Short of veterinary technicians, Animal Humane Society decides to ‘grow their own’

Published 5:29 pm Friday, July 21, 2023

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By Tim Nelson

The COVID-19 pandemic was bad for people, but it has been a boon for cats and dogs. Nearly 1 in 5 U.S. households adopted a pet during the pandemic, according to the ASPCA. 

And all those animals need a lot of care: Mars Veterinary Health says pet care spending will rise by a third in the next ten years, and the U.S. will need 41,000 additional vets and more than twice as many veterinary technicians. 

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Training programs aren’t keeping up, and some actually closed during the pandemic. 

“There’s a nationwide vet tech shortage,” said Hannah Krohn, with the Golden Valley-based Animal Humane Society.  

And the AHS needs those techs. The animal welfare organization takes in about 13,000 pets a year and provides care assistance to about 6,000 other pets a year, helping to keep those animals in their homes. 

“They’re the nurses of the veterinary world,” Krohn said of the vet techs. They draw blood, prep patients for surgery, assist with regular examinations, do health intakes on new animals, even help with euthanasia when it comes to that. 

Technically, the job is certified by the Minnesota Veterinary Medical Association and includes formal education, but AHS decided that the need was more dire. It has started its own in-house training program, poised to graduate a handful of people next month. Another two dozen are in the pipeline for the next cohort. The Rachael Ray Foundation, started by the talk show host and animal food entrepreneur, is helping pay to get the program started. 

Amanda Troastle, who has worked for the Humane Society in another position for about five years, signed up.

“This is a great start for anybody that’s interested in veterinary medicine,” she said, still clad in blue scrubs after anesthetizing a dog in the operating suite at AHS.

She’s always wanted to do direct animal care, and this was her way in. She hopes to go through the entire process and eventually be state certified, although she says the shortage also has regulators rethinking the job requirements. 

The AHS program lasts seven months and is paid $17 an hour for the training portion. Graduates are guaranteed a job at AHS, a raise, benefits, and vacation time. The training is a mix of classroom learning and hands-on care. 

“We are the first animal welfare organization to do this,” said Krohn, who manages the program. The AHS developed its own curriculum and training materials. She said the certification requirements vary state by state, but that they’re hoping the initiative will prove a model adaptable to other organizations around the country. 

Dr. Kate Farmer, the managing education veterinarian at the Golden Valley shelter, said it is what animals need: staff shortages mean animals are waiting longer in shelters, wanting for exams, behavioral evaluation and the veterinary care they need to be ready for a new home.

“We’re just not able to serve as many animals,” she said.

And she concedes it’s an uphill battle: veterinary care is not a particularly lucrative career, dealing with animals in crisis is difficult, and well, sometimes your patients bite you. People leave the field regularly, exacerbating the shortages. 

“It’s a hard job,” Farmer said. “It’s grueling and emotionally taxing, but I look forward to it every day I come in here. I’m excited to see these animals and these people who care so much … I can’t imagine working anywhere else and I want other people to feel that way, too.” 

The AHS is taking applications for its next round of training.