Vet Tech Profiles: Deborah Chase

Happy National Veterinary Technicians Week to all the amazing vet techs out there, but especially our 4 rock stars! To close out the week, we’re featuring Deborah Chase who has been at the zoo for almost 21 years.

Where were you before coming to Dallas Zoo?  ​

I was at UT Southwestern’s Animal Resource Center in Dallas. 

What does it take to become a vet tech?

​You need to have a strong interest in veterinary medicine and a love for working with animals as well as people.  ​To become a licensed veterinary technician – a requirement to be hired by the Dallas Zoo – you must attend a two-year program accredited by the AVMA and have an associate’s degree in veterinary technology.  These programs require an internship for on-the-job learning, which many zoos offer.  After completion of the vet tech program, you are required to sit for state and national exams to obtain your license.  You must attend CE annually to maintain your license.  All of the techs at the Dallas Zoo also have bachelor’s degrees.  Mine is in biology.

What’s a typical day at work like?

​A typical day may involve filling prescriptions, medicating animals, monitoring anesthesia, taking radiographs, collecting blood or other samples, performing laboratory testing, and assisting with medical behavior training on animals that participate through positive reinforcement.

What has been the most challenging aspect of the job for you?

For me, it was learning how to perform ultrasound exams, something that has been an interest of mine for a very long time. I attended a ten-month abdominal and cardiac course with the support of the zoo.  It takes a lot of practice and skill that I will continue to build on.  When you learn on domestic dogs and cats, it is very challenging to apply that knowledge to the variety of exotic animals at the zoo whose anatomy can vary so widely.

What’s been the most rewarding?

​Being able to interact with animals during voluntary medical behavior training.  Having the trust from an animal and the technical ability to obtain a blood sample, do an ultrasound exam, or give a vaccine without having to use sedation is an invaluable tool to provide the best health care for our animals at the zoo. When you are successful at this, it is a great sense of accomplishment!

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Vet Tech Profiles: Laurel Walosin

Hailing from Burnsville, Minnesota, Laurel Walosin has worked as part of our hospital staff for almost 6 years. Read on for a Q&A with her in honor of National Vet Tech Week!

Where were you before coming to Dallas Zoo?

Before coming to the Dallas Zoo, I worked as a zookeeper at the Minnesota Zoo and a veterinary assistant at a small animal practice in Eagan, MN.

What does it take to become a vet tech?

While acquiring an associate’s degree in veterinary technology may only take two years in an accredited program, becoming a zoo veterinary technician took a bit of extra time. I started by getting my bachelor’s degree in biology, then did an internship in zookeeping at the Minnesota Zoo. After that, I continued to work as a zookeeper and went back to school to get my applied associate’s in veterinary technology, then did yet another internship as vet tech at the Alexandria Zoo in Louisiana. So 6 years total in college, 2 unpaid internships, and multiple moves!

Describe a typical day at work.

The best part of this job is that most days are not typical. There’s always something that comes up and keeps us on our toes. If a day is typical, it starts with filling prescriptions, preparing treatments, and making sure everything is set up and ready to roll for any scheduled procedures. After a brief morning meeting with the entire hospital staff, we divide and conquer the daily tasks. The lab tech may step in to finish filling scripts and head out into the park to administer treatments on patients while the clinical technician heads out with the vets to do scheduled procedures (we alternate being clinical/ lab tech each week). Once procedures are finished, there’s a lot of cleaning up and putting things away that needs to be done. At some point within that time, the lab tech typically is packing up samples to be shipped and beginning to process samples coming in from procedures. Training sessions with various animals throughout the park happen in there somewhere, as well as hospital cleaning and maintenance, surgery pack wrapping and sterilizing, another round of filling prescriptions, and usually a couple unexpected emergency exams will pop up. Before the end of the day, setting up and packing for procedures scheduled the next day also happens.

What are some of the most challenging aspects of your work?

One of the most challenging aspects of working as a vet tech is learning to accept that you can’t save them all. We will deal with seeing animals at their worst. It is also a challenge to always be “on”. Everybody has tough days where we’re tired or not feeling well, but when we have a patient on the table, we have to focus on them and put anything else that’s happening behind us.

What are some of the most rewarding aspects?

Some of the most rewarding aspects of the job are definitely seeing an animal get through an illness and be happy and healthy again. Specifically, in zoo medicine, we also get to do a lot of training with the animals to help them participate in their own health care. We get to go out and help train these animals for behaviors such as voluntary blood draw, voluntary hand injections, blood pressure, etc. Seeing animals we’re working with succeed in training and give us a voluntary sample is the best feeling! It also allows us to build a positive relationship with that animal.

Who’s your favorite animal at the zoo?

I definitely have several that can always make my day! Katie the giraffe, Tullah the giant anteater, Hadiah the tiger, and Penny and Oliver kune kune pigs are on the list of animals that have my heart.

What do you do for fun outside of work?

I have been doing aerial acrobatics for about 4 years, and it has consumed most of my “outside-of-work” life. I practice on silks, lyra hoop, and static trapeze, so much of my time is spent in the air on one of those apparatuses. Aside from that, I love spending time with my pup! He’s hands-down my best friend and my baby all at once! (Here’s a photo of this dapper dog, Romeo, the black mouth cur.)

Laurel’s handsome pup, Romeo.
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Vet Tech Profiles: Cassandra Reid

Meet Cassandra Reid! Cassandra grew up right here in Dallas and has been one of our vet tech superstars for 12 years now.

Where were you before coming to Dallas Zoo?

I worked in a small animal practice for 7 years before coming to the zoo. It was a big change because I had daily interactions with patients and was always able to have direct contact with the animals. I could get all the cuddles from a puppy or dog that I wanted. We can’t cuddle tigers, no matter how much we might want to! But it is just as amazing to work with all the zoo animals.

Describe a typical day at “the office.”

In the zoo field no day is typical, every day is different. A day could start out filling prescriptions and getting ready for any procedures for that day. It can also include some type of training with an animal for medical behaviors, or treatments for animals that are not well.

What is the hardest part of the job?

Losing an animal is always difficult, especially when you have worked personally with the animal or have been a part of their birth.

And the most rewarding part?

Training with animals to help provide better care for them. Recently, I have been working with our red river hogs to get them more comfortable receiving vaccinations. It’s always rewarding when you are able to accomplish your goal!

The opportunity to be a part of some rescue/conservation projects is another rewarding aspect of the job. I had the opportunity to travel to Madagascar last year to help with the care of 10,000 critically endangered radiated tortoises who were rescued from a private home and the illegal pet trade. I also traveled to South Africa this year to help care for the 1,800 flamingo chicks who were abandoned at their nesting grounds due to historic drought conditions.

Do you have a favorite animal at the zoo?

Winspear (cheetah) and Bahati (lion). Winspear is close to my heart because I was involved with his transport here to the zoo, and I helped hand- rear him. Bahati is special to me because she was the first lion cub birth I have been involved with.

What do you like to do outside of work?

Traveling and dancing! I am an avid salsa and kizumba dancer.

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Vet Tech Profiles: Jason Bartel

In honor of National Veterinary Technician Week, we’re introducing you to our 4 incredible vet techs! Vet techs truly make the zoo world go round. They do everything from helping monitor animals under anesthesia and collecting blood samples, to placing IV catheters and performing endotracheal intubation. Not to mention filling hundreds of prescriptions, laboratory work, and assisting our veterinarians during procedures.

Our $3.75 million A.H. Meadows Animal Health Care Facility consists of five licensed techs, four full-time veterinarians, hospital keepers, and records administration. First up, meet Jason Bartel! Jason is from Flagstaff, Arizona and is the newest addition to our rock-star vet tech team.

How did you become a vet tech?

I have a bachelor’s degree in ecology and evolutionary biology from the University of Arizonam and I also did a two-year veterinary technician program at Pima Community College in Tucson, AZ. During the veterinary technician program, I had two separate part-time internships and then after I graduated I moved to Dallas for a full-time externship here at the Dallas Zoo, which lasted for four months. I was then hired as a part-time technician at the Dallas Zoo before being offered a full-time opportunity in Houston. Then I recently made my way back to Dallas to join the zoo’s hospital staff as a full-time tech!

What does a typical day at the office look like?

I don’t know that there is a typical day, but in the mornings I come in and check whatever treatments we have in the park that day and go to our morning meeting at 7:15. After that, it’s filling any meds for the animals that came in the night before or going out and doing some treatments or assisting the veterinarians with whatever procedures we have that morning. From there, it’s cleaning up all the things we used and prepping any samples we have to be run in the lab. The afternoon is usually for lab work, filling more meds for the animals, and setting up for the next day.

What are some of the most challenging aspects of your work?

There’s a lot of pressure for everything to be exactly right, because we’re working with animals that are ambassadors for their species, so any little mistake can have a huge impact. The sheer variety of animals we work with is also challenging because you have to know the differences between something like a lion and something like a chicken and everything that goes into that, from their normal vital signs, what their blood is supposed to look like, and so on.

What are some of the most rewarding aspects?

I think being able to see an animal thrive on habitat after helping it through any kind of medical treatment is most rewarding for me. A lot of the work we do as techs helps diagnose problems before you even potentially see any signs, and so being able to help save that animal before it’s too late is a feeling unlike anything else. Also being able to be a part of training with an animal that will allow us to monitor its health without needing a major procedure. It’s enjoyable being part of the building blocks of the behaviors needed to do something like a blood draw on an awake tiger or performing an ultrasound on a potentially pregnant animal or taking x-rays of an okapi leg. Building that relationship with the animal is really cool, especially when you’re there from start to finish.

Do you have a favorite animal at the zoo?

At the risk of upsetting anyone, it’s okapi, and specifically Niko. I’ve always had a soft spot for okapi in general. I have to say that rhinos will always be my number one, but we don’t care for rhinos at the Dallas Zoo.

What do you like to do for fun outside of work?

I enjoy watching baseball, college football and hockey, going to concerts whenever possible, trying out new BBQ places, running, and playing piano.

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Make smart choices, and save tigers from extinction

With research and contributions from Conservation Interpreter Grayson Ponti

Hadiah enjoys some sunshine on a warm day.

This month is all about tigers at the Dallas Zoo! The Zoo is home to five magnificent Sumatran tigers: Suki, Melati, Manis, Hadiah, and Kuasa. From Melati’s enviably long whiskers to Kuasa’s sheer size and Manis’s characteristically short, stocky legs, each one has their own unique traits and personality.

Pro tip: You’ll only ever see one tiger out in the habitat at a time when you visit the zoo. That’s because they’re solitary by nature and only come together for breeding. While one tiger is out in the public-facing habitat, the other four participate in training sessions or enjoy enrichment in spacious, outdoor yards behind the scenes.

Our five tigers are incredible ambassadors for their critically endangered species that need our help now more than ever. Sumatran tigers are the smallest of the six tiger subspecies and are native to the dense forests of Indonesia. Unfortunately, habitat loss largely due to the palm oil industry has pushed these big cats to the brink of extinction. It’s estimated that fewer than 600 individuals remain in the wild today.

What is palm oil, anyway?

Palm oil is derived from the fruits of the oil palm tree, which is native to the forests of Africa and Southeast Asia. This vegetable oil is found in items we use and consume every single day, from cookies and pizza to lotion, makeup and even cleaning products. In fact, it’s found in more than half of all packaged products available to consumers on supermarket shelves, making palm oil the world’s most popular vegetable oil.

Why is it so popular?

Its popularity is understandable because for producers, palm oil is inexpensive and efficient to grow. For consumers, it has great cooking properties, a natural preservative effect and a smooth, creamy texture that is odorless. It also provides income and jobs for these communities. In Indonesia alone, palm oil directly employs 4.9 million workers with profits over $20 million annually.

How does this affect wildlife?

While palm oil is great for the local economy, producers and consumers, it is devastating to rainforests and the wildlife that call them home. Over 85% of the world’s palm oil is produced in Malaysia and Indonesia, which is also the natural habitat of Sumatran tigers as well as other endangered species. Every hour, 300 football fields worth of rainforest are destroyed to accommodate palm oil plantations. This pushes endangered wildlife out of their natural environment and leaves them with smaller and smaller territories. And it’s not just tigers.

  • Almost 80% of the orangutan population has disappeared in the last 20 years.
  • The Sumatran elephant population has dwindled to just 3,000 individuals in the wild.

What can we do?

You can make a BIG difference for tigers just by being a responsible consumer. Choose products certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) so you can be sure you’re supporting responsible management of the world’s forests.

RSPO is working to promote the production and consumption of sustainable palm oil by uniting stakeholders from seven sectors of the palm oil industry:

  • oil palm producers
  • consumer goods manufacturers
  • retailers
  • banks/investors
  • processors/traders
  • environmental non-governmental organizations (NGO)
  • social NGOs

RSPO follows the supply chain model of palm oil production and only certifies those that do not harm the ecosystems tigers and other animals call home.

Look for the RSPO logo when shopping.

Download the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s Palm Oil Shopping Guide app for an even easier way to identify RSPO certified products.

Taking this extra effort goes a long way toward helping Create a Better World for Animals, which is more important now than ever! Join us in taking a stand to ensure these animals thrive for generations to come.

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