It all started in high school. Attempting to prepare me for the future my college advisor asked, “What do you want to do with your life?” Unsure at the time, she then asked, “Well, what is your passion?” I remember going home that night and assessing the situation. I wanted to do something that would make me happy but more importantly, I wanted to make a difference. Fast forward 12 years and my career in veterinary medicine has been anything but boring.
My name is Feliza Lopez and I am a Licensed Veterinary Technician from New York. I have worked in general practice, shelter medicine, emergency and critical care, and now I can add international veterinary medicine to that list. I am writing to you on behalf of Veterinarians International from Todos Santos, Guatemala. Todos Santos is a remote region occupied by an indigenous Mayan community continuing ancient tradition with a desire to progress. I think one of the most important things in life is to teach children that it is okay to show compassion. Compassion toward each other and compassion toward animals. Veterinarians International represents a team of people compassionate to animals and the people that care for them. I joined Vets International last year just when I needed a different way to utilize all the skills I have learned throughout my career.
My mom and dad are Ecuadorian immigrants and I am a first-generation American. I have my parents to thank for my early start as an animal lover. Actually, I have a lot to thank my parents for – but for now we can focus on the animals and for teaching me Spanish. We always had a house full of cats and dogs. My parents weren’t wealthy but they always made a point to be responsible pet owners and to teach us the same. My parents worked very long hours and most times my older sister would watch us which meant Señor Pumpkin, Manchito, Rubia, Snoopy, and Nina were my best friends.
When I went away to college I missed them so much but I was determined to go to vet school so I could take care of them and obviously all of the other animals in the world. I remember this day like it was yesterday. My mom picked me up from school with Nina and I asked her where Snoopy was. I could instantly see pain in her eyes and I knew something horrible happened. Snoopy was hit by a car and didn’t make it. I felt helpless. I decided then that I would specialize in Emergency and Critical Care. There I could truly save lives!
I still remember walking into my first vet hospital and the pride I felt knowing I was there to help animals. I cried. Working a full-time job, pet sitting on the side, and traveling upstate to school full time for eight years was filled with adventures or struggles- same difference, right. My schedule consisted of waking up at 5am every day for work and if classes ended at ten I would be home by midnight . I spent so much time studying at Grand Central it became my home away from home. I had to take semesters off in between because I couldn’t afford tuition. That of course didn’t mean time off- it meant two full-time jobs. Great memories. During that time I became a vet tech in training. I also decided to double major in pre-vet and in veterinary technology, just in case I didn’t get into vet school. At some point I changed my mind and decided I was through with barely getting by, commuting, and just being plain exhausted. I realized that being a Licensed Vet Tech has all the glamour of being a veterinarian but even more because vets NEED us. I saw the opportunity to advocate for a profession that often goes unnoticed by the public and that gave me even more inspiration.
Ten years into the field and I am continuously inspired and proud to be a part of a community representative of educators, caregivers, and healers. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” And so after working in Emergency and Critical care for five years (that’s right, living my dream), I decided to take the next big step in my career- volunteer my nursing skills to an international veterinary project. Being a young successful Latino is something I take great pride in. No matter where you go in life it is important to never forget where you came from and to always, ALWAYS give back.
Vets International is a non profit that not only understands the value of vet techs but more importantly understands the value of giving back to the world. Helping animals and healing the planet- that is our motto and it is exactly what I’ve dreamed of doing my whole life. The first time I went to Todos Santos, I was enamored by the indigenous community. I was also touched by how even high up in the mountains where agriculture is the only way of life people can find a compassionate connection with animals. People traveled long hours with their pets just to see us and to do the responsible thing- spay, neuter, and vaccinate. When I returned to the states I knew something had changed within. I left to help spay and neuter 200+ animals and I came back with an entire community in my soul.
This year is my second campaign to Guatemala and this time I was even more determined to interact with the community. I was fortunate enough to talk with owners during physical exams and vaccines – you know, once I was done doing anesthesia on 240+ animals. (Go Team!) It’s hard to explain how I felt this year. I remember going to the vet as a kid and holding my pets so tight because I was nervous about the unknown. I wanted the best for my pets but I didn’t know exactly what that meant. I saw myself in the community this time. Whether it was the young boy who traveled eight hours to spay his dog or the grandmother who brought her cat for vaccines and held her close just to calm her cat’s nerves. I was the community, I was my parents, I was that little girl again. Except this time I could help in more ways than I could have ever imagined. I was able to communicate with the people of Todos Santos and thank them for being so trusting of us and commend them for being responsible pet owners. There is nothing more humbling than being able to provide ones expertise to a community that would never be able to afford it otherwise. When I was a kid I used watch National Geographic all the time and I dreamed of being like those people that traveled the world and saved animals.
I realized in that moment – I am now one of those people.
That thought has shaken me to my core and all I can do is be thankful.
Thankful to my ancestors for my South American roots, thankful to my parents for teaching me responsible pet ownership, thankful to that driven, younger me for putting in all that hard work. Now I am that person saving animals all over the world and of course because of Vets International I can do that the only way I know how – through Compassion .
In memory of Luna.
Feliza Lopez, LVT