There's never a tame
day when you help wild animals.
How did these veterinary professionals get their start? Read
Meet the Vet Tech
Zoo Veterinarian - Dr. Albert Lewandowski
Steffee Center for Zoological Medicine
do you want to be when you grow up? You've probably heard many
children quickly respond, "veterinarian!" or maybe
you once considered it yourself. There aren't many people who
get to live out their childhood dreams, but one of the lucky
ones is right here at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo - Dr. Albert
Lewandowski. "Doc" Lewandowski had settled on his
career path by the time he was in fourth grade. He achieved
that dream the old-fashioned way, by getting his foot in the
door and working his way up.
Doc started his Zoo career as a sixteen-year old Benedictine
High School student working as a ticket taker. He took his job
seriously - so seriously that, when he didn't recognize the
Zoo's director, veterinarian Dr. Leonard Goss, Doc stopped him
from entering the Zoo at the front gate. Rather than become
annoyed, Dr. Goss said "son, you're doing a good job. Keep
Doc finished out the summer renting strollers and returned the
following summer to work at the Children's Farm, now the site
of Australian Adventure. "It was a wonderful training ground.
You learned how animals behave," says Doc. He worked at
the Children's Farm through his undergraduate years at Ohio
State University. When it came time to apply to OSU's veterinary
medicine school, a good word from Dr. Goss didn't hurt his chances
for acceptance in a program statistically more difficult to
enter than medical school.
Since 1989, Doc has been the Zoo's full-time veterinarian after
stints at the Philadelphia Zoo and the Detroit Zoo. "People
don't realize that this is a huge zoo - the biggest in the area,"
says Doc. Thousands of animals from more than six-hundred species
means plenty of challenges for Doc and Dr. Christopher Bonar,
the zoo's associate veterinarian who joined the staff in 1994.
And sometimes, the challenges are huge. When the Zoo's 1390-pound
Kodiak bear needed medical attention, twenty-two people helped
move him to the examination area.
vets do much more than make "animal house calls."
They play an increasingly important role in research, too. Doc
started a "frozen zoo" where 16,000 blood serum and
biopsy samples are banked for study. Dr. Bonar is now using
those samples in a research project with the National Cancer
Institute. Did you know that tigers are prone to breast cancer
or that bears are frequent victims of liver and gall bladder
cancer? Blood samples are also collected and analyzed for rhino
and elephant reproductive studies. In fact, hundreds of samples
are added to the "frozen zoo" each year.
When a cardiologist from the Cleveland Clinic visited the Zoo's
vet hospital to observe a procedure, he asked, "who does
the anesthesia? Who's the radiologist? Who's performing the
operation?" "That's me," answered Doc. Even though
he's required to play multiple medical roles on 600 animal species,
he's never regretted his choice of career. Doc has worked hard
to earn the privilege of joining a very select group of only
150 full-time zoo vets in the U.S. And he hasn't had to fall
back on his childhood second-choice career: farmer.