How did I end up working with laboratory animals? By accident! However, I stayed because I love all animals. It is the best feeling knowing I am making a positive difference in their lives! But I am getting ahead of myself.
As far back as I can remember, I was fascinated with animals. I had my fair share of pets as a child: cats and dogs, rats, gerbils, even the occasional lizard or snake. Besides my pets, I loved wild animals. I’d spend as much time outside in the woods, pastures, and fields around where I grew up watching all the animals. I'd come inside just in time to watch “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” or any other show that had animals. My favorite pastimes were camping, going to zoos and nature centers—anything that would get me around animals. My family was convinced that I was going to become a veterinarian.
As with most young girls, I grew enamored with horses, especially Arabians. I rode every horse I could get my hands on! I read everything about them: their history, horse genetics, breeding, health issues, and training. On my 16th birthday, I was given a choice between a car and a horse. No contest! I finally got an Arabian of my own.
I was always told this love for horses was a phase that I'd outgrow. Well, I didn’t. In fact, I had made up my mind to go to Texas A&M University strictly based on the fact that they had an equine program. While I was taking classes to prepare me for a future working with horses, I decided I should get a job working with horses, or at least some kind of animal, to help build my resume and improve my chances of getting a job in the future.
I checked the campus board where all the student jobs were posted. The only available animal care position was a cagewasher at the animal facility on campus. Now, as a child, I cannot say I had the best of impressions of labs that used animals. One of my favorite shows was “The Secret of NIHM.” If you have ever seen it, then you will understand that my head had been filled of visions of beagle puppies, monkeys, bunnies, rats, and mice looking oh-so-sad in their cages while people did unspeakable things to them. I used to say that I would never work with laboratory animals!
Why would I want to work at a place where I was certain they were going to hurt the very animals I loved? Yet I knew there were tasks I needed to do to help me accomplish my future dreams—working with horses—and getting a job with animals was one of those tasks. If working with lab animals was the only job available, then I was going to set childish thoughts aside and do it.
What I found was that my impressions about animal labs could not have been more wrong. There were not any “oh-so-sad" animals awaiting torture. In fact, all the animals were very happy. The people working in the facility went to great lengths to make sure the animals were given all they needed—not just a clean place to live and food and water to survive, but also toys, enrichment, and love! If an animal got sick, people were immediately there to take care of it. The facility was not a dirty dungeon, but clean, bright, and airy.
I got to work with so many different kinds of animals: mice, rats, hamsters, gerbils, rabbits, cats, dogs, bats, and monkeys. I began to volunteer at a wildlife and exotic animal center to learn about even more types of animals: ostriches, emus, lions, antelope, deer, llamas, and many more!
During this time, I was presented with a dilemma. I was passionate about the work I was doing with the lab animals, so much so that I no longer wanted to work with horses full-time. I still loved horses, and they would always be a part of life, but as a hobby. I wanted to work with lab animals all the way. But I wasn’t certain that this was a real career choice; after all, I was just a student worker. I didn’t even know there were other lab animal facilities out there, and if so, where?
Well, you can be certain that this mid-stream career shift freaked my family out, especially when I told them I wasn’t at all certain where I could work. All the way up to graduation my family asked me what I was going to do with my life and I would wail (yes—wail) at them that I did not know. So I questioned the people I worked with. “Is this a real career?” I would ask., “Can I do this for a living?” "Sure!" was the resounding answer. They told me about other lab animal facilities—all over the world!
I graduated from college with a BS in Animal Science and got a job working for a local cancer center. I got involved in both the local and national level of the American Association of Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS). I became certified at first the Laboratory Animal Technician (LAT) level and then the Laboratory Animal Technologist (LATG) level by AALAS. I learned all I could from whoever was willing to teach me. I worked hard and applied the skills I learned, always wanting to improve myself so the care I gave the animals was the best it could be. Now I am a manager!
At this time, after having worked with laboratory animals for 14 years, I can without a doubt say that I love what I do. I love the animals, and I love the difference that I make not only in the lives of the animals but also the people or other animals that my animals are eventually helping. I have never looked back!