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Local vet tech benefits from CBT’s student wage subsidy program

Cali Emel was able to go from volunteer to vet tech thanks in part to the program
Pictured are Cali Emel, soon to be vet tech, and Jeff Cooper, Practice Manager of Tanglefoot Veterinary Clinic. (Photo by Tyler Zhao/Columbia Basin Trust)

Cranbrook’s Cali Emel went from volunteering at Tanglefoot Veterinary Clinic to becoming a Veterinary Technician, thanks in part to the Columbia Basin Trust’s (CBT) wage subsidy program.

While Emel was in high school, she started volunteering for Tanglefoot, hosing out barn stalls in the large animal barn, CBT said in a release. She soon found her passion and knew she was headed down the right career path.

“I was hosing down the large animal barn, and it just clicked in me. I wanted to do this for the rest of my life,” Emel said. “Every day I came to work I found it was a new adventure.”

Jeff Cooper, Practice Manager of Tanglefoot’s three clinics, said that she was invaluable to the team from the start.

“She was willing to learn, she was willing to jump in, and she was proactive about searching out ways to be helpful to us,” said Cooper.

After two months of volunteer work, Emel was hired as a weekend kennel assistant. After graduating high school, she enrolled in Thompson River University’s Veterinary Technology three-year distance-education program.

Tanglefoot promoted her to a part-time position as a Student Veterinary Technician. This was done with support from Columbia Basin Trust’s School Works wage subsidy program, which helps Basin businesses hire full-time students for part-time work.

Emel had considered becoming a veterinarian, says CBT, but she was drawn to the vast discipline of technicians.

“The techs really inspired me. We do anesthesia and we do radiology and we do dental. We do all of it,” she said.

Emel was able to stay in Cranbrook and take care of her own horses, while working at Tanglefoot and pursuing her veterinary technician certification.

“They say that the distance education program is one of the hardest but most rewarding programs because you come out so strong with hands-on practical skills,” Emel said.

For Tanglefoot, having Emel grow with them and choose to stay on as a vet tech has been invaluable, especially during a time where veterinarians and vet techs are in short supply.

“Technicians are very, very hard to come by,” Cooper said. “We have ads all across the country right now for veterinary technicians, including moving bonuses and signing bonuses. We could probably use three more full-time technicians right now, between the different clinics that we have.”

Not only has there been a boom in pets since the beginning of the pandemic, but a shortage of staff means it’s challenging to handle the workload.

In May of this year, a cooperative was formed between the veterinary clinics in the East Kootenay region.

The partnership has been dubbed the East Kootenay Veterinary Group (EKVG), with clinics in Cranbrook, Kimberley, Fernie, Invermere and Creston working together for after-hours emergencies.

The clinics are sharing the demand for emergency services, with the majority of emergency calls being taken in Cranbrook since there are three clinics. Sometimes, however, it requires animal owners to travel to Creston, Invermere or Fernie.

READ: East Kootenay veterinarians form cooperative to offer more emergency services

READ: Veterinarians facing intense pressure from pandemic pet boom

Cooper says he appreciates the Trust support.

“By aiding employers while providing opportunities for students to gain career-related work experience, the wage subsidy program helps create a diverse and resilient Basin economy that is supported by strong businesses, a trained workforce and sufficient job opportunities,” said the CBT release.

“For two years in a row we were able to get the funding,” Cooper adds. “That allowed us to keep her on and keep her working, which was a tremendous help. The funding went a long way.”

Emel also travels to assist veterinarians working with large animals, often horses, in Fernie and Creston.

Emel has experience with horses, having grew up with them and doing the rodeo in her spare time.

“She is a tremendous asset for our clinic. We want to keep her on and keep her happy,” Cooper said.

Now 20, Cali will graduate in December of this year. Once she passes her licensing exam, she will become a Registered Veterinary Technician. She plans to stay at Tanglefoot, where she can continue to develop her skills and do what she loves every day.