From October 17 to 23, 2021, we celebrate Animal Health Technician Week, or "vet tech" as it is often called – in French, we use TSA for short. You've seen them in action at our shelter, or your veterinarian's office. But have you ever wondered what, exactly, animal health technicians do?
In Quebec, an animal health technician must have a college diploma in animal health techniques, a program that is highly restricted and requires excellent skills to be admitted. Following their studies, animal health technicians may work in veterinary institutions, shelters, zoos or boarding facilities, research laboratories, or with government or pharmaceutical agencies.
The animal health technician is responsible for providing technical assistance to veterinarians in the care and treatment of animals. This can range from taking samples to laboratory analysis, assisting the veterinarian with anesthesia and surgery, and many client consultations. In some ways, TSAs are the equivalent of nurses, dental hygienists, and laboratory technicians in human medicine.
The qualities sought in an Animal Health Technician include a love of animals, of course! But it takes much more to be successful. A good animal health technician must be self-reliant but able to work as part of a team, have good dexterity, have a keen scientific curiosity, have good organizational skills, be versatile and adaptable, and be skilled in interpersonal communication. Often, the animal health technician you will remember is the one who demonstrated passion and patience, while showing expertise and professionalism.
What is often masked in all of this is the level of empathy, but also emotional stress, that is part of the daily life of these professionals. We wanted to talk about this with our TSA team at the SPCA de l'Outaouais.
Stephanie tells us: “What I find most rewarding in my work is to see the progress an animal will make; from the moment it arrives to the moment it is ready to find its family. Seeing them come in injured, seeing that they've had a hard life before coming to the SPCA, it's always hard to see, but also rewarding when you witness their progress and recovery. The same goes for the behavioral side. When they come in and they're scared, and after a few days of working with them, they finally open up to you, it's heartwarming.”
Marika adds, “It's hard to pick THE most challenging/enriching thing because we are involved in so many aspects of animal health, whether it's medical, general wellness, kitten/puppy development, behavior, citizen outreach, assisting with surgeries, and so many others! Every day is different! We learn every day, and this allows us to develop and perfect our methods for the benefit of our animals. We are fortunate to have an unparalleled closeness with the animals of the SPCA throughout all stages of their stay. All this to help give each animal the best possible future.”
Marisol concludes, “What I find most rewarding and engaging about my work as a TSA is being able to significantly improve the quality of life of a sick, injured or fearful animal. Some animals arrive at the shelter in very poor condition and to see them leave here, fully recovered, with a loving family for life, is incredibly energizing. And to know that this is possible in large part because of the care we give the animals, the force-feeding they receive several times a day when they don't eat on their own, the fluids we inject when they are dehydrated, the medications we administer, the time we take to build trust with them when they are too scared, the multiple veterinary follow-ups... and so many other things in our daily routines! I am proud to do this work with passion and love for the animals, as is the rest of my team!”
But it's not always all rainbows and unicorns.
Marisol explains, “What I find most difficult and frustrating is dealing with cat overpopulation. It's arriving one morning and seeing the shelter bursting at the seams. Too often the day ends and all I can think about is all the tasks I didn't have time to complete, and what that means for our ecosystem. There is a huge amount of education that needs to be done with society to combat this overpopulation, and it's overwhelming at times.”
Stephanie adds, “What I find most frustrating is seeing the bad reputation the SPCA still has with the public. Being perceived as an 'animal killer' is a burden, when, in reality, we save many more animals now than we euthanize nowadays. Yet this image of the evil SPCA is ingrained in many people's minds and it is difficult to change. It's hard to change that image. Always having to explain yourself gets heavy, but I know it's also my job to try to educate people... when I have the strength to do so!”
Marika adds, “The helplessness of some situations is the hardest part of this job for me. Whether it's because of the lack of understanding of some people, more serious medical cases, certain limitations that we must consider, or the complexity of certain situations that we face at the shelter. Despite our best efforts, things don't always turn out the way we want them to. We always want to do more and find the perfect solution, both for the animal and the general population, but it is not always possible.”
So, there you have it. This week, we celebrate those animal health technicians who are at the heart of our operations, whether you see them or not, and who ensure that the pets that come through our doors are treated humanely and receive all the care they deserve. Like masked heroes, they work in the shadows every day for the cause of animal welfare.
Please join us in saying 'THANK YOU' to all the animal health technicians around us, and especially to our team here at the SPCA de l'Outaouais!