Veterinary Technology program grad dug deep to find his strength
Nobody thought Jon was going to make it. Not his family, not that voice in his head that told him he was just a troublemaker who couldn’t manage to finish his first year of community college. “I hit rock-bottom when I was 18-19 and was at a standstill,” he says. “Everyone looked at me like I was a bad seed.”
Then, Jon got into some trouble that put him at the crossroads of a life decision. “That incident changed my whole view of the world,” says Jon. “I knew I could do better, but just didn’t know how.”
As life sometimes arranges, Jon caught an advertisement on TV about the Veterinary Technology program at SJVC’s Fresno campus. “I always had a love for animals,” says Jon. “I don’t really have a lot of patience for people; animals are easier.” He was intrigued. But could he do it? He hadn’t had a lot of successes lately.
All those negative thoughts and opinions came at him. Somehow his insecurities became his enemy and he took them on. “It made me push that much harder,” says Jon. He answered that crippling voice. “Hey, I’m a lot better than you think I am, and I’m going to show you.”
He enrolled in the Vet Tech program and buckled down to an energy-sapping routine. He worked full-time as a teacher’s aide with autistic children during the day and drove 45 minutes each way from home to campus every Monday through Thursday evening. The accelerated Vet Tech program was demanding.
“The program was initially quite a shock,” says Jon. “Very fast-paced; no messing around. I had to buckle down and study like crazy. There was a quiz almost every day, so if you were to slack off, it would show.”
What worked for Jon was the focus on hands-on training. “There was a lot of bookwork, but I got to work with animals all day long,” says Jon. “I drew blood, took X-rays, restrained them, applied bandages and a whole lot of medical care. It kept that spark alive for me to keep doing the vocab and homework.”
Jon had favorite moments. “The first time I drew blood on an animal; I was very nervous about that,” he remembers. “After all kinds of prep, I did it on the first try. It was a very rewarding experience.” His first venipuncture patient, Jackson, was a pit bull that belonged to one of his instructors.
He found the motivation that community college didn’t give him. “I’m more of a doer, a hands-on kind of learner,” Jon says. He was in his element.
Still, it was grueling. “I got home at 11:00 p.m. most nights, studied until 1:00 a.m. or 2:00 a.m., then woke up at 6:00 a.m. to start it again. It was a very intense year and a half.”
Something important happened along the way. “My parents are very happy about this,” says Jon. “They see all the hard work I’ve put into this and are pretty proud. They kept telling me, ‘You can do this.’”
It was a big life change. “My view of myself is changing, now that it’s coming together,” he offers.
The challenges are still there. “On paper, I’m killing it, getting the best grades and being the best at what I’m doing,” he says. “But in real life, I’m still struggling to get gas money to get to school, studying, and staying away from some of my friends. I have to separate myself to get these things done.”
Jon’s efforts do not go unnoticed. “Jon maintained a B average in his classes,” says Kim Soares, Career Services Advisor. “He worked a full-time job with autistic children, a difficult job, while he attended school at night. But he managed to squeeze in extern hours on top of his already busy schedule.”
Jon’s extern site offered him a Veterinary Technician position almost three months ago, well before he graduated mid-May. “His employer is very impressed with his attitude and work ethic,” says Kim.
Jon is well into his work groove and enjoys the career fit. “I feel like I do have a connection with all the animals,” he says. “And, people who do care about their animals’ best interest and want to treat them right, have my respect.”
He compares his job approach to that of nurses who get to treat and interact with humans. “With an animal, we have to read their body language; there’s no conversation,” says Jon. “They will either let you do something like poke them, or not. And they can bite or scratch you.”
He is prepared to offer the patience it takes to win an animal’s trust. “I’ve been bitten and scratched many times,” says Jon. “It makes you realize your mistakes. The best Vet Techs have a lot of scars, but no fresh wounds,” he laughs. “Practice restraint, fine-tune your skills.”
Jon has plans to elevate his skill level. “If I can do this good in this program, I don’t see why I can’t do it in Vet school,” he says. “Opportunity-wise and financially, it would allow me to do a lot more. I could travel, have my dream job – a wildlife vet. I could work with primates and the big cats (lions and tigers). I could work on pandas in Asia to big cats in Africa.”
Part of Jon’s inspiration to go as high in his career field as he can comes from the time he has spent working with kids who will never have the chances Jon is able to create for himself.
“Some could barely talk or write,” he remembers. “But on their good days, they were the happiest in the world. It was a humbling experience to be with them and to realize the blessings you have. It makes you humble and grateful.”
Maybe Jon will carry a little bit of their spirit with him that will gentle his touch, lengthen his patience and revel in his accomplishments, large and small.