Veterinary Technology Graduate is Fighting for a Cause Greater Than Herself
Lauren Heitke is an outstanding example of someone who forged a unique path utilizing their Veterinary Tech (VT) degree. Not only that, she did it while gaining a community and fighting for a cause greater than herself.
This ambitious Carrington graduate’s story starts in Sacramento, California, where Lauren grew up and graduated from high school in 2010. She was a self-described “not-so-great” student while pursuing a biology degree online from the University of Phoenix and wasn’t quite sure what she would do with her degree even though science and medicine interested her. Her dad is a doctor, so she grew up hearing a lot of medical jargon, but the thought of touching and treating other human beings was unappealing to her. Lauren eventually dropped out of school before graduating. Then, in 2015, she made an important change and committed to the vegan lifestyle.
Vegans have a compassionate view towards animals and believe that all animals deserve to live their lives free of cruelty, ideally in their natural environment. Vegans are very much against humans using animals to create food and consumer products.
In 2016, just a year after becoming vegan, Lauren started working as an Animal Caregiver at Animal Place, a 600-acre sanctuary for farmed animals in Grass Valley, California—just 143 miles northeast of San Francisco. Animal Place also is an animal rights organization committed to the tenets of veganism and expects its employees to be similarly committed. Lauren immediately met that requirement. She was also a great fit because of her experience with large animals due to growing up around horses.
Ned Buyukmihci, a veterinary ophthalmologist and professor at UC Davis, and Kim Sturla, an employee of a local dog and cat humane society, founded Animal Place in 1988. It started as a 60-acre volunteer-run sanctuary in Vacaville, CA. Today Animal Place is nationally-renowned as “a model sanctuary with two facilities (600-acres in Grass Valley, and the 12-acre Rescue & Adoption Center in Petaluma), 14 employees, a cadre of volunteers and interns, and tens of thousands of supporters,” according to the sanctuary’s website. What is exciting is they just hired Lauren to be their Animal Care and Property Manager at their new Petaluma facility. Petaluma is 37 miles north of San Francisco.
According to the Facebook posting for Lauren’s new position, she will “oversee the care of rescued animals, including up to 1,500 rescued hens, adoptable and permanent goats, sheep, llamas, and other smaller animals.” She will also oversee a couple of humans, though most of her time is spent on chickens. The Grass Valley facility Lauren worked at has a greater variety of animals. Their website lists sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, rabbits, turkeys, cows.
Animal Place’s Facebook page introduces us to Molly and Melody, two pigs who survived jumping from moving livestock transport trucks. They respectively incurred a damaged leg and road rash from their leaps. Then there is Lenny—the sheep who was born at the sanctuary after his pregnant mother’s rescue from a live-action slaughterhouse. He has only known sanctuary life. We can’t forget about Minnie the Barbados sheep caught while running loose by a man who threatened to shoot her if they didn’t take her. We also have cute little Jingle the six-year-old New Zealand rabbit rescued from a laboratory. And these are just a few of the animals at Animal Place’s sanctuaries. Some are available for adoption and others are permanent residents. The Petaluma sanctuary serves as a quarantine area for animals to stay on their way to adoption into a new home.
During her first couple of years at Animal Place, Lauren gained a lot of firsthand experience with the farm animals receiving sanctuary in Grass Valley. She eventually realized that they were her patient population of choice.
She said, “people issues kind of grossed me out, but when it came to animals it was a completely different thing. If they were sick or they were bleeding, I wanted to help out. So, when I saw that I could go to school for the medical side of things without becoming a veterinarian, then a vet tech program made perfect sense… I also wanted to finish school. I wanted to have that under my belt. I wanted to have my license. To be a better caregiver. I felt like I had not reached enough knowledge on my own… and in a more structured way.”
When Lauren enrolled in the Veterinary Technology program at Carrington’s Citrus Heights campus, she didn’t know what to expect of her future classmates. The day she had toured the campus, students happened to be gone and it was empty. She wondered, what will they be like? Then when she attended orientation, she was impressed by their rich diversity when it came to age, race, and life experience. Some students were fresh out of high school while others were pursuing their 2nd or even 3rd career change. She also appreciated the program’s career-focus and felt like that was part of what made it so attractive to such a wide variety of people. And, of course, the one thing that all of them had in common was their love of animals. Lauren noticed she was unique in her dedication to large farm animals (and chickens), though. Their care is her passion, so she had hoped to see more students dedicated to them.
Lauren left the Animal Place Grass Valley sanctuary to focus on school in 2018. While she was in school, Animal Place developed its new Petaluma location. The job posting for the Animal Care and Property Manager position for that location was open and active on Facebook starting in April 2019. Lauren commented on the post, expressing interest in the job, and saying that she would apply in the future if the job was still open when she graduated. She acknowledged that was, “wishful thinking” because it was April 2019 and she wouldn’t graduate until August 2020. But then, just two months before Lauren graduated, they hired her to fill the position!
Since starting, Lauren has spent most of her time working with hens, which she finds fascinating. Chickens and pigs are her two favorite creatures.
She said, “A lot of people don’t realize how smart chickens are and how complex their social structures are. A lot of people are scared of them, which I find funny. But really, a lot of people just don’t have a lot of experience handling birds or being around them—maybe the occasional parrot and such. Chickens are fantastic and then pigs are incredibly smart. I love them so much. They’re sassy. They remind me of a blend between a dog and a cat.”
The chickens that Lauren cares for come from a variety of different locations and situations, including hoarded properties, abandoned egg farms, feed stores, and bankrupt “free-range” farms. She said that “a lot of people don’t think about how overlooked they (chickens) are when it comes to animal rights.” Time with the chickens has led her to many revelations about how similar humans are to them and visa-versa. “The more you sit and observe herd or flock behaviors, the easier it is to see that it is a whole little society. You see a lot of human behaviors in animals, which translates to a lot of animal behaviors in humans. Jealousy and hierarchy are good examples,” she said.
Lauren’s Animal Care and Property Manager role at Animal Place differs from standard VT positions. She lives and works on-site where she can evaluate animals and closely watch for injuries or symptoms of illness, so she can get them help before problems escalate. She also attends the veterinarian visits, administers medications, develops and administers sanitation protocols, and assists with rehabilitation after injuries. Lauren is very clear that her VT training at Carrington has helped her provide great care for the animals at the sanctuary.
“Since going to Carrington, I have knowledge of specific diseases. I am also much more prepared and able to recognize issues before they get worse,” she said.
By hiring Lauren for their Petaluma sanctuary, Animal Place made a clear statement that it is dedicated to giving the animals in their care the very best lives. These animals once were forsaken—many even destined for slaughter until they were rescued. Now they are in the capable hands of a Carrington 2020 VT graduate who found her path to veterinary technology through her passion for animal welfare.