Teaching Animal Care to Future Technologists

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HARI is widely recognized around the world for its clinical work on avian nutrition and care, but there’s something about this respected place of study that may surprise you.

Back to school

HARI is widely recognized around the world for its clinical work on avian nutrition and care, but there’s something about this respected place of study that may surprise you. On any given workday, you’ll find HARI’s Facility Manager Josee Bermingham and her colleagues doing a variety of scientific work at HARI, Hagen’s avian and animal care research centre located in Rigaud’s scenic countryside. But on this particular day, Bermingham, who is also an Animal Health Technician (AHT), and her team–Animal Caretaker Kevina Williams and Eco-Biology Technician Marc-Andre Villeneuve–have their minds set on extra-curricular activities.

Josee HARI Teaching at AHT

They’re busy lugging a menagerie of exotic animals, medical equipment, food and laptops to their cars and headed to Vanier College, located in nearby Montreal, where they’ll spend the day teaching animal care to future technologists.

When not working at HARI, the trio participate in educational seminars at colleges, pet stores, bird clubs, and conferences for the pet industry, aviculture, parrot community, veterinarians and technicians. Their educational initiative is part of HARI’s long-time involvement with teaching animal care to students enrolled in Vanier’s Animal Health Technology (AHT), a 3-year degree program for aspiring Animal Health Technologists.

Vanier’s AHT curriculum is accredited by the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA), the Canadian Council on Animal Care (CCAC), as well as other associations. Graduates of the program go on to fulfilling careers in places such as veterinary clinics, diagnostic labs, research facilities, and pharmaceutical companies or pursue further university studies in veterinary medicine.

Hands-on learning

During a typical class, Bermingham and her team share their extensive knowledge about the husbandry, care, and handling methods of companion birds, small animals and reptiles. Students also learn about practical animal care procedures, including physical exams, ethical and compassionate ways of handling and restraining companion animals, medical intervention techniques–such as injections and administration of medication–radiology, hematology, anesthesia, and more.

“The HARI team has been engaged for many years in the AHT program at Vanier, both with lectures and workshops (wet labs). We bring individuals from our retired colony of birds so that students can practice and learn to recognize healthy birds and various physical and medical conditions usually associated with all life stages,” explained Bermingham.

Teaching AHT Vet School

Teaching AHT classroom

On other days, the team gives lectures on new trends in the husbandry, nutrition and care of birds, small animals and exotics, specialty pets that are not extensively covered by traditional vet programs, which usually focus mainly on dogs and cats.

In addition to Vanier, the AHT program is also offered at Cégep de Saint-Hyacinthe in Quebec, where the HARI team also gives workshops.

“This past year, we taught at both colleges. We did an avian workshop with the quaker parakeets at St-Hyacinthe on two occasions for third year students. And we did a total of 4 wet labs at Vanier, including both the avian and reptile workshops, as well as the necropsy workshop for both avian and reptiles,” she said.

Education taking flight

HARI’s involvement with the AHT program originally began back in 1990, when Bermingham was a student at Vanier.

At the time, Mark Hagen, who founded HARI in 1985, was giving a lecture about parrots in Montreal. She attended the seminar and later invited him to speak to her graduating class. Hagen said yes.

“I talked about a wide variety of issues: the parrot trade and importation, true conservation, habitat preservation, wild caught parrot embargoes, nutrition and care, as well as full spectrum lighting setups for indoor aviary breeding,” recalled Hagen, who is HARI’s Director of Research and Operations.

Bermingham went on to do her internship at HARI and was later hired on a full-time basis.

HARI’s contribution to the teaching program at both colleges has evolved over the years and has become more comprehensive in the last 3 years.

HARI Teaching AHT

“We appreciate HARI’s ongoing involvement, contribution and support. We are especially grateful for the help with the Exotic Animal Care Wet Labs. This very hands-on, enriching experience, greatly benefits our students, allowing them to acquire basic skills in avian and reptile care. Also a big thank you to the HARI team as well as the 12 Quakers and 12 lizards (uromastix and bearded dragons) for participating in the avian and reptile wet lab techniques. HARI’s knowledge and expertise about birds have made the HARI Team known as ‘The Bird Whisperers’ among our third-year students,” said Stephanie Laett, DVM, Head of Vanier College’s Animal Health Technology Department.


Bermingham says that following the 3-year program, some graduating students do their internship program at the HARI facility. This year, HARI had 9 internships for vet tech and veterinarian students.

Marie Luce de Courval recently interned at HARI. She’s a promising graduating vet technician who also worked on her masters thesis at the same time as finishing her technical program.

“I had the opportunity to do my end-of-course internship in animal health at HARI. I worked with passionate people always willing to share their valuable knowledge with me. During my internship, I was able to practise different techniques of specialized care on birds from their colony, within a very pleasant and welcoming environment. What I’ve learned will assuredly be an asset for me in my new career,” said de Courval.

Reptile AHT

Reptiles now part of HARI program

Last year, the HARI team added reptiles to their scholastic agenda.

“In celebration of its 25th anniversary, we added an exotic and small animal focus to our research centre. So it was only natural to bring individuals from our reptile collection to school and teach aspiring vet techs about them in our wet labs,” said Bermingham. An exotic vet technician for the past 20 years, Bermingham has extensive knowledge of reptile care and health as well as the challenges the species faces in captivity.

Keeping and caring for all the new herps at HARI requires a wide variety of products. The staff makes full use of Hagen’s extensive line of Exo-Terra terrariums and accessories, all designed, developed, tested and marketed at Exo Terra Base Camp in Belgium under the direction of Exo-Terra Brand Manager Emmanuel Van Heygen, who has created some of the world’s best in class products based on many years of extensive scientific research in herpetology. Van Heygen also plays an integral role in HARI’s new reptile studies. “We also hired Suzanne Comer, a Wildlife Biologist who was formerly the curator of Montreal’s Eco-museum and is quite knowledgeable about reptiles in captivity,” she added.

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