Name: Aaron Archer, B.Sc. Wildlife Biology (McGill University), RVT
Job: The Wildlife Rehabilitation Manager of the Toronto Wildlife Centre
Q&A with Aaron
OAVT: We know you went to McGill for Wildlife Biology, but where did you go to school for your Veterinary Technology program? And why did you decide to take a VT program?
Aaron: Algonquin College.
I had been working in the field of wildlife rehabilitation for several years and picked up an array of technical skills while on the job. I wanted to go back to school and become a RVT to formalize some of the skills and knowledge that I learned (somewhat haphazardly) while on the job. I wanted context for some of my knowledge, and I wanted to learn the correct way to perform technical skills.
Wildlife rehabilitation, as an industry, is going through an interesting time insofar as it is maturing and incorporating more veterinary medicine and science into its practices. There is a growing need for rehabilitators with formalized medical training, and I wanted to be a part of this trend in order to help wild patients in the best way I could.
OAVT: What do you love about your job at the Toronto Wildlife Centre?
Aaron: There are a lot of different aspects of my job that I love. I have a position where I can teach others something that we are passionate about. I have a respect and fondness for wildlife, and I enjoy sharing and inspiring that in others. I feel the Toronto Wildlife Centre, and my job included, does good for wildlife and I can feel like I have a job that makes a difference.
There are sacrifices to be sure, but my day may involve everything from a hummingbird, to an eagle, to a porcupine, to a Blackburnian warbler, to….anything. I can think of no other career that would allow me the opportunity to work with, and help, such a wide diversity of species.
While I know the patients really do not appreciate our help, I take solace in the fact that we are working towards getting them back to the wild and to their home.
OAVT: That sounds so inspiring! What is a typical day like for you?
Aaron: I don’t really have a typical day. That is one of the things I like best about this career. While it would sometimes be nice to “phone it in”, we really can’t. From one literal minute to the next, we have no idea what might happen. We may get a new or uncommon species in that requires specialized care, I may be needed in surgery or for a vet consult, or we may get an oil spill event, or someone from across the country may need advice.
I am often pulled from one question or situation to the next, but I like the fact that my entire day is spent trying to help the patients. My position is almost entirely about making judgement calls, and it is my responsibility to have, or get, the knowledge to make responsible decisions. I am fortunate to have a very competent and dedicated staff, and that they are as keen to work and learn as I am.
OAVT: What important qualities and skills can RVTs bring to the wildlife sector?
Aaron: There is comparatively little research being performed in wildlife medicine, given that it is an area with little economic potential. Almost all of the medications used are off-label, and having a comprehensive understanding of pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics is very helpful. Understanding antibiotic spectrums and appropriate use of antibiotics is critical. While rehabilitation workers operate within the guidelines established by the veterinarian on record, understanding standard operating protocols and why medications and treatments are prescribed is critical.
The vast majority of rehabilitators work out of their home and not at an established centre with veterinarians on staff. As such, RVTs are the eyes and ears for the veterinarian and, in some cases, may understand the species norms better than the vet. Being aware of what medical conditions to look for, and being able to interpret symptoms is invaluable to the veterinarian.
Also, being able to perform “bread and butter” RVT skills like catheterization, medication administration (PO, IV, SC), bandaging and splinting will allow the best care to be given to the patients. In many cases, non-RVTs can be taught to do these skills, but it is the depth of knowledge that separates RVTs from uncredentialed workers. Knowing what to do when things go wrong or unexpectedly can save a life.
Similarly, monitoring equipment in surgery is likely less advanced than in many companion animal clinics. In most cases, there are little or no established species norms for heart rate, blood pressure, or even temperature. The vast majority of patients are highly stressed, and may not be going into surgery as stable as we would like. Being able to competently monitor anesthesia and being able to respond to emergencies is absolutely critical. An RVT is in the best position to be able to provide that level of skill and care.
OAVT: For RVTs working in other sectors, such as companion animal medicine, who may have wildlife brought into their clinic, what should they know?
Aaron: The most important advice I can give is to contact a rehabilitator for advice. Wildlife have unique challenges to their care, and a lot of the advice that we give is different from what a clinic might suggest for a domestic patient.
In most cases, even if a patient is injured, keeping the animal someplace dark, warm, and quiet is the best thing you can do before transferring it to the experts - a wildlife rehabilitator.
Perhaps non-intuitively, please do not offer the animal any food or water until a rehabilitator is spoken to. If it is an emergency case, rehabilitators can help walk clinic staff through initial stabilization. In some cases where it is obvious the patient can never be released to resume a normal life, euthanasia may be warranted. These decisions absolutely need to be made with the natural history of the patient in mind. Rehabilitators are in the best position to understand the options for the patient.
OAVT: What advice would you give to students and new RVTs who want to try their hand working in the wildlife sector?
Aaron: Volunteer at a centre or under a mentor. Absolutely volunteer, preferably at several different places. There is so much to know in order to responsibly work with and rehabilitate wild patients, and much of it cannot be formally taught. Having RVT skills is very useful, but safe animal handling skills for a wide variety of species, knowing relevant natural history, and appreciating the medical limitations of working with wild patients all are just as important. Sometimes the most difficult part of managing a case is not the medical side of things, but rather something mundane like getting the patient to eat in captivity.
Wildlife Rehabilitation centres are almost all non-profit charities, so there are various restrictions on staffing, resources and equipment, and diagnostic ability. This poses challenges quite different from domestic animal clinics. The work environment is task-based, which means that we go home when the work is done, not at a particular time even though it may in involve extremely long days. The patients need care every day of the year, and so weekend, evening, and holiday work is mandatory. It is a career that asks a lot of its workers, and is not for everyone. It is far better for someone to have experienced the environment before committing to it. And because of these challenges, every rehabilitation centre that I know of prefers to hire from within its pool of volunteers, interns, et cetera.