From Volunteer to Vet Tech

Most people wouldn’t find inspiration hosing down barn walls, but Cali Emel did. When she was 16, she brought a resumé to Tanglefoot Veterinary Services in her hometown of Cranbrook. Her goal was to discover a career path that would align with her passion for animals.

Tanglefoot took her on as a volunteer, and it quickly became obvious that the job was well suited for her. “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,” she says. “Every day I came to work I found it was a new adventure.”

In addition, it was clear that she would be a benefit to the Tanglefoot team. “She was willing to learn, she was willing to jump in, and she was proactive about searching out ways to be helpful to us,” says Jeff Cooper, Practice Manager of Tanglefoot’s three clinics in Cranbrook, Fernie and Kimberley.

After two months of volunteer work, Cali’s maturity, passion and work ethic got her hired as a weekend kennel assistant. After graduating high school, Cali 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.

While Cali had considered pursuing a career as a veterinarian, she found she was drawn to the wide-ranging work the vet techs did. “The techs really inspired me. We do anesthesia and we do radiology and we do dental. We do all of it.” 

Cali was in the perfect position; she 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,” she says. 

For Tanglefoot, having Cali grow with them and choose to stay on as a vet tech has been invaluable to the business. 

“Technicians are very, very hard to come by,” Jeff says. “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.”

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.

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

In addition to her work in the clinic, Cali goes on the road to assist veterinarians visiting large animals, often horses, in Fernie and Creston. She demonstrates additional job versatility and first-hand knowledge in this role, since she grew up with horses and does rodeo in her free time.

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

Now 20, Cali will graduate in December 2022. 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.