Launching LaGuardia Students Toward Animal Planet

A pet receives care at LaGuardia.
The patient was sedated and on the surgical prep table, where she would receive general anesthesia. As the surgeon meticulously performed the procedure, she asked her assistants for the patient’s vital signs and blood-pressure. Another assistant, fully gloved and gowned, passed surgical instruments while a third opened suture material and prepared the recovery area.

Everything went smoothly. A one-year-old coonhound mix was now successfully spayed and would soon be available for adoption.

It could have been any of many animal medical centers in New York, but this operation took place in the veterinary surgical suite at LaGuardia Community College. The surgeon’s assistants were not yet licensed technicians but rather LaGuardia veterinary tech students, learning hands on what it takes to succeed in this demanding field. Since 1981, more than 450 Veterinary Technology majors have graduated from the program, the only fully accredited one of its kind in New York City.

“In the late ’70s, the College began to recognize that there was a growing need in New York City for trained technicians in the animal health field,” says Dr. Susan Kopp, who has been directing the department for the past two years. “We answered the call. Since that time, job demand for trained veterinary technicians has been constant, and employment prospects for our future vet tech graduates look bright.”

Kopp notes that Health Resources Partners, an organization that analyzes employment trends, predicts that the number of animal caretakers will grow faster than the average for all occupations through 2005—not least because the number of dogs and cats has increased significantly over the last 10 years and is expected to continue to do so. The current national shortage in licensed veterinary technicians has brought inquiries for LaGuardia grads from near and far—Alaska and Puerto Rico, as well as one call from a Florida vet working with dolphins.

Within the City, LaGuardia alumni can be found caring for research animals at Memorial Sloan Kettering, Columbia Presbyterian, the Animal Medical Center, and the City’s three major zoos—Bronx, Central Park, and the Coney Island Aquarium. Employers are seeking LaGuardia graduates because of the reputation the program has developed over the last two decades, with its students receiving a carefully balanced mix of classroom instruction and practical work with research animals and companion pets.

Students work at the College, where bright, modern facilities house a menagerie of cats, dogs, rabbits, and mice, and in two internships at prominent private and public animal-care centers or pharmaceutical and other scientific research facilities. The 80 freshmen hoping to apply this January for the clinical phase of the program are spending the first semester getting a thorough orientation in the animal health field. At semester’s end the students are ranked, and the top 45 students will be invited to continue. “This selection process is necessary because of the program’s challenging curriculum and because we must follow strict guidelines for student-instructor ratio,” says Kopp.

In the first spring semester, instruction focuses on laboratory animal science. Along with classroom instruction, students care for rats and mice. “Having the animals right here, students get a real sense of what it is like to work in a veterinary hospital,” says Kathleen Pitrola, a 2001 graduate now working full-time at the Humane Society of New York. “They are learning all the other tasks connected with animal care, from cleaning their living quarters to keeping careful records of drugs that are being administered.”

By the summer, vet tech majors are ready to venture out on 12-week co-op internships, working alongside veterinarians and veterinary nursing professionals at such respected research facilities as New York University, the Hospital for Special Surgery, and Rockefeller University.
During her first internship at the Hospital for Special Surgery, Nancy Lyon performed all the duties of a veterinary surgical technician. “I was responsible for assisting in surgery, monitoring vital signs, and all aspects of post-operative care,” said Lyon. She continued working part-time at the Hospital while attending LaGuardia, graduated last year, and now has a full-time position there. “It was a wonderful experience.”

Second-year instruction shifts to the care of companion animals—dogs, cats, and exotic pets—one of the largest areas of veterinary medicine and the field in which many students will pursue careers. All facets of nursing are covered here, from anesthesiology to radiology to surgical preparation and examination of a dog or cat for parasites.

Experience of surgery itself also begins. As professors (licensed veterinarians) do their work, students are responsible for every phase of nursing care and are graded under the watchful eye of licensed veterinary technicians. “This training is essential, says Kopp. “We want to turn out technicians who care about animals and take their jobs seriously.”

The academic experience is not complete until the students fulfill a farm animal requirement. In the last weeks of their second year, at Suffolk Community College on Long Island, they rusticate with horses, cows, pigs, and other farm critters. Capping the course of study is a summer internship in a pet practice. Before they graduate and prepare for the State licensing exam, students will perform all the duties of a licensed technician at facilities like the ASPCA, the Humane Society, and top practices in the area.
LaGuardia’s vet tech students come from all walks of life. Many are older animal-lovers looking for a second career. Kopp also recalls ex-ballerinas, former bank vice presidents, and a Ph.D. in English who have entered the program. “They are returning to school to do what they have really wanted to do since they were little—care for animals.”

“I was interested in veterinary technology because I love animals,” said Regan McLemore, 40, who was a professional actress. “But I didn’t know it was a profession that required such specialized training.” A recent graduate, McLemore is now working at the Hudson Highland Veterinary Hospital in Hopewell Junction, New York.

Although the program is not a pre-vet program, some graduates have used the program as just such a springboard. One was Dwight Alleyne, who could not get into a vet school after graduating from Michigan State. So he decided to enroll at LaGuardia, where he would get the clinical experience that vet schools require.

“LaGuardia really gave me the training vet schools were looking for,” said Alleyne who is now a student in Cornell’s eminent College of Veterinary Medicine. “Between the clinical training I received at LaGuardia Community College and the hands-on internships, I entered Cornell with a solid foundation.”


Contents October 2002

$7.5M State Grant Launches Incubator Network

Students Reaping Benefits of Technology Fee

Georgian Elegance, 21st-Century Technology Joined in Reborn Brooklyn College Library

Launching LaGuardia Students Toward Animal Planet

From ’60s Activist Ranks to Executive Suite

Digging the City’s Past

Poet Laureate Collins Takes his Cue on Evil

A WWII Mobilization in The Tale of The Ticker

Subversive Feminist Julia De Burgos Celebrated at Hostos

Italian "Enemy Alien" Experience in WWWII

Museum at Queens College Spans Six Centuries of Art

Celebrating Scholarly “Pleasures of the Mind”

Valued Vets Toasted at the Central Office

CUNY Responds to Powell’s Call for More Minority Diplomats

LaGuardia and Lehman Honored for Freshman Year Programs

Former Brooklyn College Philosopher Turns Philanthropist