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San Joaquin Valley College Blog

Veterinary Tech program refuge from childhood abuse

December 19, 2013
After turning her life around, Phaedra found her life’s calling in veterinary care.

Phaedra Ray’s young life was filled with all of the abuses you wish no child to endure. The three people – mother, father, older brother – who should have most protected her, were the primary perpetrators. With no place to hide, she lost herself in the soft fur of a cat, the loving wag of a dog’s tail. Animals would be her refuge then and now.

Phaedra’s first three decades are a blur of drug and sexual abuses. Her physical violations that began at age five and her introduction and subsequent addiction to methamphetamine at age eight led to inevitable antisocial and unlawful behaviors.

“I was told I should have been dead long, long ago,” says Phaedra. “But, I’ve learned that I’m a fighter…a mental fighter.”

For years Phaedra floundered emotionally, physically and educationally until finally, at age thirty-five and incarcerated, she earned her GED. That little sliver of educational accomplishment was the small hope she began to build upon.

After her release a year later, Phaedra began to volunteer at the New Village Pets rescue clinic where she rediscovered her love of animals. Veterinarian, Dr. Piel, recognized Phaedra’s gift with animals and gradually allowed her to participate in surgeries, vaccinations, animal restraint, anesthesia and teeth cleaning and extractions.

“Dr. Piel taught me everything and was always right there next to me and since we were a rescue clinic, pet owners gave me permission to help while I was learning,” says Phaedra. “After a few months Dr. Piel encouraged me to enroll in SJVC’s Vet Tech program in Fresno, where she was doing surgeries.”

Phaedra thrived in the VT classroom environment. She maintained a 3.72 GPA, made the Dean’s List throughout her program and was one of only three students nominated for the National Technical Honor Society, of which she is still a member. Fellow students sought her out for mentoring and fought for a place on her team projects.

Throughout her Veterinary Technology program Phaedra continued to volunteer at the rescue clinic where Dr. Piel treated her as a trusted colleague. Although the demands of her program were at times overwhelming, Phaedra persevered and earned the privilege of wearing the special colors of educational achievement at the graduation ceremony held last June.

A few days after graduation Phaedra interviewed for an Office Manager/Head Veterinary Technologist position at Family Veterinary Hospital where she was hired on the spot. In a busy office that averages 15-20 patients and at least one surgery each day, Phaedra has the job of her dreams. She wants one day to get her Master’s Degree so that she can work exclusively in emergency surgery and critical care for her beloved animals.

But it is her volunteer work that replenishes her sometimes still-fragile spirit. Phaedra volunteers at FOTEP (Female Offender Training Employment Program), where she mentors ten women who have a history of sexual and drug abuse.

“I believe I went through all that sexual abuse so that I could help women who went through the same thing,” she says. “I understand what they’re feeling, what they’re going through.”

Phaedra’s own therapy that “broke me down and built me back up” helped her to better understand her past and accept and appreciate who and where she is now. It also gives her insight into counseling others through their compulsions and feelings of low self-worth.

“All of those group sessions in anger management, shame classes, PTSD, parenting classes, trauma classes, were important to give myself tools to try to live out my life the way I needed to live my life,” says Phaedra. “I had only thought of my past as being about the drug abuse, but my counselor made me look at everything and how the drug abuse was on account of my sexual abuse.”

Phaedra feels that her SJVC education saved her from her past, and she plans to spend the rest of her life helping others – both human and animal.

“It helps me to help them every day of my life,” she says. “In the morning when I come in, if I’m a little down, one of my critters licks me on my nose and I say, ‘OK, now I’m feeling better.’”


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