While studying to become a veterinary technician, Kyle Covill would volunteer to work with rabbits, snakes, impalas, kangaroos, and lions. “Ninety-nine percent of what we learned at school is centered on dogs and cats”, he says. “Whenever I had the chance to work on an animal other than a dog or cat, I jumped at the opportunity.” Today he works as a veterinary technical supervisor at Six Flags Great Adventure’s Wild Safari Park in Jackson, NJ.
When he was nine years old, he had his first job showing dogs for professional handlers. He did that until he turned 21, when he enlisted in the Marine Corps. After four years with the Marines, he went back to school to work with animals. While at school, Covill spent a lot of time volunteering at veterinary hospitals. “Several years ago the job of veterinary technician wasn’t well know,” he says. “We are animal nurses, and we do everything a nurse does. I’m a Certified Veterinary Technician.”
Like nursing, the veterinary technical field attracts more women than men. About 80 percent of veterinary technicians are women. Chrissy Zarony, a veterinary technician at the Animal Care Center in Plainfield, IL, started out as a nurse. “Growing up, I always took care of dogs, cats, birds, and reptiles,” she says. “So transitioning from nursing to vet tech wasn’t a big leap for me. People who know me weren’t surprised. They know I love animals.”
As veterinary technicians, Zarony and Covill do a lot of the same work that a veterinarian does. They work alongside veterinarians, take blood work, prep animals for surgery, and do all IV monitoring.
Becoming a Vet Tech
Covill got his CVT from the Northern New Jersey Consortium for Veterinary Technology. “Vet tech school prepares you to work with dogs and cats,” he says. “We do learn a bit about exotics. However, most of the education you get is from on the job training. Over time you will learn that a tiger is a tad bit different from a lion in the way he behaves. Sometimes you can apply what works for one animal to another. Other times, you must be very creative.”
Veterinary technical school varies between a two and four year degree program. Some vet techs don’t have degrees–just on the job experience like Zarony. Having a CVT degree makes getting a job easier.
Many states require vet tech graduates to take a licensing exam. The test covers everything from domestic animal care to facts about pet food and medications. Upon passing the exam, vet techs receive their license. The National Veterinary Technician exam is offered in most states. For more information, contact the Association of Zoo Veterinary Technicians.
Purdue University has courses in Veterinary Technology; click here to learn more.
At the Office
For Covill, working at Wild Safari is an adventure. “We can have a few hair-raising moments,” he says. “Safety is paramount. When you are working with a lion that may be ill, you have to anesthetize him, and make sure that he is not moving. Before we open the pen, we tap on it to make sure he isn’t moving. Before we do anything on the animal, we apply bite locks, so if they do bite down, we won’t get bit.”
Zarony prefers working with all kinds of dogs, cats, and other domestic pets. “I like my 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. shift. Each day is different because the patients vary,” she says.
Earning A Living
Veterinary technicians start out earning $25,000 a year. After several years of experience, vet techs can earn between $45,000 and $60,000.