On a beautiful spring day, Elena Robertson and I went to Mooney’s Bay Bistro to enjoy a late breakfast. Over fish and eggs I asked Elena a series questions to discover what it’s like to be constantly surrounded by cuddly animals.
At 19 years of age, Elena worked at Merivale Cat Hospital (MCH) from January to September in 2011 where she held the title of Vet Assistant/Receptionist. Now, at 21, she works at Ottawa Veterinary Hospital as receptionist. I interacted with her in her Receptionist role at MCH when my cat, Parker, needed to be neutered. She and I had a mutual friend who referred me to Elena when I had all of my new pet questions that I didn’t want to bother my vet with. MCH is where she got her own cat neutered, so I trusted her judgment.
I turned to her once more to get some insight into working in the veterinary industry. Since my blog is about my experiences as a cat owner, she could share what it’s like to live every day seeing pets come and go for any number of reasons. Elena is a cat owner herself, so she has plenty of perspective!
What drew you to the veterinary industry?
It’s fun to take care of animals, especially the ones that get to go home happy. The animals are there because they’re actually in pain; they aren’t complaining to complain like a human would. Also, when clients are irritated you know it’s because they’re concerned about their pets. I considered nursing, but I realized pets are better patients than people.
Did you complete any veterinary studies?
So how did you get the job?
It was posted on the Carleton University website. I saw the job posting and thought “That’s perfect for me; I love cats!” Experience wasn't necessary, and I got trained on the job.
May I ask what you are studying in university?
I’m majoring in Psychology with a minor in American Sign Language. My plan after graduation is to become a vet tech, but to use my degree I may eventually get a job training dogs for Deaf people.
What are your responsibilities as a veterinary assistant/receptionist?
So many! Answer the phone; book appointments and surgeries; process client invoices; sell prescription food diet, which required knowing the qualities of each; assist veterinary technicians with restraining pets for blood work, needles, x-rays, etc.; clean kennels; assist with temperature/pulse/respiration tests after pets check-in for surgery; simple lab work like spinning blood samples in the centrifuge, or reading stool samples for parasites; dispensing medication.
So you have little interaction with the animals at work?
Restraining the animals was the interaction I got, but I did it a lot. I was frequently needed to restrain the pets. The treatment, surgery and x-ray area was downstairs, so I was constantly running up and down between manning the storefront and assisting the vet techs.
Start with the negative: what is the worst part of your job?
Cleaning up feces and vomit.
One time, this cat who was supposed to be fasted for surgery, wasn’t. He was given the KMH (Ketamine Midazolam and Hydromorphone) shot, and the H has a tendency to induce vomiting. So this cat that hadn’t been fasted threw up everything and I had to clean it up. It smelled so bad that I almost threw up! This cat was really fat, too… and had eaten a lot!!
What is your favourite part about the job?
That would be helping the technicians downstairs doing the hands-on stuff. I get to pet the animals and talk to them.
Also, people love to talk about their pets, so I can share on and on about my cat, Pippin, and I get to hear about other adorable pets.
From where did you get Pippin?
He was found by a vet tech who fostered cats until she could find homes for them. I got him when he was about six weeks old. [Pippin celebrated his first birthday a week before Parker.] Pippin was one of two available cats at the time. I had been sent a picture of the two, one orange, one black. I knew I wanted an orange cat so the choice was easy. Coincidentally, the black cat died from an infection a week after I got Pippin.
What story do you share most with clients when you get the chance?
I usually tell them what a good cat he is, that he doesn't scratch furniture, and that a regular nail trimming kept me from getting him declawed, although I would never do that anyway. I also like to tell them that he snuggles and head butts and nudges my chin in the morning, and how it's like he is very excited for me to be awake and paying attention to him.
Did you grow up with any pets?
I always had a cat in my home. When she was 19, my mother got a cat, Punkin, who died when I was six. We got Jake when I was about five years old. He lived at a house around the corner from us, and the family was pretty dysfunctional. There were strange men around, the sons were pretty violent, and there were always cops around. One day Jake showed up at our door, and he wasn't wearing a collar. We figured he was a stray so we fed him. He came back again and again. He showed up at our kitchen window every day until one day we looked in his ear and he had a tattoo (some pets get tattoos in their ear, sort of like a microchip to trace them). That's when we found out how close he lived. We brought him back to his rightful owner and she thanked us. No more than two hours later he was right back over at our house. He refused to stay at the other house. She told us that we could keep him, and that's how we ended up with the J-Man, or JTC as my dad calls him (Jake The Cat). Jake is still alive at the wise age of 18 years. We got Suzie, another cat, when I was 10 and she’s still alive, too. I also had three guinea pigs growing up: one that I got in sixth grade who had two babies. I never had a dog.
After the interview was done and we were paying for our meal, the waitress asked us if we lived in the area. The bistro is a block away from Elena’s apartment building, and it turns out our waitress’s boyfriend is in the same building. She asked Elena about stray cats lurking outside the building, but Elena has never seen any. The waitress told us that’s how she got her kitten, and now he needs to get neutered. Elena recommended any pet hospital rather than the Spay/Neuter Clinic because of the care that can be provided by a pet hospital.
Elena is happy with her career choice, and has plans for the future. One thing that she knows for sure is that her world will involve animals in as many ways as possible.
Elena and Pippin