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Meet Vet Tech Sara Dunleavy

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Meet Vet Tech Sara Dunleavy
October 15, 2018

For Veterinary Technician Week 2018, we’re not just celebrating our wonderful vet techs – we’re introducing them to you! Vet techs assist veterinarians in every aspect of animal health care, and they care deeply about our animals – often in very practical ways. We couldn’t do without them.

Sara Dunleavy, full-time clinical veterinary technician at Northwest Trek Wildlife Park

How long have you been a vet tech – and when did you begin at Northwest Trek?

Sara: I’ve been a licensed veterinary technician for 12 years – and started here six months ago.

Veterinary technician Sara Dunleavy assists in the exam of Huckleberry, the grizzly bear cub.
Veterinary technician Sara Dunleavy assists in the exam of Huckleberry, the grizzly bear cub.
What inspired you to do this work?

Sara: I always wanted to be a veterinarian, growing up. Then in high school I worked as a kennel attendant at the local cat-and-dog clinic. I got to know the vet’s role, and also the vet tech’s role, and this really opened my eyes as to what they actually did. I decided I actually wanted to pursue the vet tech side, and I’ve been really happy with my decision ever since. I got my associate’s degree in veterinary technology at North Virginia Community College, near where I grew up. First I started in small animal practice, but then I did an externship at a practice that also cared for exotic pets – snakes, lizards, rabbits, birds – because I was really interested in working with a variety of animals.

I started volunteering with a wildlife rehab center, and I found I really liked working with wildlife species as well. After working at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. for a couple of years, I moved out here for my husband’s job and got a part-time job at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. After getting my bachelor’s in conservation biology and ecology at the University of Washington, I worked a little more at Point Defiance Zoo, then applied for this position at Northwest Trek.

Veterinary technician and keepers lift bear
Vet technician Sara Dunleavy (left) helps keepers Haley Withers, center, and Angela Gibson lift Hawthorne the grizzly bear to go to his wellness exam.
What exactly do you do every day?

Sara: Well, I work from 7:30am to 4pm – the same hours as the keepers, because we work so closely with them and the animals. There is no standard day for me – they’re all different! Some mornings begin with a procedure, so for that I prep the room and equipment, medications and supplies. That often means packing everything up for the truck, because half of our procedures happen with the moose, elk, bison or other animals out in the Free-Roaming Area, or with big animals like the bears.

During the procedure I do a lot of things: administer medications, monitor anesthesia, collect and process samples like blood or fecals, take radiographs, assist our veterinarian Dr. Allison Case. We do a lot of dental care like cleaning their teeth, too. And then the cleaning up! I also process evaluate some of the lab samples here, others I prepare and send to an outside laboratory.

On quieter days, there’s more daily work: stocking inventory, filling prescriptions, organizing schedules for procedures, cleaning, disinfecting, maintaining equipment so everything is ready in case of an emergency. There’s also paperwork, keeping up medical records and lab results. But it’s not predictable work. At any moment we could get a call that, say, an owl hurt a talon, so we’ll run to that.

Veterinary technician and moose
Veterinary technician Sara Dunleavy at a health care procedure on a moose.
What do you love best about the job?

Sara: I really love working with native wildlife here. It’s a great opportunity to learn about the animals that are right around you, that you see outdoors. I also like working with wildlife research organization partners, like the mountain goat relocation we recently assisted with. I think zoos have a great role to play in sharing our expertise and animal knowledge, and I want to be able to aid that connection.

Tell us about you – what do you do in your spare time?

Sara: I love being outdoors, so I do a lot of hiking, backpacking, mountain biking, rock climbing. I love it out here, all the nature and the amount of exploration you can do. I never get tired of it. And it’s so green!

Do you have pets?

Sara: I have three dogs – but I don’t usually take them with me hiking. They’re very lazy bulldogs!

-Rosemary Ponnekanti, NW Trek