The many hats of an animal health professional

Melanie Shiels
June 2, 2022

I often hear guests, friends and family say that being a pet care professional has to be the best job ever, and it is! We spend our days with a variety of furry, feathered, scaly or even slimy friends. But what many people may not realize is how many different “hats” a sitter will wear to make sure all those animals are well taken care of. No two days are alike and I find myself wearing a variety of “hats” to get the job done.

We wear a chef’s hat to chop, slice and weigh the animals’ diets for the day. We are often electricians when we install heating elements to keep all our animals warm. If a new animal is entrusted to us, the guardians are carpenters, architects and interior designers, creating the best habitat for them. It can be quite a headache trying to set up roosts in suitable habitat for the species, as well as aesthetically pleasing to the eye.

We are also inventors! Or maybe “reuse” is a better word. Much of our animal enrichment comes from items that were made for something else, like a PVC pipe or a hanger to dry socks that become foraging tools. Enrichment is often limited only by the imagination of the guardian who creates it. One of the biggest hats we wear is that of animal trainers. All animals participate in positive reinforcement training in one way or another, even snakes! This helps us to take care of the animals, as well as to ensure their well-being.

Finally, we are all educators to some degree, teaching guests about all the animals that call Zoo Atlanta home. For me, it goes even further with our scripted animal presentations, where I become a real actor! This is one of the newer hats I’ve added to my collection. So if you want to see me debut this summer, check out our Amy’s Tree Theater schedule on the website. Every day we learn new skills and add new hats to our collection, allowing us to be the best guardians possible.

Mel S.
Guardian I, Animal Ambassador

Boyd S. Abbott