Our veterinarians are proof that not all heroes wear capes. They go above and beyond to provide the highest level of care to our 2000+ animal every single day. From tiny frogs to giant giraffes, Dallas Zoo vets see to their every medical need. Dr. Laura Kleinschmidt is the newest member of our amazing team, making this the largest vet team in Dallas Zoo history. Read on to learn more about Dr. Kleinschmidt, and join us in welcoming her to Dallas!
Where did you grow up? And what was your position before joining the Dallas Zoo vet team?
I grew up in Bettendorf, Iowa (a town just along the border of Iowa and Illinois) and went to Iowa State University for both my undergraduate and veterinary degrees. Before coming to Dallas, I was at Texas A&M University for a zoo-specialty veterinary internship, and then I completed a zoological medicine residency program at the St. Louis Zoo.
Did you always want to be a zoo vet? Tell us a little bit about how you chose this career path.
Growing up I always knew I wanted to be a veterinarian, to be an advocate and voice for animals and their welfare. My mother would tell you that I always chose toy animals over Barbies and had great compassion for our pets and all animals. As I moved on to college, I interned at a small zoo near my hometown on the animal husbandry team and volunteered at the Wildlife Care Rehabilitation Clinic at ISU. I knew by that point that if I was going to be a vet, that becoming a zoo veterinarian was my ultimate goal.
Do you have a favorite animal(s) to work with?
Everyone always asks this question! I truly couldn’t name a sole favorite animal; I love a lot of different species across taxonomic groups. Part of the reason I love this job is that it’s something different every day, whether different species or new procedures. I love that I can work on something as small as a hummingbird up to enormous elephants and giraffe (and everything in between!) in the span of a single day. It keeps life interesting!
What excited you most about joining the Dallas Zoo team?
Coming to the Dallas Zoo, I was most excited that the zoo has a team dedicated to animal behavior and training. They help all animal care teams across the zoo use positive reinforcement training to attain improved husbandry and medical care behaviors. When an animal can choose to participate in a training session with us, for example by allowing us examine the inside of their mouth or the bottoms of their feet, or taking a necessary medication, it makes our job that much easier and most importantly improves the quality of care we can provide to the animals.
What are some of the most thrilling parts of your job? And what are the biggest challenges?
The most exciting part of my job is working with all these amazing animals and providing them the utmost medical care so they live healthy lives and reach their greatest potential. This ultimately promotes conservation of their wild counterparts by giving them the support they need to continue to share their stories with the general public.
In zoological medicine, one of the biggest challenges we face is working with so many species that have vastly different anatomy and physiology. We have to think creatively to come up with new ingenious solutions to care for them all, which can be one of the most fun and rewarding parts of our job as well!
What advice do you have for young aspiring veterinarians?
“All dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.” -Walt Disney
If you have decided that you want to be a veterinarian, study hard in school and have an eager mind; being a veterinarian is a commitment to being a lifelong learner. Whether you work in a fast-food restaurant or a veterinary clinic, demonstrate an unfailing work ethic; be that person that goes above and beyond, arrives early and stays late. Your work ethic will serve you well no matter where your journey takes you.
What are some of your hobbies and interests outside of work?
I love to travel internationally and experience and explore new places and cultures as often as I can. I love swimming, snorkeling, scuba-diving, sailing, boating and anything else by the water! I also enjoy participating in themed 5K races and triathlons, going to theme parks and the theater and spending time with friends and family.
What is a typical day on the job like for a Dallas Zoo vet?
We are lucky at the Dallas Zoo to have a team of four veterinarians who provide care for our animals. We meet each morning to discuss the plans for the day and which veterinarian will cover which medical cases — each day is different! Usually in the mornings, we complete any medical procedures that require anesthesia or include surgery, and in the afternoons, we often make “house calls” to check on other animals around the zoo and fill out medical records.
So very proud of you and your accomplishments, Laura! I remember in 5th grade you told me you were going to grow up and be a vet and work at a zoo!