Most dog owners have logged a number of hours at the veterinarian, but they may not be aware of a key player at the vet’s office: the veterinary technician. This is the person whose name you might not know but who you often see assisting the doggy doctor with all sorts of things, from X-rays to small surgeries. It’s one of the fastest growing professions out there, but there’s a lot most people still don’t know about it.
Given that many of us aren’t incredibly familiar with the role these professionals play in the lives of our beloved pooches, Sandra Lean-Leighton, a trained technician, has made it her mission to educate the public, with a healthy dose of humor. The result is a one-woman comedy currently touring colleges and conferences in Canada and the U.S. called Adventures of a SuperVet Tech.
To get an idea of Lean-Leighton’s style, check out her four-minute YouTube video “Believe It … Behind the Furry Curtain,” which she posted two years ago as she was first introducing her unique perspective to the wider world.
According to her years of experience, vet techs are the highly hands-on participants in so many animal health scenarios. The veterinarian does the diagnosis, but that person also has to run a business and take care of all the associated work and considerations. But the vet tech’s sole focus is on the animal.
“We have so many great stories,” says Lean-Leighton, who has an acting background and calls the job of a vet tech “dangerous and incredibly emotional work.”
Aside from conducting lab work, ultrasounds, and administering medications in clinics, shelters, wildlife facilities, and anywhere else animals are found, vet techs deal with some fairly absurd situations on a regular basis. As Lean-Leighton tells it, she’s encountered a German Shepherd whose owner was convinced his dog could read his mind, a geriatric pooch with missing teeth whose owner pre-chewed all his food, and a dog whose ear infection was improperly treated with oral antibiotic pills shoved into his ear canal.
Then there’s the woman who was stupefied to hear that her female dog became pregnant. “That’s impossible,” she said. “My male dog is gay!”
It’s doesn’t stop there. Imagine for a moment changing an ear bandage on an uncooperative and brawny Great Dane, or eating your lunch while crouched down in a cage because you need to monitor an animal coming out of anesthesia. Plus every other emergency or high-stress situation, like nursing gunshot wounds in dogs who found themselves in the middle of a drug deal gone wrong or grief counseling those who are euthanizing their pets. This is the material Lean-Leighton has to work with as the person who’s essentially the go-between for the animal and the vet.
“I love working with animals,” she says. “So much is intuition and empathy and communication.”
And it’s also about having a strong stomach, a big heart, and a keen sense of humor – the three essential attributes that Lean-Leighton credits vet techs with having. Of course, SuperVet Tech can do some pretty amazing things, too. Like smell a parvo puppy from miles away and take an X-ray without a machine. But the act isn’t all stand-up comedy. It’s also about instilling pride in the audience of technicians and acknowledging the emotional and physical demands of the job – while wearing headgear, a cape, and funky boots for added entertainment value.
Currently, Lean-Leighton is looking for sponsorship so she can spread the word about her beloved profession and potentially raise funds for local shelters. And although she doesn’t have a dog at the moment – working 12-hour shifts makes cat ownership the better option – she had a pup when she was younger who died of distemper. “That made me wish I could have done something,” she says.
Today, Lean-Leighton has worked in more than 40 clinics and with more than 120 veterinarians, and Adventures of a SuperVet Tech is introducing her to hundreds of other professionals who she’s helping to inspire. In her mind, every animal is really special; it’s just a matter of figuring out what it is that makes each special.
And the same can be said of her. Who else would dress up like a mock superhero to spread awareness of the joys and challenges of her beloved profession and those she helps on a daily basis? It’s safe to say she’s doing something truly spectacular for the vet tech field and for the animals as well.
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About the author: Whitney C. Harris is a New York-based freelance writer for websites including StrollerTraffic, Brides.com, and WhattoExpect.com. A former book and magazine editor, she enjoys running (with her dog, Finley), watching movies (also with Finley), and cooking meatless meals (usually with Finley watching close by). She and her husband (and Finley, too) welcomed a baby girl named Rowan in August.