Tonawanda News — Last year around this time, I wrote an article on the natural progression I took from serious pet owner to a career in the animal field. Whether you want to be a veterinarian, animal behaviorist, trainer, zookeeper or the best pet caregiver, having a mentor is beneficial.
My 12-year-old self, face covered in pimples, was able to shadow someone in the education department at the Aquarium of Niagara to see if working at a professional zoological facility was what I really wanted as a career. I met many people who would turn out to have an overarching influence on me.
Shortly after I started weekly volunteering, one person I initially met in the education department transferred to the marine mammal department to become a seal and sea lion trainer. Although we would never work in the same department again, Jenn Valvo would intertwine her life philosophy and animal wisdom with my values up until the present day and beyond.
In a vocational field like a those of a zookeeper or animal trainer, having a thoughtful mentor is key to a student’s success.
“You will often see mentoring taking place in fields where there are skills involved where reading directions in a book simply won’t cut it,” Jenn explained. “In the medical field, students work with many experienced physicians to have guidance in honing their skills.”
In many scenarios, she said, events can arise that aren’t in those standard manuals, and that is why having someone with experience is so valuable.
“Valuable skills are learned through having a mentor, and with each successive mentor, those skills are passed on; changing scenarios requires those skills to be dynamic,” she added.
Jenn has influenced my eating habits (vegetarian), fitness routine and animal training. Almost a decade ago, when we both worked at the Aquarium of Niagara, during our lunch (but more often after work), we would go for a 5K run. She taught me about shin splints and the proper running attire, but more importantly for my career, we talked and discussed animal training. When we started going to Niagara Falls High School to go swim laps and dive, keeping up the conversation was a little more challenging.