Vet Tech Students Visit the Circus and Get Backstage Look at Career Options
Published on October 16, 2013 by Staff Writer
To your right, a woman is twisting her body into the shape of a pretzel. To your left, an elephant is doing the Macarena. And right in front of you, a clown on stilts just exhaled a large ball of fire. No, you’re not having a crazy dream. You’re at the circus.
For the second year in a row, students and teachers in the veterinary technology degree program at Broadview University–Orem took a trip to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in September to get a closer look at the brilliant animals that are part of the show.
Heather Riggs, vet tech program chair, arranged backstage access for the students to attend the circus pre-show, as well as take a tour of the animal compound. On a personally guided tour by the Red Unit veterinary technician and one of the Ringling veterinarians, students were able to see where and how the animals are housed, how well they are taken care of, and ask questions about what being a circus vet tech is all about.
Riggs knows a thing or two about the circus. Upon completing her vet tech degree, she spent a year traveling and working with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which has three touring units: the Red, the Blue, and the Gold. The circus also runs the Center for Elephant Conservation in Florida. Each unit has a resident vet tech that travels with the animals full-time and lives on-site.
While there are veterinarians on call in every city the circus visits, the vet tech’s job is to meet any immediate needs of the animals and keep in constant contact with the veterinarians. The job also involves overseeing USDA regulations, maintaining a small mobile clinic, recordkeeping, and serving as an animal ambassador by teaching circus visitors about the animals and conservation efforts.
“Working for the circus is definitely a lifestyle choice,” Riggs said. “Not everyone can pack up their belongings and live in a camper for 11.5 months out of the year. It’s a lot of work. But it pays reasonably well, and it’s a great job for a vet tech who has the freedom and desire to travel.”
Kelsey Neil, one of the vet tech students in attendance, said, “The horse acts were beautiful, the elephant acts amazing, but my favorite was the black and white poodles doing incredible feats of acrobatics and comedy.”
While many of the animals Riggs worked with have since retired, Siam, a 50-something-year-old elephant, still remembers her and continually reached out her trunk to Riggs as a way of saying hello. It’s these kinds of lifelong connections with animals that make veterinary technology such a worthwhile career choice.
For more information on the veterinary technology degree program, contact Broadview University at 898 North 1200 West in Orem, or call 801-822-5800.
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