Name: Jennifer Gerner, RVT
Job: RVT with CLAW (Community Led Animal Welfare) in Johannesburg, South Africa
Q&A with Jennifer
OAVT: Where did you go to school and what made
you decide to take a Veterinary Technology program?
Jennifer: Seneca College. I graduated in 1997.
I have always had a love for animals, even as a small child. I was the kid at birthday parties that would pet the dogs or the cats. I had a co-op placement in high school at a local veterinary hospital and just fell in love with the profession. The vet clinic had a wonderful (RVT) that took me under her wing and after that I was hooked. I remember feeling that I had found my calling after my first day at Seneca.
Twenty years later, I have never regretted my career choice.
OAVT: You are an Ontario RVT currently working at CLAW in South Africa. What are your responsibilities each day?
Jennifer: I am one of three Vet Nurses (we are called Vet Nurses over here), and I am responsible for an average of 65 patients, and over 50 unwanted dogs and cats for adoption.
CLAW is a non-profit organization that provides primary health care for animals in the impoverished communities in Johannesburg. We focus on vaccines, deworming, sterilization, and animal care education.
My passion is taking a sick, neglected animal, nursing it back to health and finding a wonderful family to love them. The neglect, ignorance and animal cruelty in South Africa is extreme and I feel that my skills as an RVT are needed so much more in the communities that CLAW services. On average, CLAW treats over 4,000 animals per month, we spay and neuter over 250 per month.
OAVT: What drew you to CLAW in the first place?
Jennifer: After 12 years working as an RVT in Toronto, I felt restless. I took a safari tour to South Africa, and part of the tour was spending two days volunteering at CLAW. That's all it took! I remember getting off the plane and feeling like I was home. I was bit by the African bug!
In 2009 I was offered a position at CLAW and jumped at the chance. I permanently moved to South Africa, bringing along my two dogs and three cats, and I have never looked back.
The work we do at CLAW is so important to the communities we service. These are the poorest of the poor, but they love their pets; they are family. CLAW does not charge for our services and we rely solely on donations from the public. We receive no government funding.
To be able to talk to an owner about their sick pet, and return a healthy animal back to them, to see the happiness it brings to the family is the reason I work at CLAW. We have good days and bad, but ultimately I like to think we are making a difference.
OAVT: You have a big climb coming up. Tell us about the climb, including why you're doing it.
Jennifer: I am climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in September 2017 to help raise funds for much needed vaccines for CLAW. To date we have raised over $9,000 and have been able to vaccinate over 5,000 dogs against Parvo, Distemper, and Rabies. Johannesburg has had several outbreaks of Rabies and sadly there has been human fatalities.
OAVT: It sounds like you are doing some very important and rewarding work. In your experience, is there a need for Canadian-trained RVTs to help with animal healthcare and welfare across the globe?
Jennifer: Canadian RVTs are so well trained and our education is far superior to any veterinary nurse trained in South Africa. For this reason, a Canadian RVT is well prepared and will be an asset to any animal welfare organization across the globe.
The need is so great in impoverished countries, your skills and knowledge could save hundreds of animals' lives. The life and career experience you would gain from seeing the animal healthcare in other countries would be immeasurable. Go for it!!
OAVT: So then what advice would you give to students and new RVTs who want to try their hand at different roles within this industry...even if it's outside of the country?
Jennifer: My advice to new grads is try your hand in every area: welfare medicine, small and large animal, exotic, private practice and emergency medicine before you choose a career path or change your career.
RVTs can work in so many capacities, so don't limit yourself to just one area. Travel and experience animal healthcare in all cultures. Never limit yourself. The world is your oyster, and where there is a will, there is a way!