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July 26, 2013

Meet Shelley Halach, “Animal Nurse”

Shelley and Ty 2 Last week you met Shelley Halach during an optical training session with sea lion Ty. As Shedd’s hospital operations manager and a certified veterinary technician, Shelley is at the hub of animal health activities, from the everyday to the extraordinary.

Not only is her job interesting, so is her background. After 18 years with a brokerage firm, she said, “One day I decided that I wanted to do something I was passionate about, and that was animals.”

Shelley went back to school for an associate’s degree in applied science and veterinary technology certification at Joliet Junior College. During that time she also worked at a small animal clinic that treated exotic animals. “We saw everything—sugar gliders, macaws, iguanas, boas—and I quickly knew I was interested in exotics.” She did an internship at a large specialty animal hospital in Denver where she gained experience in diagnostic imaging, general practice, exotics and surgery.

An internship in the Animal Health department brought Shelley to Shedd in 2009. “I had never worked with aquatics, but I had such a great experience that I stayed for a double internship,” she said.

“With the double, you begin to work differently with the doctors because you anticipate what they need and you know where things are. People know you, you’ve proven yourself, and it’s more intense.” After graduation, she began working at the aquarium part-time until she was hired full-time in 2011. (Her duties now include managing Shedd’s internship program.)

I sat down with Shelley to learn more about her and the Animal Health department. Here’s an edited transcript of our chat.

Describe your job, Shelley.

I’m responsible for the day-to-day operations of the animal hospital and the clinical laboratory. I think the most important part of my job is to make sure the doctors and technicians have everything they need, from staff support to equipment to medications, to properly care for the animals in our collection. I’m the go-to person. And because I am a certified veterinary technician, I can jump in when needed to provide that extra hand for a procedure or treatment. But the biggest part of my job is management.

What’s your favorite thing about your job?

It’s never the same day twice. I love having to adapt quickly. I like having to think outside the box on how we might have to do a procedure or treat an animal. And I love the interaction between the doctors and the technicians. We work so well together. We also have a great relationship with the aquarists and trainers. They know their animals so well that they know when something is off, so we rely on them to give us that history that we need to treat their animals.

What’s your favorite memory or experience in your current position?

The births of [Pacific white-sided dolphin] Sagu and [beluga whale] Kimalu are right up there. It’s really neat to be part of such a family experience. Everybody involved is so bonded.

And I love working with the sea lions. That’s always a favorite part of my day. In a perfect world, I get to work with them three times a week.

What’s special about the sea lions?

They’re so smart. Biff and Ty are the two I probably work with the most. I do anything from tactile, which is just touching, to the optical training, getting them acclimated to the procedure. And sometimes it’s just standing there, being the extra person while the trainers are working, so Biff and Ty get used to other people being around.

They’re so graceful and beautiful for animals that are so large. And they each have their own personalities. Ty is so sweet. Biff is eager, and I think sometimes he gets silly. We’ll be doing behaviors we’ve done all the time, and he’ll do something different and look at me like, What are you going to do? It’s never the same session twice.

Do you plan to pursue more training, become a doctor of veterinary medicine?

I’m happy doing what I do. I like being a nurse to animals.

Karen Furnweger, web editor

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I want to do and be exactly where you are some day! <3

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