Caring Can Be Complicated

Undoubtedly, some of you are involved in caring for animals that dedicate their lives to laboratory testing or research.



Undoubtedly, some of you are involved in caring for animals that dedicate their lives to laboratory testing or research. For some, this is a complicated subject. But let me assure you, no matter how complicated this topic may be for those of you not in lab animal work, I can tell you it is much more complicated for those animal caretakers working in the lab animal field. I speak from first-hand experience, having done this type of work.

Now let me be clear, the animal caretakers are a separate group of folks from the researchers or scientists that will be using test results to change either human or veterinary medicine. These folks chose a profession that would lead them to answers to intriguing questions they have, whereas animal caretakers chose this profession with a singular dedication to making the lives of those animals better in any way possible.

In fact, it is the animal caretaker who becomes the advocate for these animals, monitoring their living conditions, keeping vigil over the work done with these animals, and yes, often becoming attached emotionally. Why not? That love of animals is also what drives them to care for animals just like us in veterinary medicine!

caring for lab rats and other animals

From the moment I became involved in laboratory work, I have seen this come true. As a college student, I needed to look for some employment. I went to the college careers office to explore the possibilities, and I was looking specifically for something pertaining to animals. I didn’t really stop to think twice when I found a position as an animal husbandry worker in a resource and research facility. It was furry animals, and I was in! (FYI, at this point I was majoring in wildlife science, if that tells you anything.)

I was certainly the low-man-on-the-totem-pole in this position, but I didn’t care; I got to take care of dogs, chickens, chimps, rats, and other critters, and I was happy. I didn’t know what happened to them when they left my area, I would just see a turnover of animals over time. I enjoyed this job because it put me around animals, and that was where I wanted to be.

Fast forward many years, after becoming a Registered Veterinary Technician and working in companion medicine, to the time I discovered an opportunity in lab animal work near I was living. The prime motivation was again, to be around animals, to make their lives better, to do what I could to keep them happy and comfortable. So I began working for a surgical training center. Surgeons from “human medicine” would come practice their surgical skills on animal models. My department was GI, and we used dogs (GI system most representative of humans) acquired through the correct channels and reputable vendors. Over several years, I also got to work some with cats (neonatal intubation), goats (reproductive surgery), pigs (cardiac procedures), and rats (microsurgery, vein anastomosis). It was fascinating, and I believed in my heart that these animals were sacrificing their lives for the betterment of human, and veterinary, medicine. I was there for the animals, to see that they had a good life and humane ending.

After several years I decided to look for a job back in veterinary medicine; I just missed these animals having a loving family to go home to. So I applied to the referral practice in our city, and was hired by the internal medicine department, specifically in a position that focused on the pet owners. As I tell it now, I went from no families, to pathologically attached families, but always, always, the health of the animal is first and foremost my concern.

For those of you in lab animal, Hooray! For those of you not, just think of this when you meet a colleague involved in lab animal work…you have more in common with them than not.

P.S. I am so excited to add that I will be hosting a 4-hour workshop on compassion fatigue at the national AALAS conference in Minneapolis this fall!

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