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Meet Vet Tech Sara Dunleavy

For Veterinary Technician Week 2019, we’re not just celebrating our wonderful vet techs – we’re introducing them! 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 care for our animals without them.

Meet Sara Dunleavy, full-time clinical veterinary technician at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium.

(Meet our other vet tech Julie Lemon here.)

How long have you been a vet tech – and when did you start here at the zoo?

I’ve been a licensed veterinary technician for 13 years, and I began working full-time at Point Defiance in May. But I did work here part-time for several years, so it’s like coming home!

What inspired you to do this work?

vet tech sara with tiger
Vet tech Sara Dunleavy covers a tiger with a blanket for warmth during a procedure.

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 opened my eyes as to what technicians did. I decided I wanted to pursue the vet tech side, and I’ve been really happy with my decision.
I earned my associate’s degree in veterinary technology at Northern Virginia Community College, near where I grew up. First I started in small animal practice, and then 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 continued working there for a number of years.

I started volunteering with a wildlife rehab center, and found I 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 as well as teaching at a veterinary technician program. After earning my bachelor’s degree in conservation biology and ecology at the University of Washington, I worked a little more here at Point Defiance, then spent a year at Northwest Trek.

And now I’m back!

How are you liking being back?

vet tech with polar bear
Vet tech Sara Dunleavy, right, with fellow vet tech Julie Lemon in a polar bear procedure.

It’s been great. It feels like I never left. And while I loved working at Northwest Trek, it is nice to be part of a big team here with fellow vet tech Julie Lemon, two staff veterinarians and an intern veterinarian. There’s a big variety of species here, and many animals to care for. But I love it.

How do you and Julie divide up the work?

Basically we alternate days of being the clinical technician and being the administrative technician. The clinical jobs include preparing for veterinary procedures, drawing up medications, doing onsite treatments like laser therapy, collecting and submitting samples to the lab for analysis, cleaning up after procedures and performing other in-house lab work. The administrative duties involve ordering and stocking supplies, filling prescriptions, maintaining equipment, cleaning, and caring for any animals that are here in our Health Care Center.

What does an average day look like for you?

There is no average day! But I’m always here at 7:30am, and the first priority is caring for any animals in the Health Care Center. We then set up and assist with animal procedures, where we monitor anesthesia, take radiographs, collect blood and other samples, administer medications, place intravenous catheters, give fluids, perform dental cleanings and assist the veterinarians, among many other things. After lunch we do all those other tasks, plus any meetings, training animals for medical behaviors or preparing for bigger procedures coming up.

What do you like most about being a vet tech at Point Defiance Zoo?

vet team and red wolf pup
Vet tech Sara Dunleavy, left, with keeper Jennifer Donovan and veterinarian Dr. Karen Wolf, examining a red wolf pup.

Every day is different. I have the opportunity in my job to learn something new and progress all the time, and that’s the most rewarding thing. It’s never boring!
I love native wildlife, but there’s such a variety of species here – I love working with all of them.

Do you have any pets yourself?

Yes, two bulldogs. They’re very lazy! And also a shy gecko.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

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