• Education: BS in Biology, graduate courses in clinical psychology, and Registered Veterinary Technician through community college courses and passing the board exam
  • Experience: Worked as a career computer programmer until recently
  • Shelter Experience: Currently volunteers at a shelter in Santa Cruz, CA

Why choose the UF program?

There is no required degree program to earn the veterinary technician specialty in behavior – students have to seek out educational opportunities that enable them to learn a prescribed curriculum focusing on animal behavior in the veterinary context. There are many excellent dog-training courses of study available, but few that focus on the medical side of animal behavior. Because Robin’s roots were in biology and clinical psychology, she searched for an online graduate animal behavior course that was scientifically based and medically oriented.

The only class that met her needs was the one offered by the University of Florida’s Online Shelter Medicine Graduate Program. She originally wanted something within driving distance, but found she loved the self-paced, work-at-home style of UF’s online courses. While the graduate-level course price was a drawback, she was so excited about the material and professionalism of the program that she signed up.

Robin was pleased with the results. In her own words:

  • “It was a fantastic education. The best part for me, personally, about the instructional style is that there is NO silly memorizing and regurgitating of facts. There is a ton of paper-writing, which I feel reflects my ability to absorb and use the information in a real-world way much more than memorizing would.”
  • “I learned how to evaluate a shelter’s resources and observe the animals for signs of distress; what behavior evaluation models are currently being used, and the pros and cons of each; body language and what it tells you about the animal’s emotional state and motivation; training methods, what training credentials indicate about the people who hold them, and how to choose a trainer for the shelter; psychopharmaceutical treatments, side-effects, pros and cons; and commonly-observed behavior problems and how to deal with them with management, behavior modification, and drugs as appropriate.”
  • “The material was great and the shelter behavior information completely relevant. The material was varied, with a lot of videos, not just a bunch of slides.” The weekly real-time Live Chats were the highlight of every Wednesday, even though I was dog-tired after a long day at the clinic.”
  • “It does take a lot of time. I chose to do every extra-credit assignment and tried to get as close to 100% scores as I could. I’d estimate I spent more than 16 hours each week on the course.”
  • “The TA’s feedback was wonderful. You got individual feedback that was applicable.”

How did not being a DVM or DVM student work?

Robin was pleased that this medically based class accepted people with only a bachelor’s degree, like herself.

Robin said, “This last spring there were only two of us that were not DVMs, so at first I wasn’t bold enough to leap into the discussion. And there is a hierarchy of what veterinarians and vet techs can manage. But the instructors were so supportive, and the opinions we had were listened to by the rest of the group. A concrete example was an assignment asking us to diagnose and propose a treatment plan, so I just worded the answer in a way that recognizes my role as a vet tech: ‘So if I were a veterinarian, here is what I would propose… etc.’ In every other regard, there were no restrictions.”

Applying what she learned

Robin works 3 days a week at the shelter and uses what she learned there. She spends 1 day per week with the spay and neuter team and 2 days per week doing cat training. She assists the Santa Cruz Shelter’s Behaviorist Expert, and applies her newfound knowledge when training volunteers. The course validated a lot of what they were doing and also provided a scientific basis for why it worked. Robin’s conclusion is that cats’ emotional difficulties can and should routinely be treated in the same way as dogs’ difficulties, with medication and training.

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