THS Alum Finds Fulfillment Working with Animals


Julie Rodriguez (’14)

Melina Lotito, Managing Editor

Julie Rodriguez (’14) loves animals. On any given day, she probably pets a few dozen cats and dogs, including her own two dogs, Meatball and Mugsy.

Rodriguez works as a veterinarian’s assistant at the Suffern Animal Hospital in Suffern, New York, a job she’s had for 10 months now. After graduating from THS, she attended The College of New Jersey for a semester. She then went to Bergen Community College for a little while before moving on to Ramapo College, where she switched courses and decided to major in biology before dematriculating. As a veterinarian’s assistant, Rodriguez helps with surgeries and appointments. Veterinarian’s assistants are similar to vet techs, sharing many of the same responsibilities—drawing blood, placing catheters, assisting in surgery, managing anesthesia, and giving medications. “The only difference is that vet techs are licensed,” said Rodriguez. Rodriguez helps out a lot with tasks that vet techs do except those for which one needs certification, of course. She handles animals, takes histories from clients, writes down medical subjectives, and processes lab work. Rodriguez also assists with surgeries and procedures, which there have “been a lot of” recently, assisting “doctors on appointments like annual checkups.”

With the current global pandemic, there has been a curve in scheduled appointments at her animal hospital. “At first, it seemed like there were a lot of appointments because a lot of people are at home more and spending more time with their animals, so they might notice things that they would not have noticed earlier. We get a lot of people calling and realizing problems with their pets. For example, one owner called and realized their dog had an ear infection,” said Rodriguez. Even though at the beginning there were clients like that, “recently we picked back up again. So I assume that’s because a lot more people are out and about,” she said. 

According to NBC News, animal shelters across the U.S. are emptying amid the coronavirus pandemic as people are finding time to adopt and foster animals. And while the Suffern Animal Hospital does not adopt out animals, they have many people coming in for new puppy visits. 

“There are a lot of new puppy owners, which is great,” said Rodriguez.

Implementing social distancing procedures to keep themselves safe, Suffern Animal Hospital employees now go out to pet owners’ cars, not allowing any clients in the building. At the cars, they take a history with masks on and then bring the animal into the building to treat it.

“The doctor does an assessment and calls the clients, so the process takes a lot longer,” said Rodriguez.

The Suffern Animal Hospital is not Rodriguez’s first job working with animals. From April to September of 2015, she worked at the South Fork Natural History Museum and Nature Center in Bridgehampton, New York. The center educates local communities about the native flora and fauna. According to its mission statement, the center seeks “to stimulate interest in, advance knowledge of, and foster appreciation for the natural environment, with special emphasis on the unique natural history of Long Island’ South Fork.”

 “I also had animals to take care of when I worked there,” Rodriquez said.. “And not cats and dogs, but terrapins and frogs.”

Rodriguez has always loved animals and has two of her own dogs. They are both labradoodles and her “babies.” Ever since she was a child, she and her sisters were always pestering their parents for a dog. Rodriguez finally convinced them and her family got Meatball, her eldest dog. 

“I was Meatball’s primary owner and just being closer to him, having a dog for the first time, and taking care of him felt so rewarding to me. I am very maternal, so I feel like having Meatball satisfies that part of me too.” 

Like many people, it’s no secret that Rodriguez loves the new puppy visits and kitten visits, but she also values having patients come in that are sick. “I don’t want my patients to be sick, of course, but if they are, I like when we end up being able to to help them recover. It’s the most rewarding part of my job,” she said.

“We had a dog named Simba come in who had this really bad wound. It took weeks and weeks of bandaging, finding the right antibiotics, and treating him medications, but when he was finally all better, I felt like crying with joy when he got to take his cone off.”

Although there are days when Rodriguez’s work can be difficult, there is nowhere else she would rather be. “It can be super hard sometimes. I mean, there are days when I cry like three different times because of the sad stuff that goes on there. At the same time, there are so many moments that I’m there and I feel this is what I want to be doing.”

Rodriguez learns something new every day at work. What she loves about it is that she is able to be in an environment that not only gives her the opportunity to have close contact with animals but that allows her to learn different things from the doctors. For example, being able to know what the level of hemoglobin in an animal’s blood test shows is going on with the animal. 

“The doctors at my job have taught me so much and definitely have made me consider getting my vet tech license and pursuing that as a full-time job for a little while,” said Rodriguez. “I don’t think being a vet tech would be a long-term career, however.”

“In the future, I definitely want to go back to school and get a degree, but right now [I enjoy] working where I am and kind of taking my time to figure out what exactly it is that I want to go to school for.”

Rodriguez ultimately sees herself, once she feels she is ready to go back to college, getting a bachelor’s and master’s in education.

“I feel like that’s always been where I was going to go in life, but my dad is a professor so I wanted to try to choose a different path.”

For the time being, she’s content to be working with animals.