Finding a career in passion for animal care
Laura DiCarlo (Animal Care ’19) loves all animals, big or small, furry or slithery, healthy or the ones in need of some TLC. She has spent days with elephants in the painted landscapes of Thailand’s mountains – the majestic jumbos so different from the restless animals she remembers seeing at the zoo as a child.
Closer to her home in Caledon, she has nursed a one-eyed cat with a broken ear, bringing her back to health and a happy life. She has rescued a Rottweiler abandoned in the wilderness, and she likes pythons, but given a choice, would prefer something cuddlier and easier to love. She has also been showered by a skunk, the odour lingering on her for days despite a hefty dousing with Skunk-Off.
DiCarlo decided to turn her passion into a career while volunteering at the Orangeville SPCA soon after graduating from high school. There she realized that, more than anything else, she enjoyed working with animals. As an arts student, she didn’t have the credits she needed to qualify for the animal care program and so she went back to school to take the science courses she needed and joined Sheridan’s Animal Care program at Davis Campus.
Animal Care program opens up opportunities
The program equipped her with the skills she needed to work in animal facilities such as veterinary clinics, shelters, dog daycare facilities, pet shops and zoos. But DiCarlo found that what really piqued her interest was the course in wildlife rehabilitation, which focused on ‘exotics’ – animals that live in the wild.
“Not that I have anything against domestic cats and dogs, but the exotics are very exciting and different, and it is always nice to learn something new. There’s just too much out there to experience and I didn’t want to limit myself,” she says.
DiCarlo followed up on her interest in the final semester with a two-week placement at Procyon Wildlife, a charity dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of orphaned and injured wildlife, as part of the program’s practicum to provide students with valuable front-line experience working with animals and observing their care.
“Not that I have anything against domestic cats and dogs, but the exotics (wild animals) are very exciting and different, and it is always nice to learn something new.”
The program also opened up the doors to adventure and travel for DiCarlo. Four years after her graduation from Sheridan and determined to gain more experience before joining the Veterinary Technician program, she took up an internship with Loop Abroad, an organization that provides hands-on opportunities for students pursuing careers working with animals, simultaneously partnering with conservationists to protect endangered animals.
Elephant sanctuary in Thailand
As part of her internship, DiCarlo worked in the Elephant Nature Park, an elephant sanctuary in Thailand, an hour’s drive from the Chiang Mai International Airport. “The sanctuary had 117 elephants, and only one of them had been born there. A lot of these elephants came from the logging industry, circuses and even riding camps, and had very heartbreaking stories,” she says.
DiCarlo and the other students shadowed the elephant veterinarian at the sanctuary, observing and assisting him in providing medical care to the animals. Other than that, they were not permitted to approach the jumbos or forge any kind of bond with them.
“The sanctuary had 117 elephants, and only one of them had been born there. A lot of these elephants came from the logging industry, circuses and even riding camps, and had very heartbreaking stories.”
The experience of being with the elephants, DiCarlo says, was indescribable. Free to roam the wilderness of their natural habitat, they were not controlled by anyone and could choose their own person, the ‘mahout’, to bond with. “We would often see an elephant and his mahout walking about in the sanctuary, their bond so strong that it almost made me jealous,” she says.
“We had to move away if an elephant came towards us. The sanctuary is their safe space, their forever home.”
Giving animals a second chance at happiness
DiCarlo says she is often asked if she rode an elephant, and her answer to that is an emphatic ‘no.’ “It is not natural for an elephant to carry people. After they are caught in the wild, they have to be tamed, often through denial of food and water, so that they submit to being ridden by humans. It's a very abusive process. That's why when people want to ride an elephant, I strongly encourage them to think it over and see how that elephant got to that riding camp.”
“It's just so amazing to see animals you’ve worked with in their forever homes because you realize you helped them get a second chance and the fight that they needed to survive.”
In the second week of her internship, DiCarlo worked at a dog rescue clinic where she assisted in surgeries. She is now back home in Canada, more determined than ever to join a Veterinary Technician program. While she awaits admission, she is continuing her work at the Orangeville SPCA, saving animals such as Felix, the cat who strayed into her property with one eye and a broken ear.
“He went from being this very shy, raggedy looking cat to a beautiful creature who got adopted into a loving family, she says. “It's just so amazing to see the animals you’ve worked with in their forever homes because you realize you helped them get a second chance and the fight that they needed to survive.“
Banner photo: Laura DiCarlo (Animal Care ’19) at the Elephant Nature Park in Thailand.
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