An A+ cat internship at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary

Genevieve Hannon completes internship with cats at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, focused on health, care, diseases, and feline behavior and training.
By Christelle L. Del Prete

Since August of 2012, there's been an exciting new opportunity at Best Friends: four-month internships in Dogtown and Cat World. Once accepted into the program, interns are fully immersed in the day-to-day activities and overall operations of their chosen animal area, and they receive comprehensive, hands-on experience in animal handling and care.

Cat intern program jam-packed

Genevieve Hannon, now one of the vet techs at the Sanctuary, was the first person to do a four-month internship in Cat World. Originally, Genevieve applied for the five-week program. But, thanks to her outstanding qualifications, she was offered a spot in the longer, more-intensive program. So Genevieve, who'd been volunteering as a veterinary assistant in a small-animal practice, left her home in New York and moved to Kanab to embark on a four-month odyssey.

There was a lot to learn, even for someone with Genevieve's experience. The program syllabus is jam-packed. This is not surprising, considering that the overall goal is to train participants to successfully manage all aspects of care for cats housed in communal living areas, like the ones at Best Friends. Amongst other skills, interns learn feeding and cleaning protocols, cat body language, medication administration, care of cats who are positive for the feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) and feline leukemia (FeLV), and behavioral modification techniques for fearful or aggressive cats.

The latter, which involved clicker training, turned out to be especially interesting for Genevieve. Under the tutelage of Dr. Frank McMillan, director of well-being studies at Best Friends, and Beth Erdman, one of the caregivers in Cat Headquarters, she learned how to use a clicker to teach shy cats to venture closer to her and to teach some of the really energetic cats - like Raed, who was rescued from Lebanon - tricks. She even learned how to train a deaf cat with a flashlight instead of a clicker.

Animal internship expectations

But it wasn't all fun and (enrichment) games. Genevieve says that expectations for Cat World interns are quite high. Not only was she expected to do basic things like arriving on time every day (with no sick or vacation days), but her coworkers also depended on her and gave her a lot of responsibility. Genevieve fully embraced the challenge; she loved the fact that she was treated like an actual member of the Cat World team and trusted to represent Best Friends. The staff "instilled such confidence in me," Genevieve says, "and they really took care of me. It was a delightful thing."

Not only did the caregivers make Genevieve feel like an insider, but they also impressed her by being great teachers. They followed the syllabus, constantly taught her new skills, and were genuinely interested and invested in her learning. Team leaders Judy Preus and Robin Jackson would regularly check in with Genevieve to see how the internship was progressing, and to make sure that she was getting something valuable out of it.

Sharing her education and expertise

While the internship program is designed to give people like Genevieve expanded knowledge in animal care, another objective is to arm people with skills to take home to their own communities. As for Genevieve, she now has an "arsenal of knowledge" that she shares with people in rescue organizations all over the country, and even the world. She has built a network of contacts who consult with her and have come to rely on her expertise.

"There's no doubt that this internship would look great on a resume for anyone, anywhere in the world," Genevieve exclaims. "The high level of care at Best Friends is unparalleled. You can't get a better internship."

Find out more about internships at Best Friends.

 Photo by Best Friends staff