June 28, 2006
A Day In The Life
Wendy Altieri, Vet Tech
When Wendy Altieri is in her office examining slides under a microscope, occasionally a patient can be found snoozing on her back.
Lucky for Altieri, a vet tech with the Town of Southampton Animal Shelter — and her spine — the patient in question is a cat named Elmer. And Altieri, a licensed veterinary technician who works at the shelter, is happy with the feline company. "I always wanted to work with animals, ever since I was a little girl," she said.
Altieri, who considered becoming a nurse before discovering human injuries were too traumatic for her sensibilities, earned her veterinary technology degree at SUNY Farmingdale. She worked at The Moriches Hospital for Animals for 16 years before accepting a position at the town shelter. She came because the idea of so many ownerless pets appealed to her maternal instincts: "My heart just went out to them, that they needed somebody to look after them," she said.
The shelter, located in Red Creek Park in Hampton Bays, currently houses more than 130 cats and 40 dogs awaiting adoption, and Altieri's days are kept busy testing, treating and caring for the animals. The shelter has surgery where they do spays and neuters, simple tumor removals, and dental work, but "nothing invasive," Altieri said.
"I basically just check to make sure everyone is happy, breathing, eating, drinking," Altieri explained. Her affection for the animals is clear as she winds her way through cages, scratching cats' heads and throwing treats to the dogs.
"I definitely have my favorites," she said, leading into a room adjoining her office. Four cats loll about, including a big, striped cat named Elmer that was hit by a car two years ago. During his recuperation "he just became my buddy," Altieri said. "He's such a sweetheart, such a mushbag." Sunny, a shy cat that would hide under its blankets in the upfront display area, prefers the quiet of the backroom he shares with Elmer and Dogwood, a friendly black cat that leaps up to be patted when Altieri entered.
The four-legged patients Altieri deals with require both medical attention and occasional lessons in manners. Sometimes kittens that have been in the wild or separated from their litter mates need to be straightened out with a quick trip to the cat version of a reformatory. Troublemaking cats are sometimes placed "with a real tough one that won't take any crap," according to Altieri.
One of the things Altieri enjoys most about her job is the challenge of the diagnosis — she must interpret her not-always-forthcoming patients' varied behaviors in order to figure out what is wrong. "With dogs its easier to pick up on things. Whereas with cats, they're so independent, they don't always show you something's wrong," Altieri said.
"Cat's get stressed much more easily than dogs, medically," she added. "Behaviorally, dogs get very stressed in the kennel."
Kittens are a perennial favorite for people looking to add to their menagerie, but some cats grow into adulthood at the shelter. For Altieri, sometimes the best part of her job is saying goodbye. "I love it when the ones that have been here a long time get adopted. That is awesome," she said.
She and her husband, Rick Altieri, a vet, are the owners of four cats and two dogs, but Altieri also plays the role of foster parent to the animals cycling in and out of the shelter. "I'm the owner of everyone until they get adopted," she said.