Nicole Damphouse, RVT.
OAVT: Where did you go to school and what made you decide to take a Veterinary Technology program?
Nicole: I’ve had a sincere love for animals and their welfare starting at a very young age and have owned dogs my entire life; never being without at least one dog in the family since I was born. Growing up, working with animals was the one thing I knew I truly aspired to do and had my heart set on. I began volunteering at local small animal clinics as soon as I was old enough to. My parents say that I always wanted to work with animals since I was a child. They told me stories of how I would go to the library and check out several books on house pets, write out all of the information from nutrition to housing to general care for many different species, and later typed up the notes and transferred them onto floppy discs. If only I could find them now!
I graduated from the Veterinary Technician program at St. Clair College (Windsor, Ontario) in June of 2015 with a cumulative GPA of 3.7. Over the course of the 2 year program, I was awarded the Essex County Veterinary Association Scholarship (for significant contribution to the care and welfare of animals), the Novartis Award (given to the graduating student with the highest mark in clinical anesthesia), as well as the Jules Beneteau Scholarship (for community involvement and achieving a GPA over 2.5). I passed the VTNE two months after graduation and I have been a dedicated RVT and member of the OAVT in good standing ever since.
OAVT: What is your current job(s)? When did you start it? What services do you offer?
Nicole: I work in the medical department as an RVT at the Windsor/Essex County Humane Society – at both the shelter and spay/neuter clinic. I started my current position in March of 2020. We offer many services such as adopting pets (dogs, cats and small animals) into their forever homes, reuniting lost pets with their families, low cost spay/neuter surgeries, and we hold frequent microchip clinics for dogs, cats and rabbits. We allow owners to surrender their pets to us when needed, have ACO drivers that pick up sick, injured and stray animals, we take in public stray drop offs, and offer short term emergency boarding and care for pets of domestic violence victims. Strays and injured animals that are not reclaimed are treated for any medical issues or injuries and prepared for adoption or rescue transfer where necessary. We have an amazing foster program, a barn cat spay/neuter program, and provide TNR assistance. We often get sick wildlife like raccoons, skunks, squirrels, birds and possums.
The spay/neuter clinic commits one day a week to feral cats and the remainder of the week to owned cats and dogs. There are value packages as well as individual procedures and treatments (flea treatment, deworming, microchipping, vaccinating, application of soft paws) that are offered on their surgery day.
I’m extremely proud to work in a facility that stands by their “Good Home Guarantee” which is the WECHS promise that no adoptable pet will be put down and that we will find them a home-regardless of spacing in the shelter or the length of their stay.
OAVT: What is a typical day like for you at work?
Nicole: Most days at the spay/neuter clinic are pretty routine and always busy. The morning starts off with intaking surgical patients. They are then weighed and given a physical exam by a DVM to ensure they are a safe, low risk surgical candidate. Next, we begin the tranquilizing process to sedate each patient before inducing them for their surgical procedure. Surgery (including shaving, prepping, intubating, nail trimming, monitoring and recovering) takes up most of the morning and afternoon. Once awake enough, patients are given any additional vaccines or treatments requested, fit for their cones or onesies, and their incisions are double checked. Cats are placed back into their carriers right before their pick up time. Each day ends with discharging pets to their owners and providing them with post op information. Other things we must do throughout the day include answering phones, returning voicemails and emails, booking appointments, cleaning, calling vet clinics for medical records, faxing surgical records, and preparing materials for the next days set of surgical patients.
At the shelter, mornings begin with medical treatments for our owned animals that are on medication. This is done again in the evening as well. A walk through is done and all animals are assessed throughout the shelter and adoption area. A daily ‘to do’ sheet is made for animals that need to be vet checked, have medical concerns that need to be addressed, require surgical alteration, have bloodwork sampling requested by DVM, vaccinations due, assist feeding, and giving additional treatments like SQ fluids and medicated baths. Recheck appointments are booked as needed with our medical team for adopted pets with medical concerns for a short period post adoption. Surgeries are done daily in order to prepare animals for adoption (mainly spay/neuter, and dentals when necessary). Some days we do several SNRs and barn cat spay/neuters as well. Newly arrived animals are medically processed on a daily basis and are given a standard vet exam, microchip, dewormer, flea and tick treatment, heartworm test and prevention, and core vaccinations.
Throughout the day there are also many phone calls, emails, cleaning, unpacking orders, data entry, and upkeep of autoclaved surgical packs. We do run some laboratory tests in house and prepare other samples to send out to a reference lab. It’s our responsibility to prepare medications as needed for animals going home or to foster and to provide medical related client education. We also get some emergency situations where animals come in seriously injured and require immediate medical attention (ex: HBC and needs limb amputation or x-rays).
OAVT: What is your favourite part about your job?
Nicole: Working at the Humane Society is the MOST rewarding and fulfilling RVT job I have yet to have. My two favourite things about my job would have to be seeing lost pets becoming reunited with their families and seeing how happy animals are when they find their ‘furever’ homes! Of course it’s sad to see an animal come into the shelter in rough shape, but it’s also so rewarding to see their progress and watch them transform into a healthy, happy pet.
I get to see a LOT of cuties at both buildings, and I love working with so many species of animals. I get to see and handle a lot of wildlife and small animals which gets very interesting!
OAVT: What is the hardest part about your job?
Nicole: The hardest part about my job that really affects me is when an animal comes into the shelter in a condition that ultimately can’t be fixed or when their condition is terminal. It’s sad to see animals that aren’t adopted for longer periods of time…but I’m so happy to say that our animals get adopted rather quickly so this is not common. It’s also a big daily struggle not to bring home every pet in need of a home!
OAVT: How has being an RVT helped you in your role? Do you feel like you are using a lot of your RVT skills and training?
Nicole: Being an RVT has helped me a lot in my role because it really prepared me for the intensity of shelter work and high volume spay/neuter work. Surgical preparation and monitoring, client education, learning techniques in dentistry, radiology, blood sampling, lab work, vaccinating, administering medications, and much more allow me to use my technician skills and training daily…more than ever. I love having access to various CE and staying up to date on new skills, technology and information. I feel like I am really expanding my skills, abilities, and knowledge with my daily experiences and am learning so many new things each week.
OAVT: What other jobs have you had in the RVT field?
Nicole: I’ve worked in a few regular practice small animal clinics as an RVT which definitely helped prepare me for my position now and allowed me to develop my skills and confidence as an RVT after graduation. I do miss connecting with clients and patients on a more long term basis in general practice. At the shelter animals go home quickly and at the spay/neuter clinic, we usually only see patients and clients once.
OAVT: What made you want to travel and volunteer with animals around the world? How are these plans going with COVID? What would be your dream job/volunteer opportunity and where?
Nicole: I wanted to travel and volunteer with animals around the world ever since I came across a few opportunities online a couple of years ago. It wasn’t until the beginning of 2020 that I had actually started really researching rescue mission programs and volunteer placements, and started making plans. Unfortunately, this was just prior to COVID-19 hitting in March 2020, so my plans have been put off for the time being. My dream job would be to provide rehabilitation and medical care to injured marine life. Two volunteer programs that really catch my eye are a wildlife rehabilitation placement in Australia and a sea turtle conservation placement offered in both Costa Rica and Australia. I’m very eager to fulfill my goals and aspirations to travel to less fortunate countries and help animals in need, and learn as much as I can.
OAVT: COVID-19 has amplified stress in everyone’s lives. How has this impacted your role? And if so – what specific tools are you focussing on when helping individuals or teams through the stress of COVID-19?
Nicole: COVID-19 has impacted my role in both facilities as many daily procedures and protocols have changed. It’s affected the process for pets and their families; whether they are looking to add to their family or bringing their loved one in for surgery.
Adoption is now done virtually whereas before people could walk through the shelter to view all adoptable animals in person. Surrenders and other services are offered through appointment rather than walk-in. To help everyone through the stress of COVID-19, we are trying to use telemedicine where possible, provide curbside pick up for medication, and provide client education over the phone or email rather than in person where possible. Allowing only three clients in the lobby at a time with stickers for appropriate spacing has been very helpful.
The spay/neuter clinic is all done curbside now and clients are no longer entering the building. Clients call the clinic when they arrive for their appointment and they stay in their vehicle the entire intake process, with the RVT coming to them to ask pre-surgical questions, gather their pet(s), collect payment and setup their pickup time. Discharge is done similarly. It does make the process longer but for the most part everyone is very understanding and helpful during these times. Extra care and patience is taken with each client and patient in attempt to get everyone through any stresses.
OAVT: RVTs are passionate people, and every RVT has an area they are most passionate about (nutrition, research, spay/neuter, dog bite prevention, education, etc.). What is YOUR passion?
Nicole: I am truly passionate about providing care for animals in all aspects and believe it’s my purpose to do so in any way I possibly can. The area I’d say is my passion would be dentistry. There is something so satisfying to me about scaling and polishing the mouth of a patient with advanced periodontal disease and significant calculus build up, giving them a bacteria free, healthy mouth! I enjoy client education particularly in that area too. I love being an RVT!