My name is Angela Cerone, and I'm a front-office manager. It's Monday at 7:55 a.m. I got to work just 10 minutes ago. I'm trying to water the plants outside the animal hospital before the morning rush. But the phones are ringing, cars are pulling into the parking lot with owners rushing to drop off their pets so that they can get to their jobs and I'm the only person here. This probably looks and sounds exactly like any other veterinary hospital—until you see the first client step out of his car and walk toward the front door carrying neither a dog nor a cat but a kinkajou. That's right, a kinkajou.
What's a kinkajou, you ask? I had no idea, either, until I started working at the Veterinary Center for Birds & Exotics—an all-bird and exotic animal hospital where we treat only birds, ferrets, rabbits, rodents, reptiles, amphibians, hedgehogs, sugar gliders and, yes, the occasional kinkajou.
A kinkajou looks like a little bear but is actually a member of the raccoon family. I had only seen animals like this on television before I started working at the practice. The same is true for 6-foot-tall wallabies and mini-pigs that are so small they fit into teacups. The greatest thing about working in an all-bird and exotic animal hospital is that I never know what kinds of animals will walk in the door next. Colorful parrots, huge green iguanas, spiny hedgehogs, fuzzy chinchillas—we see them all.
A world of wonders
In my previous job as a receptionist at a typical small animal practice, I knew what to expect: cats, dogs and the occasional rabbit or guinea pig. But at an all-exotics practice, we often see 10 different species in one day. The animals come in for many of the same reasons that the dogs and cats at my previous job visited: not eating, acting lethargic, having bloody stool or experiencing difficulty breathing. But what's different about the pets that come to an exotic animal hospital is that familiar problems, such as not eating, can go on in some exotic animals, like reptiles, for six months or more. Plus, bloody stool, a problem commonly seen in mammals, can occur in birds for completely different reasons, such as egg binding—when eggs get stuck inside the bird—an often life-threatening condition.
Why specialize in exotic companion animals?
As the main receptionist, I do many of the same things as I did in my previous job—greet clients and patients, answer phones, take payments, check emails, make boarding reservations, scan medical records and order products and supplies. But more than my previous cat-and-dog practice, this job is always challenging me in new ways. Not only am I always learning new facts about all the different types of animals we treat, but I'm also constantly expanding my responsibilities. For example, because it can be difficult to convince exotic pet owners that their pets, just like dogs and cats, need preventive medical care, we often have to work extra hard marketing our services and justifying costs to clients. To do this, I have the huge responsibility of generating email and social media marketing for the practice. This is one area of my job that I both love and hate at the same time. It's difficult to think creatively about marketing when you're answering three phone lines ringing all at once. But, it's also rewarding when you send out a mass client email reminding pet owners that their exotic animals are overdue for examination, and 20 clients call to set up appointments.