Vet tech interns to add to the helping hands at Aurora Animal Shelter

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AURORA | Students from the Community College of Denver will soon be lending a hand to animals in need thanks to a new internship developed by Aurora’s Animal Services Division and the neighboring community college.

Starting next school year, first-year students in CCD’s veterinary technician training program will intern at the Aurora Animal Shelter, performing physicals and providing other basic services under the guidance of licensed veterinary technicians, according to animal services manager Jenee Shipman.

The unpaid internship program was approved as part of a larger intergovernmental agreement between the city and the Department of Higher Education by Aurora City Council during a March 21 regular meeting.

Shipman said that the new program will help bolster the capacity of the city’s animal shelter on East 32nd Avenue, which employees only one full-time veterinarian and one veterinary technician. She said a veterinary assistant helps Animal Services staff perform between 20 and 40 surgeries — ranging from spays and neuters to amputations — every week.

“We are understaffed for our veterinary services, and that is why this is a huge benefit for the City of Aurora, because it’s at no cost to us,” she said.

While interns will mostly be providing basic medical services to animals, Shipman said that merely having extra hands to help socialize the animals can help boost a potential pet’s chances for adoption.

“Having the veterinary technicians come in and provide more behavioral enrichment and a social component, working on anxiety or basic manners… can really help their adoptability,” she said.

The Aurora Animal Shelter has current internship agreements with the Bel-Rea Institute of Animal Technology and Pickens Technical College, according to Shipman. But the new program will help cycle in the services of roughly 65 students who are enrolled in CCD’s veterinary technician program — which yields an associate degree after two years — at any given time, according to Jennifer Gunther, clinical coordinator for CCD’s veterinary technology program.

Gunther said that the new internship will fine-tune students’ skills in their first year of school before they begin the second year of the program, which requires 315 hours of in-clinic experience.

“Our second-year students spend time in veterinary clinics, but we were finding they weren’t getting enough experience with those very basic skills and they weren’t as prepared as we wanted them to be going into that second year,” she said. “And this (program) is going to change that entirely.”

Gunther added the new partnership could help CCD graduate more qualified veterinary technicians at a time when they are badly needed across the country.

“Right now, there are not enough vet technicians to fill the jobs that are available,” she said. “I’ve seen more announcements for jobs openings recently than I have in years.”

There were 95,400 jobs held by veterinary technologists and technicians across the country in 2014, with an additional 17,900 positions expected to be added to the field by 2024, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s a growth rate about 13 percentage points higher than the average growth rate for all jobs, which is about seven percent, according to the latest available data.

Gunther said that interns will begin working at the animal shelter at the beginning of the next academic year in August.