FORT VALLEY — When Erica Eason was a little girl, she wanted to be a doctor.
However, as a child with a preference for stuffed animals over Barbie dolls, the Fort Valley State University senior felt working with four-legged creatures might be a better fit. When the family pet — B.D., a pit bull-collie mix — died after being diagnosed with heartworms, Eason’s determination to work in veterinary science was solidified.
“I really loved that dog,” said Eason, now a veterinary technology major and the first FVSU student to garner an externship with Zoo Atlanta since the university signed an agreement with the organization in 2007. The program is focused on providing students the opportunity to work with exotic animals while also serving as a learning experience for faculty.
Eason spends her days observing zookeepers during rounds as they treat the animals, sometimes helping to administer the medication.
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Melanie Hare, the zoo’s senior veterinary technician, said Eason is one extern who has never shied away from a challenge or a task.
“In this field, just because she can do an X-ray on a bird doesn’t mean you can do one on a turtle,” Hare said.
The program aims to give the externs access to every aspect of the zoo, Hare said. With such a diverse population, getting broad exposure is important. Eason said something new happens almost daily. Sometimes that means encountering new animals, such as tamandua — a type of anteater — or the red panda bear, one of Eason’s favorites.
“She’s just so cute and small,” Eason said.
Eason may be gaining a love for the animals, but the experience is far more significant, said Seyedmehdi Mobini, head of FVSU’s veterinary science department.
“There are many opportunities out there for veterinary science, but there are not many zoo opportunities,” Mobini said.
While it was her love for small animals that brought her to veterinary science, Eason said the externship has opened her eyes to a whole new world.
Upon graduating in May, she said she hopes to find a job as a zookeeper. She is even willing to volunteer at a zoo to get her foot in the door. “I feel like this will make me more marketable and it will keep me from being stuck in a box,” Eason said.
To contact writer Natasha Smith, call 923-3109, extension 236.