with those big eyes not sure to trust me or not.

“I got you,” I kept telling him. “I promise to not steer you wrong.”

My boss agreed to let us keep him at the hospital until we found a permanent home for him. I named him John Oliver, although most everyone just calls him Oliver. Within a couple of days, he was playful, friendly, exploring all over the hospital.

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Making friends at the hospital.

He quickly grew to love his little life. Steady supply of good food. Warm bed. Lots of attention. He was right at home at the hospital. We posted a couple of pictures of him on Facebook and immediately started getting responses from people who wanted him. I was happy for him, but so so sad for me. He felt like mine, like our lives were fated. He belonged with me. I had been told when I moved into my apartment that I couldn’t have pets, but I had to try. I had to ask again.

Turns out, both of my roommates really wanted to keep him and our landlord didn’t mind! John Oliver was coming home with me. The day I brought him home, he was so confused to be leaving his happy hospital. I took him back on the subway with me, and he kept looking up at me through the mesh of his carrier with that same worried look he had given me in the Uber a month earlier.

“I haven’t steered you wrong yet, have I?” I quietly said to him.

It took him a while to warm up to his new home, but now he owns the place. Even though I work with cats a lot, I’ve had to learn a lot about owning a cat, especially a rambunctious kitten. He still bites and gets what we call his “night crazies” where he runs laps around our living room nonstop from 1am-3am. But I love him. He’s my guy. My little John Oliver.

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My guy, all dressed up for the day he was neutered.

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The Baby Vet

11 Jul

About a year ago, our clinic got a new vet. Fresh out of vet school with very limited experience, he seemed nice if a little naive, but I was optimistic and willing to give him a chance. We quietly referred to him as the baby vet.

I don’t know what happened between us or if there was something in particular that I did that upset him, but within a couple of weeks, he started treating me differently. He made a point to have me wipe his patients’ behinds after he expressed their anal glands (not my job), clean soiled cages (not my job), and even clean up vomit in his office (seriously not my job.) When I would tell him I was busy doing other things around the office, he would throw what can only be described as grown-man temper tantrums. I watched him throw bandaging materials, stomp to his office, slam the door and refuse to talk to anyone. He would brag openly to the receptionists that I was a horrible tech, a horrible person and that he was going to get me fired. Once a week, he’d take a list of things he didn’t like about me to my bosses and tell them what a waste of money I was.

I get the whole “you can’t be everyone’s cup of tea” thing, but it hurt. I work hard. I try and do the best job I can. It felt awkward to go to work everyday knowing that there existed a contingency of people that were rooting for my demise. It made me angry. Who was this kid to come into my place of work and try and get me fired? I started making a list of my own. The baby vet has a bad habit of saying racist and sexist things around the office. I’ve seen him overcharge clients that he knows are wealthy. I’ve seen him take drugs from the office and give it to friends for free. Worst of all, I’ve seen him miss key parts of an exam, misdiagnose animals and practice some sloppy medicine. I was building my case to take to my bosses to try and get HIM fired.

Then I saw the “When they go low, we go high” speech that Michelle Obama gave at the Democratic Convention. Her eloquent and noble message resonated with me, especially within the situation I found myself. I thought long and hard about it, and I tore up my “why baby vet sucks” list and decided to try a different approach.

When the baby vet first came to the clinic, he got us a good deal on a dental x-ray machine. He was supposed to be in charge of integrating it into our dental cleanings. We had never taken dental x-rays at the clinic, and everyone struggled with it, including baby vet. We couldn’t seem to get non-distorted films. So I took my downtime at work, and I started studying. I pulled out my textbooks from Penn Foster and started reading radiograph techniques. I watched youtube videos and read vet tech websites. I mastered that machine and began taking perfect dental x-rays. I remember showing Dr. S a set of x-rays I took once I really got the hang of it. Baby vet was awkwardly standing by staring at his phone, eavesdropping.

“Perfection,” Dr. S said. “I’d expect no less.”

Baby Vet’s face flushed red, and he stormed out of the room.

I was given the responsibility of training the rest of the staff on how to use the machine, and I still advise my co-workers on more difficult shots. I made a point of going to my bosses with a new list, a list of why I deserved a raise. But they didn’t even let me read it. They just gave me the money I wanted. I asked them if there was anything they wanted me to work on, any issues they had with the job I was doing. I was certain they’d bring something up, one of the complaints that I know had been made about me. But nothing. They simply told me that they are happy with the work I do and to keep it up. It was the easiest raise I’ve ever gotten.

I don’t know if baby vet still complains about me. He avoids me as much as possible which I’m fine with. He’s so young and new at his job that I’m not quite sure why he’s focused so much time on bringing others down instead of trying to improve himself. But I don’t have time to worry about that. He isn’t even on my radar.

Poodle Nanny Diaries

27 Mar

I find myself in a bizarre situation. I have agreed to be a live-in poodle nanny. Hear me out.

A couple of months ago, our landlords told us that they were not going to renew our lease, because they wanted to give our apartment to their daughter. At the time, I couldn’t face the news. I was drowning in anatomy and chemistry exams and figured I’d deal with finding a new place to live when our June 1st move date was up. But a couple of weeks ago, my roommates both found apartments to move into in the beginning of April and began pressuring me to do the same, so that we could all break the lease early.

I started telling my friends that I was looking when a co-worker told me about an interesting proposition from a client who we have all worked with in the last couple of years. This client owns five black poodles, the newest of which are two young poodles that don’t get along with the eldest poodle. They live in a mansion in the Upper East Side, and the client, a woman we’ll call Marie, was looking for a live-in poodle nanny. I was skeptical. It sounded crazy, but curiosity got the better of me, and I agreed to meet with her and talk about the situation.

Attached to the 5-story home is a small studio apartment, a couple of blocks from where I work, around the corner from Central Park. The deal is that I will live there rent-free, with a small stipend for food in exchange for letting the two youngest poodles sleep in the apartment at night. The caveat is that it is something like a nanny job. They expect me to be there at a certain time at night to bring the poodles into my apartment and to stay there. Marie explained to me that she still wanted me to have a life, but that I just needed to inform the house manager of when I was going to be out at night, so that they could arrange for one of their many, many assistants to watch the dogs for me. I’m still unclear on how strict it all is. How much freedom I’ll actually have.

But I was pulled in, lured by the curiosity of the situation, of this woman. I’m so intrigued to find out how they live, how they function. I thought about it for a couple of days and told them that I would give it a shot. We agreed to do a three-month trial to make sure that I like the job and that they are happy with me. It was exciting and strange at first, but now a bit of panic is starting to set in.

How beholden will I be to these people? Do they really expect me to lead some sort of Cinderella life where I have to drop whatever I’m doing at 8pm to run back to the apartment to greet some poodles? Why can’t the poodles just hang in my apartment while I’m not there? How nice is the pool on the roof? I’m trying to calm myself down by remembering how much money I’m going to save while I’m in this current stretch of post-bacc pre-med school and how if it doesn’t work out, I’ll pretty much be in the exact same position that I am now, looking for a new place to live. But I’ll have a story. And really my whole life has just been chasing stories to tell the nurses at the old folks home one day. Maybe this will be an incredible experience, and I’ll love it. Maybe I’m entangling myself with international crime lords. At this point, I honestly don’t know. And that’s where my nervousness and my anxiety is stemming from. But all new journeys start with a little bit of fear and hesitation I suppose.

New Beginnings

21 May

I’ve been weighing in my head for months how to write this post, and I think there’s no better way to write it than to just dive in.

I’m leaving veterinary medicine.

It weighs on me, because I have accumulated a number of vet tech readers, and I know a lot of the traffic I get to the site is about my experiences as a technician. And while I’m not quitting completely anytime soon, I’m going to begin transitioning out of it.

Why?

It’s difficult for me how to explain how I’ve arrived at this fork in the road, because many things that happened in the last 6-7 months that led me to this decision. If you’ll humor me, a list:

  1. PENN FOSTER ABANDONED ME- I’ve talked in the past about the benefits of the program, and I’ve since considered deleting that post. But after years of doing practicums and acing all the tests, I came to the final practicum which required me to do film x-rays. Most clinics are digital, so it took months for me to find a place. When I did, the program waterlogged me for months and didn’t approve my location until the clinic had transitioned to digital. The head veterinarian at my clinic, Dr. S, even called the deans of the vet tech program to try and fix the situation. “We have an intelligent, talented technician here,” I heard him say on the phone. “And we are going to lose her to another industry, and I don’t want that.” Penn Foster continued to not follow through on their promises to rectify this situation. So here I sit after years of work, unable to take my licensing exam and without the vet tech degree I worked so hard for. Dr. S’s compliments rang in my ears as I decided it wasn’t worth it to me to fight Penn Foster, that maybe the industry should lose me.
  2. I DATED A MIRROR IMAGE OF MYSELF- Last fall I was dating someone who had a penchant for moping. He wasn’t where he wanted to be in his life, which I understand. But I found a deep well of frustration at him for not doing something about it, about not chasing down avenues that would move him forward. I would nag him and found myself losing respect for him. But at some point, I saw my own hypocrisy. I am not where I want to be in my life, and I have a lot of things lacking. I tend to mope and whine about it. I don’t know how many times I’ve added to my to-do lists “Figure Life Out” half-joking, half-serious. So I took my own nagging to heart. I broke up with him and decided I had to set myself on a new path.
  3. I WEARIED OF MY NEW YORK LIFE- Around this time, newly single, I found myself sliding into old patterns. Online dating, staying out late drinking with friends, complaining about how poor I am. Like waking from a dream I realized these weren’t things I wanted to do. These things were not making me happy anymore, and it was time to tackle the biggest item on my to-do list. I decided I had no time and no interest in dating. I stopped spending time with friends whose lives revolved around bar tabs and nursing hangovers. I took three days off of work and camped out in my apartment and hashed out what I REALLY, TRULY, DEEPLY wanted to make happen in my life. What my experiences and what my talents can lend themselves to.  I researched careers. I talked to a variety of people. I looked into schooling length and costs. I spent countless weekends alone at my apartment with delivered Thai food sorting through all my data.
  4. I STARTED DIPPING MY TOES IN THE WATER OF SOMETHING NEW- And I realized that this wasn’t suffice; it was better to dive in. I’ve made a commitment to pursuing something different and yet somewhat similar. It’s terrifying. It’s uncertain. But I feel more alive and more excited about the years to come than I have in so long.

So I’ve started taking the necessary steps toward becoming a Physician Assistant. All the whys and wherefores are better left for posts to come. And like any transition in life, although I’m poised to do something great in the years to come, my heart stirs with a subtle melancholy at what I know I’ll leave behind.

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This is a one-month old rescue kitten found under a porch in Queens. After I gave it a deworming solution, put some ointment in its tiny infected eyes, it nuzzled its whiskers against my cheek in a kitten kiss.

OF COURSE I’M GOING TO MISS THAT.

The four years I’ve had as a veterinary technician have been so meaningful to me and led me to understand that I’m way better at science than I had ever realized. That I have a passion for medicine. That I have to be in a field where I alleviate suffering and improve quality of life. I have to be challenged and excited. I’ve loved being a veterinary technician, but I always felt it was a stepping stone to something else, and I’m ready for that next step.

Like I said before, I’m still a full-time technician for the next couple of months, and my “family” at the clinic are being nothing but supportive, offering to work around a school schedule and allow me to stay on part-time. So this isn’t the end yet. And I’ll be writing about each step of my PA journey. But for now, that’s all I wanted to get off my chest. On to the next thing.

My Elite, Top 5 Favorite Patients

9 Mar

I love the majority of patients that come into the clinic. Of course, mean cats and misbehaved dogs are par for the course, but in general, I love animals, and I love working with them. However, there are a few that are special. Some of my patients and I have a special bond, and I end up thinking of them as my own. It happens to all my co-workers. No rhyme or reason, the heart wants what it wants. I started referring to my beloved patients as an elite top 5.

ELLIE MAE

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My darling Princess. One of the owners of the clinic, Dr. S, has a special affinity to pugs. We work with a pug rescue organization and have become known as the premier pug veterinary hospital in New York. Therefore pugs have a special place in my heart. Ellie Mae is one of the greatest pugs, and for us, it was love at first sight. Those tiny black ears, her feminine cankles, the grey fur on her chest. She has back issues and walks with an odd little strut that drags her back legs. I think she is perfection. I’ve become friendly with her owner and take care of her when she’s out of town. And despite the fact that she pooped on me once when I was putting booties on her feet before we walked in a blizzard, she’s still a special, special dog to me.

RAJA

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I took this picture of Raja, because it is the happiest I’ve ever seen her. I often refer to her as “My Cranky Darling.” She has horrible allergies which cause her to have scabby pustules on her body and horrible, goopy discharge from her eyes. She is also VERY protective of her owner. Whenever I go into the room, she growls and snarls at me. Her owner and I laugh a little as she hands me the leash. Raja trots along behind me, willing to walk, but growling with displeasure. Once we are in the treatment area and away from the owner, she is a sweet, loving dog. This was after Dr. N changed up her treatments and recommended special grooming. I think it’s her sass and chubby waddle that stole my heart.

MR PHELPS

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Blurry picture, because he’s so squirmy! At heart, I’m a dog person, but cats play a huge role in my work life, so I had to squeeze one in. Mr. Phelps was born with a genetic abnormality. He’s about half the size of a normal domestic shorthair, he’s missing an eye, and he has a deformed front leg. But all his flaws add up to perfection in my eyes. He comes in every couple of weeks for nail trims, and I love going to the front area, throwing my arms up and joyously announcing, “It’s Mr. Phelps!” His owner does it right back at me as we have a duet of announcing Mr. Phelps.

RAFFEE

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Raffee is a classic rags to riches tale. His owner was summering in Florida when she saw Raffee alone and running around on a tennis court. Once she was back in New York with him, he seemed off to her, so she brought him in. During the routine exam, I noticed he felt cold. We took his temperature, and it was something in the 93, 94 range. A dog’s normal temperature is 101.5, so something was very wrong. We ran bloods, and Dr. L racked her brain trying to figure out what was going on. I did all a technician could do. I heated up some water bottles and plugged in an electric blanket. I bundled him up with the warming aids and held him close to me. With that temperature, he was only a couple of hours away from dying. He kept staring into my eyes, and it was the first time as a technician where I could sense the gratitude of a patient. Dr L figured out that he has Addison’s Disease which is a manageable adrenal disease. Within a couple of days, he was fixed. He’s so very special to me, because I’m convinced that he remembers me from that time. When he comes in for his steroid shot (that’s why he’s so fat), he runs straight to me , tail wagging. He’s a perfect example of why I love my job and why it feels good to do what I do.

MELVIN

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An underbite is the quickest way to my heart. And I have encountered no finer underbite, than that of Melvin. An amazing puggle that boards with us occasionally. He’s such a great dog and always down for a belly rub. He can shake hands, dance, roll over. Swoon! His owner is one of our more difficult clients, but she is tickled by my adoration of her dog. She started calling him my boyfriend and making a big deal of bringing him in to see me…his girlfriend. I mean, I’m at a point in my life where a relationship doesn’t really fit, and I’m enjoying being single and focusing on moving myself forward. BUT, Melvin is a real catch, and I could definitely could see myself settling down with him. Total boyfriend material.

 

Animal Personalities

17 Dec

About a week ago, I got bit by a cat at work. It was one of the few times where a cat managed to get its teeth into me, and it was the strangest. I’ve been doing this for four years, and I have seen my share of bad cats, and I’ve learned a lot about the behavior to look for in a cat that is getting upset. Other than the obvious hissing, growling, swatting, I watch for the subtle tail flick, the slow movement of the ears to a flatter position, the dilated pupils. But this cat betrayed nothing.

The cat’s name is Gypsy Rose, and she had B.C. written all over her chart, our secret lingo for aggressive animals. It stands for “Be Careful.” But the cat just seemed nervous during this particular visit. So we figured we would handle her the way we do most nervous cats, we’d go slow and keep a close eye on her. Cats love to hide when they are scared or nervous, and a great restraining technique I use is to let them bury their head in the crook of my elbow. So for the entire exam, Gypsy Rose sat still with her head tucked away, secure in her feline head that she was safe and no one could see her. At the end of the exam, after the nail trim, the injections, the abdominal palpation, she brought her head out of my elbow nook, looked at my arm for a second before opening her mouth and biting me. No warning, nothing bad was happening to her. I pulled my arm back and announced to the room that I’d been bit. The veterinarian and other vet tech were incredulous. I was stunned. I thought Gypsy Rose and I were cool with each other. And if we weren’t, the least she could have done is give some sort of behavioral signal that she wasn’t. When we thoroughly checked her record, it seems she had done the same thing to a technician before, bit without warning or cause.

Here’s an unpopular opinion: some animals are straight-up jerks.

I can hear the gasps of shock that friends and family have given me when I say this. “Don’t you love animals, though?” they ask, their eyes wide with bewilderment. Of course I do. You’d be hard-pressed to find a vet tech (underpaid, overworked, smelling like wet dog) that doesn’t adore animals. But we see them every day. Hundreds and hundreds of cats and dogs. I’ve been doing this for years, so I’ve probably even crossed the thousand threshold at some point. And, yes, some animals are jerks.

For all the anthropomorphizing our culture does to animals, to the point of dressing them up, making them the stars of children’s movies, we gloss over the fact that they have a wide range of personalities as well. I think we can all agree that there are a lot of people out there who are jerks. Black, white, christian, muslim, gay, straight, blonde, brunette, bald. Whatever the case may be, jerks can be found in all of these demographics. I believe in the goodness of humanity as a whole, but working in the Upper East Side, I’ve seen my share of people who are downright nasty and selfish.

Animals can be that way too. I love getting to know an animal’s personality. Some are dull, some are curious, some are cuddlers, and some are hyperactive and easily excitable. But this doesn’t mean that they are all perfect little angels. And I’d argue that some of it is genetic. We have a number of lovely owners who had amazing pets. They then adopt a pet who is a jerk. A dog that growls and bites them, that pees on their bed in spite. A cat that claws them, even when they aren’t doing anything to bother the cat.

Of course, though, just like people, I believe animals can change for the better. Even though we have domesticated animals over the centuries, they will always be a different species than us and that much more difficult to understand. We can’t communicate with them as well as we’d like, never able to grasp what exactly they are thinking. I admire training clips I have seen where behavioralists are able to turn a cat or dog’s personality around, but a fair amount of editing goes into these shows. I’ve first-hand seen a lot of these trainings fail and the animal goes on being a jerk.

I don’t know what the solution is with these little sociopaths. I do see that even despite their bad behavior, people still adopt them into their homes and find themselves loving an animal that will not love them back, or maybe they aren’t able to show it. It’s important to not give animals carte-blanche. Cute as they may be, you still have no idea what is going on in their little heads. We have to remember that even the furriest, fluffiest little nugget might just have a dark side.

Foreign Body Stories

26 Oct
Not a foreign body, but the largest bladder stone I've ever seen. Pretty impressive!

Not a foreign body, but the largest bladder stone I’ve ever seen. 

Veterinary medicine amounts to a lot of detective work, a lot more so than in human medicine. People can tell you where it hurts, what funny thing they ate recently. Animals can’t. As a survival mechanism, in fact, many animals do their damnedest to not show pain or weakness. This means we have to look at other clues that might demonstrate what is going on.

The last month or so, we have seen a lot of foreign body cases, more so than normal. Almost as if some astrological alignment is causing dogs on the Eastern seaboard to ravenously eat whatever is handy. They come in with the symptom of unproductive vomiting and lethargy. Sometimes these foreign bodies show up on x-rays, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes we induce vomiting, and the dog produces whatever it is it ate, sometimes we have to perform abdominal surgery to remove whatever is obstructing.

These cases become party anecdotes I tell people with office jobs who seem entranced and fascinated by my non-traditional job. Some of the more interesting ones:

  • The Shih Tzu that ate a used maxi pad….out of the next door neighbor’s garbage.
  • The Labrador Retriever that ate a tennis ball, had to have surgery to have it removed, then ate another one a month later. Owner was not pleased.
  • Same story, smaller dog. And instead of tennis balls, it was baby socks. And instead of doing it twice, the dog ended up having three surgeries.
  • A Standard Poodle that ate a Timbaland boot! All we could see on x-rays were round metallic circles in the intestine which turned out to be the shoelace holes. The vet had to pull out a large amount of shredded canvas and leather. Once we looked it over, Dr. N found the small tag with the tree logo.
  • An adorable King Charles Cavelier that ate an acorn. How cute and lady-like!
  • The Portuguese Water Dog that got into the owner’s hamper and vomited a pair of her underwear at home. The owner brought her in to have her checked out, and after inducing more vomiting, she vomited in four small piles, four socks. A pair of the owner’s and a pair of the husband’s.
  • The beagle that ate a wine cork. According to the owner it was a choice wine too. So, at least the dog has taste.
  • My favorite, though, is a story Dr. S told us from when he was a new vet, some 30 years ago. He did a foreign body surgery on a dog and found a pair of panties lodged in the intestine. When discharging the dog, he handed the owners the underwear in a plastic bag. The woman looked down at them and said, “Those aren’t mine.” Dr. S had no choice but to slowly back out of the room.

Any techs out there have any good foreign body stories?

Penn Foster Vet Tech Program: A Review

13 Oct
Cat Restraint for Practicum 1.

Cat Restraint for Practicum 1.

The vet tech career is unique in the medical world, because many vet techs don’t necessarily need a degree to work. Personally, I graduated with a degree in Creative Writing with no interest in medicine. However, I ended up as a receptionist at a vet clinic, trying to make ends meet. Within a year, I realized I loved being around the animals, was fascinated by the medical aspect and the head vet tech was willing to train me.

It was a rough road at first. But, at my job, I am surrounded by talented technicians who I am still learning from. And while I saw that apprenticeship and experience was all that was needed to have a job as a veterinary technician, I also saw that without a degree in the field, I was limited in my upward mobility. I have an ambitious personality, and I didn’t just want to be a vet tech. I wanted to be a licensed vet tech. I want to become a board-certified anesthesiology vet tech. The first step was a degree.

After weighing a number of different options (including the leap of faith of going to vet school), I settled on enrolling in the Penn Foster online vet tech program. That was almost three years ago. Now here I sit, still working as a vet tech, done with my four semesters and first practicum and pulling my hair out trying to complete the second. These are my honest, not-sponsered views on how the program went for me and advice to others thinking about pursuing this program.

  1. Time management is key. I can’t stress this enough. Penn Foster advertises that the great thing about the program is the ability to make your own schedule. Realistically, this isn’t going to work for some people. I’m a book nerd who enjoys studying and has always been good at pushing myself. So I was able to sit down at the end of a long day at work and study. I loved that I was able to keep my job and not have to balance work with a class schedule. But at the same time, that structure would have been nice. I went through a 6-month period where I doubted whether this was really what I wanted to do, and I didn’t study. I wish I hadn’t squandered that time, and if I was enrolled in a community college program, I don’t think I would have. Penn Foster has tried in the last couple of years to set up suggested deadlines for tests and classes which could be a big help to less-motivated studiers. But self-discipline is a prerequisite to finishing the program.
  2. The Proctored Exams are difficult. So how does an online program establish legitimacy in their students? After all, it’s all open book, submitted over the internet, surely it is ripe grounds for cheating. These are true things. The way they eliminate the cheaters? Proctored Exams. At the end of each semester, you are given a live, timed exam. And it is difficult. It is in essay form and asks some of the most minute details from the courses. I’m still haunted by the memory of opening my first semester exam and seeing, “Name the six types of bird feathers.” Sure, I had read over that in the Integument section of Anatomy and Physiology, but I had spent no time memorizing them. Despite meticulous studying, I don’t think I got above a 75 on any of the Proctored Exams. And, yes, it is quite easy and possible to cheat on the Proctored Exams as well, but after all is said and done, we all still have to sit for the Veterinary Technician National Exam (VTNE) which I hear is quite difficult. The degree from Penn Foster is worthless without passing the VTNE, so cheating is only doing yourself a disservice.
  3. You need to be already working in the fieldThe most difficult part of the program is the Practicum. After the second and the forth semester, every student is required to complete an externship at a veterinary office under the guidance of a veterinarian or a licensed veterinary technician. I had already been working at my vet clinic for years when the first practicum came around, and all my co-workers pulled together like the dysfunctional family that they are and helped me get all my skills and paperwork completed. I don’t know how possible that would have been without already having worked in the field. Experience is more important as a vet tech. The degree is in many ways a formality at larger clinics and veterinary institutions. I suggest to anyone not already working in the field to get a foot in the door any way they can. Become a receptionist, a kennel assistant, volunteer at the ASPCA and befriend some of the people that work there. Find a way in.
  4. It’s less respected, but who cares. An online program doesn’t carry a lot of weight with people in the veterinary world. But the nice thing I already mentioned is that experience is more key anyways. Laws are slowly being passed, and the veterinary world is shifting to a more corporate atmosphere where licenses are becoming more required. But I’ve seen licensed vet techs come through my clinic doors that can’t hold a dog correctly and think diarrhea is icky. (If you can’t handle icky things, run away, run away now.) Some of the best vet techs we’ve seen are the unlicensed ones that come with references from other clinics saying that they are competent and know what they are doing. Again, it’s key to get your foot in the door somewhere to start learning immediately about holding and about the inner workings of a vet office.
  5. It’s shockingly affordable. If I haven’t scared any prospective students away, this is the biggest plus for the program. It was easy to pay off. They let me make monthly payments, without any interest added on. They also offered me deals on paying it off faster. For instance, when I had only $1400 left to go, they offered to knock off 30% if I made one final payment. So I finished paying the program off almost a year ago, and I don’t owe the school a thing. All textbooks, webinars, study guides are included. It’s clear that they make their biggest profit from students who sign up on a whim for the first semester and don’t stick it out. Just make sure that you aren’t one of those people!
  6. More than this, I did it my way. When all is said and done, I’m glad I did this program, because it was the right thing for me. I could spend my days off and my weeknights studying while still working, playing softball, writing. I could travel without worrying about missing class. I didn’t have to commute to a classroom, but could instead sit in my pajamas with a pot of tea and study. I liked that I had that freedom and that school became a part of my life without taking over. There are times I wish I had done an in-person program- for the networking, the face-to-face with professors, the structure and lack of Practicum paperwork. But at my age, and at this point in my life, it was the right thing for me.

ANYONE ELSE OUT THERE HAVE EXPERIENCE WITH ONLINE OR IN-PERSON VET TECH PROGRAMS?

Petra

4 Aug

Summer is a slower time of year at our veterinary clinic. The majority of our clients are at their summer homes either on Long Island or somewhere more exotic like Turks and Caicos. But we still have our steady flow of the regular ingested socks and injured paws. We also have a lot of boarders.

Petra is an heiress Maltese. Her owners passed away and left a giant trust-fund in her name. I have never seen her board with us until last weekend. She came in on a Thursday along with her special food (complete with instructions on how she likes it served) and a fluffy silk pillow that she likes to sit on. We set her up in a cage, and she perched herself on her throne.

The next day, I noticed that she had green/yellow eye boogers crusting on her face. She had even scratched her top knot ponytail trying to fix her eyes. She ended up looking like emo llama.

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This gave me the giggles all day, and my co-workers and I kept making fun of her as she moped on her pillow. When we got a break in the day, I took her out of her cage and along with Dr. N we cleaned up her eyes…and I fixed her ponytail.

The next day, she had her emo llama look back on, along with fresh eye boogers gooping her snowy white fur. So when I got a moment (late in the busy day), I took her to Dr. N and asked if maybe we could examine them. She did a Schirmer tear test which checks for dry eyes caused by immune-mediated issues. Her eyes were bone dry. So once again, we cleaned them up, and this time Dr. N prescribed two different eye ointments which we applied to her dry little orbs. I fixed her ponytail (girl’s gotta look good) and put her back in her cage.

When I walked by an hour later, a whole new dog greeted me.

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She was all smiles, doing twirls around her cage, making polite little yips. All the emo gone from her. I went to get Dr. N. We stood in front of Petra’s cage as she twirled and twirled.

“I just figured this is probably why you became a veterinarian,” I told the doctor. “You made a difference.”
“This is better than Prozac!” she said, smiling. We enjoyed the moment before we had to rush off to the next appointment. But those little moments. They’re everything.

Tulip Marie

13 May
Tulip's first day at the clinic

Tulip’s first day at the clinic

About a month ago, we had a nameless, rescue pug dropped off at the clinic. By her drooping belly, we could tell that she was far along in a pregnancy. She was shy, timid, and terrified. We dubbed her Tulip, and I figured out that all she wanted to do was sit in someone’s, anyone’s, lap. I was happy to lend her mine.

That night, after I had left, she gave birth to two puppies. One was stillborn. The next day, the overnight tech relayed to me the story of how he tried CPR on the tiny body and how when it didn’t work, he presented Tulip the puppy so she could see it was dead. He told me how she pressed on its chest with her paws, how she licked its nostrils, trying in her own way to revive the lost pup.

“I never see a dog do that in my life,” the night tech told me, pointing to the pug. “That’s a special dog.”

Despite her efforts to nurse the other puppy, it passed away the following day, leaving her with none.

Tulip with Upper East Side tulips.

Tulip with Upper East Side tulips.

I felt so heartbroken for her that in my downtime at work, I let her snuggle on my lap while I petted her and hugged her and told her it was all going to be okay. And over the course of a day or two, she became attached to me. She is a friendly dog who will like most anyone, but she had it made up in her mind that I was her one and only. She insisted on following me everywhere I went, always at my heel. When I left the room without her, she would cry and howl until I came back. And when I came  into work in the morning, she hopped around me, barely able to breathe from the excitement.

I fed into it too. I loved being so adored, so chosen by her. I continued to let her sit on my lap during my downtime. I cleaned her face folds and ears, daily, got her a pink harness and a gold-striped collar. I even came in on my day off to pick her up and take her to Central Park for the day. After all, that’s what people do with their dogs. They take them to the park and lay in the sun together. And she felt like mine. We felt like two peas in a pod. Two kindred spirits. She was my sidekick, and my partner in crime.

When I brought her back to the clinic after out day in the park, I gushed to all my co-workers about how much fun we had together.

“Look at you!” Dr. N said. “You have that great first-date, falling in love glow!”

Asleep in my lap, her favorite place.

Asleep in my lap, her favorite place.

And I was in love with her. I found myself overjoyed to head into work in the mornings. I couldn’t wait to walk in and see her snorty, lolly-gagging tongue face. But a bitter-sweetness tinted everything, because I knew we were star-crossed and not meant to be. I still can’t have pets in my apartment, not to mention my supplemental income of pet-sitting that requires me to stay at other people’s apartments anywhere from 6-12 days a month. That’s not the kind of life a wonderfully puglet like my Tulip Marie deserves. Throughout our love affair, I was well aware that the rescue organization that brought her to us already had a couple of prospective homes lined up for her.

So it hurt every time I left work, and I could hear her howling for me as I walked out the door. And I shed a couple of tears when I hugged her goodbye before leaving on my vacation last week. I knew that it was likely the last time I would ever see her. She’s such a loving, special dog that I know she’ll find a good owner that will love her and bond to her as much as I did. And I know that things are all seemingly falling into place in my life, the pieces are coming together and not too long from now, I will be in a position to adopt a dog of my own who will hopefully live up to the greatness that is Tulip. But I will always hold a special place in my heart for the Spring romance I had with her. It was special. She was special. My Tulip Marie.

Our day in the park together.

Our day in the park together.