Serves as shining example of Disability Employment Awareness Month
By Amanda Hatfield Anderson
MELBOURNE -- Since Andrea Carlson was a young girl, her love for animals has known no bounds.
"My mom got me involved with horses first. I own my own horse, named 'Chatzka,' and she is a Halfinger," Ms. Carlson said. "Then I rode with Harmony Farms for five years and volunteered at the Brevard Zoo in their teen program for three years and was a docent for two years."
This month, Ms. Carlson, 24, celebrates five years as a veterinary assistant at the Melbourne Animal Hospital on Wickham Road, just south of Eau Gallie Boulevard.
While five years in any position with a company is a call for celebration, Ms. Carlson has extra reason to celebrate.
Born with cerebral palsy, Ms. Carlson has overcome a road full of divots and potholes, in order to fulfill her dream of working with animals.
Ms. Carlson's anniversary with Melbourne Animal Hospital also coincides with October's National Disability Employment Awareness Month, which is a national campaign that raises awareness about disability employment issues.
NDEAM, which was enacted by Congress in 1988, celebrates the many contributions of America's workers with disabilities, according to the U.S. Department of Labor website.
Melbourne Animal Hospital offered Ms. Carlson a part-time position as a kennel worker in October 2008, in which she continues to serve a variety of other duties. Ms. Carlson received a lot of on-the-job training, but said that her volunteer experience at the Brevard Zoo has helped her in her position.
"I do lots of laundry," Ms. Carlson said. "I also check up on sick animals in the kennels, get surgical materials together for the vets, stock surgery rooms with towels, clean the used kennels, take care of the backyards when used, assist with inventory and help make animals comfortable if they have to spend the night."
Ms. Carlson said that one of the biggest challenges as a veterinary assistant is when she sees animals put down.
"It is very sad and, sometimes, both the owner and the doctor are crying," she said. "It can get very emotional."
Along with the emotional obstacles she faces, Ms. Carlson said her cerebral palsy challenges her physically in doing her job.
"I work slower than everyone, so sometimes my co-workers think I'm distracted or not doing my job," Ms. Carlson explained. "I've had to work on my organizational and efficiency skills."
Cindy Greto, a veterinary technician at Melbourne Animal Hospital, said that all of Ms. Carlson's co-workers do their best to help her out.
"Andrea is so helpful and is always asking us if we need anything or what she can do to help," Ms. Greto said. "She's a great girl and a very hard worker."
Ms. Carlson also gets a helping "paw" from her service dog, Pilot, a 6-year-old Labrador Retriever.
"I got Pilot four years ago to help me with balance issues," Ms. Carlson said. "I fall frequently, and he has been trained to brace himself for me to use him to get up."
Pilot wears a harness when he travels with Ms. Carlson, which helps her navigate different terrain, as she has no depth perception.
"Pilot also provides me with companionship and helps my self-confidence when I'm out on my own, like riding the bus to work," Ms. Carlson added. "He's a very smart dog and also knows 80 commands."
One of Ms. Carlson's most fond memories at Melbourne Animal Hospital was when she had the opportunity to take care of 20 Bichon Frises in the kennel.
"I also enjoy Dr. Prussner's jokes and how he greets Pilot every day," Ms. Carlson added. "I enjoy being around happy people."
With a bright future ahead of her, Ms. Carlson said that she plans to continue working at Melbourne Animal Hospital.
"I really enjoy my job because it's different every day," Ms. Carlson said. "There are always new animal personalities to deal with and lots of puppies and kittens, which is so much fun."
While her work as a veterinary assistant is difficult, too, Ms. Carlson said seeing a litter of puppies seems to make the work evaporate for just a while.
"Melbourne Animal Hospital is like one big family, and they have been very supportive of me," Ms. Carlson said. "I've learned a lot about how to be a good employee."
Ms. Carlson is also a future Promise in Brevard resident.
Promise in Brevard was founded by Palm Bay resident Betsy Farmer and her son, Luke. For 25 years, the Space Coast community has helped support Ms. Farmer's efforts in improving the lives of individuals with disabilities. Her newest venture was to establish Promise, a place for people with and without disabilities to live and thrive. The Promise campus, based in West Melbourne, will be a safe, all-inclusive housing complex.
"National Disability Employment Awareness Month is about celebrating the many and varied contributions of people with disabilities and focusing on the ability of each person," Ms. Farmer said. "Andrea is a wonderful example of how, if given the opportunity, individuals with disabilities can be amazing employees. I am so very proud of Andrea and know that her co-workers respect and value her contribution to their team at Melbourne Animal Hospital."