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Whether kitty or boa, TCC grad loves all that vet assisting has to offer

Ana DeMello loves animals, including exotics and has a special affinity for cats, especially her own finicky, 15-pound, longhaired feline, Kitty.

But spending time at the Virginia Zoo convinced her she didn’t want to be a zookeeper.

Vet technologist? She wasn’t ready to commit to that just yet.

Veterinary assistant? Perfect fit.

DeMello earned her Career Studies Certificate in Veterinary Assistant in December 2016 as part of Tidewater Community College’s first graduating class in the program. Two-thirds of the program’s 14 graduates earned jobs at the same site as their internships, including DeMello, now a full-time veterinary assistant at Edinburgh Animal Hospital in Chesapeake.

“After I interned there my first semester, they asked me if I wanted to stay,” she said.

The Ocean Lakes High School honors graduate started at TCC because of its proximity to her home and the fact that it is the only veterinary assisting program in the region. Megan Taliaferro, who practiced at Nansemond Veterinary Clinic for five years prior to coming to TCC, teaches all the classes in the 17-credit program.

two veterinary assistant students take care of a dog
Ana Demello and Andrew Adams with
110-pound Presa Canario Mastiff, Jackson

DeMello particularly enjoyed the classroom labs where students are encouraged to bring in their own animals; she provided a pair of two-week-old foster kittens. Students practice handling animals in addition to learning how to perform additional lab skills.

TCC’s veterinary assistant program is the only one in Virginia and one of 32 nationwide to earn National Association of Veterinary Technicians of America (NAVTA) approval. Only graduates of NAVTA-approved programs can take the national certification exam.

“Dr. Taliaferro was amazing,” DeMello said. “She makes this program attainable for everybody. If you’re willing to work, you can succeed. She works well with everyone, no matter their level of experience.”

A field trip to the zoo to spy the behind-the-scenes activity of the surgical suite of the animal hospital was a special treat, as was getting up close with the tiger cubs, DeMello said.

“I loved learning about all the different opportunities you have in veterinary medicine,” she said. “Small animal practice is what people think of first, but there’s a lot of other things this field has to offer.”

All TCC veterinary assistant students intern at two separate sites. In addition to Edinburgh Animal Hospital, DeMello worked at Pet Care Veterinary Hospital, where her duties included restraining a boa constrictor that was receiving an injection.

Her job allows her to work closely with pet owners and small animals; she’s even contributed to delivering South African mastiff puppies.

“A lot of it is working with people,” she said.

Completing the TCC program inspired DeMello to continue her education in the field. She plans to work toward becoming a veterinary technologist, ideally online, and hopes to start this fall.

She’s not planning to be a veterinarian, noting, “When you do assisting or technician work, you’re extremely hands-on with the pets,” she said. “Assistants and technicians really have a connection with the animal.”

The application deadline for the next cohort of students in TCC’s veterinary assistant program is Oct. 16, 2017.

For information, contact Taliaferro at or 757-822-7264.

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