By Alisha Brewer

Valentine’s Day has always been my favorite holiday. When I tell someone this, it is sometimes followed by a snub nose, eye roll or little ‘pfff’ sound. That person will likely begin a rant of how much they dislike Valentine’s Day, that it is a ridiculous holiday created for couples who really should show their love for each other all year round. For me it was never about any of this. Valentine’s Day has always been about showing the people in my life that they are thought of and loved. When I was young, my mom would spend hours making heart shaped sugar cookies. My brother and I would then arrange them on red plates with little white doilies (never underestimate the importance of a doily!) and then deliver them to our family and friends. We would quietly sneak up to their doorstep, set a plate of cookies down, ring the doorbell and run away as quickly as we could. This was such an exhilarating and memorable part of my childhood and an act that would solidify Valentine’s Day as the absolute best.

Animals have always been one of the greatest loves of my life. This February, instead of heart shaped cookies and doorbell rings I would like to offer you something else. For those of you that may have an animal lover in your life, perhaps a budding veterinarian, zookeeper or wildlife biologist, I wanted to share some tips about how to help them pursue their passion.

First of all, read. Read anything that sparks your interest. The information that you gain from books is a great starting place and feeding ground to grow your knowledge. Read about zoology, biology, the oceans, anatomy and physiology, operant conditioning training and positive reinforcement, ethics and management in zoos, field guides and studies. There is an overwhelming mountain of knowledge out there, go get some!

Veterinarian in training.

Get involved/volunteer – a lot. Information from books only gets you so far. So much of animal-related careers are on-the-job training; much of this can be sampled by working alongside a professional in the field. Volunteering will offer you firsthand experiences and open your eyes to realities of the world that you are hoping to pursue. When I was in middle school I spoke with our local veterinarian and let her know I was interested in becoming a vet. She asked if I had ever observed a surgery, which I had not. I happily accepted her invitation to watch her perform a routine surgery. About three minutes into the procedure the room started spinning, my wooziness took over and I got a great view of the exam room floor. Turns out fainting is common for first timers and easily overcome with experience. An embarrassing yet valuable lesson that helped pave the way for my future career. Local wildlife rehabbers, Reid Park Zoo, the Desert Museum, animal shelters, veterinary offices, even pet sitting will give you insight into the world. Check out the facility that you’re interested in to see what kind of programs or options they have for you to join the team.

Develop those muscles! Keeping up with animals is no joke. Whether one is trekking across wild landscapes to collect data, stocking hay bales for hungry horses or giraffes, or lifting a sleeping rottweiler onto the exam table for a dental exam, one needs his strength! Anyone hoping to pursue a career with animals should be comfortable lifting at least 50 pounds and have legs that are ready to go go go.

Gain valuable skills. It’s always great to have first aid and CPR training but not just for people, know how to perform life saving techniques on animals too. There are multiple organizations in Tucson that offer classes, including the Humane Society. If you’re hoping to work with marine mammals, develop those swimming skills! Become a certified lifeguard and get your scuba certification.

Our up and coming animal professionals will be driven by their heart and their passion. They will have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of animals, which is amazing. They will have the opportunity to make a difference in the world, which is the icing on the cake…or should I say, the doily on the plate.

Alisha Brewer is a veteran zoo keeper of nearly 15 years. U of A alum. Boy mom, veggie dog connoisseur, anti Oxford comma and eternal optimist. Alisha hopes to connect residents to the incredible creatures that surround us.

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