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Krista Gerstmar has a really interesting journey since graduating from CAT’s Veterinary Hospital Assistant program in 2020. She talks about her work for the Turtle Valley Donkey Refuge Society, and her future plans.

“I am from a small farm in Salmon Arm, BC. Growing up on a farm, as well as many extra-circular activities (the main one being 4-H), introduced me to life working with animals,” says Krista Gerstmar, graduate of CAT’s Veterinary Hospital Assistant program.

“When I was getting close to graduating high-school, I began looking into how to further my knowledge of (and working with) animals. Doing my research on which program and school was the best choice for me, the VHA program at CAT was at the top of my list overall (ie: more involved, supportive environment, closer to home, etc).

When I had graduated from the VHA course in July 2020, I started at the Turtle Valley Donkey Refuge in Chase BC, and spent all of 2021 working there. The title of my position there was Herd Health Manager.”

The best advice I can give is to start volunteering around local shelters close to home. This gives you experience in the handling, care and other assets that you may need going into this field. This experience, along with the knowledge you gained from the course, will make a great looking resume, and help determine where exactly you want to push your future career.

Krista Gerstmar
Centre for Art and Technology ‘Veterinary Hospital Assistant’ alumni Krista Gerstmar worked for the Turtle Valley Donkey Refuge Society post graduation.

According to their website, Turtle Valley’s Mission is to provide a safe and permanent home for neglected, abused or unwanted donkeys.

To provide some context, in the mid to late 1990’s an increase in demand for donkeys, particularly miniature donkeys, resulted in a significant increase in the number of breeders as well as the number of donkeys being produced. Donkeys were purchased in multiples by novice owners and initially the breeders, for the most part, were particular about who they sold to. They checked references and sold only to those whom they believed would provide good homes for the donkeys.

As the novelty of owning a donkey wore off, breeding continued. Many overstocked breeders began to sell to unsuitable owners who were poorly prepared to care for their purchases.
To this day, even with young donkeys needing new homes, irresponsible breeders continue to flood the market.

Donkeys are generally purchased or adopted by well-meaning people who are generally unaware of the special requirements for these desert creatures and tend to regard them as horses from a care perspective, which is not the case. They are also often unaware that they will be responsible for the health and safety of their donkey for up to 50 years.

“My work at the refuge was quite daunting at first, as there were over 100 donkeys there at that time, and many times I struggled to keep up with the fast pace (you only have 8 hours in a day!). Once I got into a routine, things became much easier, and I was able to manage my time fairly well,” explains Krista.

As Herd Health Manager, Krista’s main duties were:

  • To do basic care for each donkey (ie: cleaning hooves, grooming, health checks, etc.);
  • Maintain cleanliness of the infirmary and surrounding areas;
  • Initial care for an ailing donkey (similar to first aid, but for a Donkey);
  • Prevention of spreading infestation, disease, and infection for the donkeys (attention to detail and quick to notice anything wrong before said donkey is introduced into a herd);
  • Written documentation of all care for each donkey daily;
  • Daily feeding as well as supplementation for the donkeys.

The best part of the job was watching how one new arrival (that happened to be an ailing donkey) slowly became better over time under my care.
All of the hard work up to that point was well worth it, watching that donkey have a good quality of life again,”
explains Krista.

“The most challenging part of the job was the weather. Unfortunately, we had some bad weather all of 2021, and working outdoors for a majority of my time there was not easy during the peaks of summer and winter. That being said, everyone at the refuge worked hard to make things as safe and easy as possible, which helped tremendously.”

What was it particularly that drew you to working with large animals?

Large animals have always been my ‘go to’, not only because I grew up on a farm, but there is still so much I don’t know even though I’ve spent my whole life with them. I love every animal, small or big, but the bigger they get, the more there is to love!“

You have some big, animal-filled plans for the future – can you tell us about them?

“Early 2022, my fiancé and I decided to start working towards our future as a family rather than individuals. This meant I unfortunately had to let my position at the refuge go, however I now have the time to focus on our dream.
Currently we are in the process of purchasing land to start an Equine and Wildlife Sanctuary of our own.
In the meantime, I am still working on a business model, working out all of the issues and planning for possible road-blocks to come in the next few years.”

What top tips do you have for current students that would like to get into a similar industry?

“The best advice I can give is to start volunteering around local shelters close to home. This gives you experience in the handling, care and other assets that you may need going into this field. This experience, along with the knowledge you gained from the course, will make a great looking resume, and help determine where exactly you want to push your future career.

The second best advice is simply to try to retain as much information as possible. It is easier said then done, however the more sponge-like you can be, the better. This is a way to ensure that the animal you are working with in the future can have more then optimal care.

Finally, I also recommend keeping your head in the game. It is really easy to lose focus and just go about your day mindlessly, which isn’t a good idea around any animal. Your safety is priority!”

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