Friday, April 11, 2014

A Career Unchosen: How I came to work in Pet First Aid

I'm often asked how I ended up owning a Pet First Aid training company. I'm also asked what kind of training I had to complete to do so. Am I a Veterinarian or Veterinary Technician? Did I write the curriculum? People have many questions, and understandably so.

Here's my story, from beginning until today:

After almost flunking out of Biology 11 & 12 in High School, it was evident that although I had a passion for animals, I didn't have a passion for science. My Veterinary dreams evaporated and no one suggested alternative careers to me (Veterinary Technician? SPCA? Guide Dogs? Groomer? Other careers with animals?). Unfortunately, at the young age of 18 I was not aware of the endless possibilities that were out there.

I signed up for college and took a smattering of courses: French, English, Psychology, Sociology... After several years of course work I decided to apply for the School of Social Work at UBC. It's a highly competitive program and I was waitlisted my first application and did not ultimately earn a space. I continued taking varied course work, now having transferred to University. After 4 years of courses, I decided to pursue a career as a Psychologist. I spent the next 2 years at UBC completing my BA with the intent of completing a Masters degree.

Towards the end of my degree I completed some additional training and started volunteering with our local 24/7 Crisis Line. I enjoyed being an ear to those in need and found it very rewarding. Soon I advanced to being a "Buddy", who was a mentor for new volunteers. Having said that, as time passed I discovered that I am too "soft". I would replay conversations in my head and worry about those I had spoken to. I was not able to separate my emotions from the task at hand. This left me at a stalemate regarding furthering my education.

Throughout those 6 years of schooling I had held various management positions: first at a bulk food store, then at an amusement park, and finally at a Lencrafters location. At Lenscrafters, I also trained as an "Associate Orientation Trainer" and provided all new recruits with their initial training. These positions gave me on the job training and experience outside of my formal schooling.

I knew I didn't want to stay at Lenscrafters but wasn't sure how to move ahead. The one thing I did know was that I'd promised myself that when I'd finished my BA I would seek out my first dog as a "grown up". I set out to several animal shelters and came home empty handed. On day 2, I found Buddy. See our story HERE if interested.

So, I had Buddy, I had a job, and I had a degree. But I wasn't fulfilled. My work experience led me to apply for an HR-related job as a Recruiter for a private Temp Agency. I was hired and spent my days interviewing, recruiting and placing temps into their positions. I hired a dog walker to take Buddy out midday while I was at work. I stared at the pictures of him on the wall, wishing I could be with him. One day I had a huge "AH HA!" moment. I could be a dog walker! I had customer service and business experience and I loved dogs. The perfect combination!

I gave 3 months notice and started a couple of business courses at BCIT. For the next 3 months I slaved away at my business plan, pulled together my web site, brochures, client forms, and all other items needed to get started. I took a Pet First Aid course with Oakland Educational Services Ltd. (OESL) to ensure my furry clients would be safe. On March 20, 2000 "Walks 'N' Wags Pet Care" was born. I provided dog walking and in-home cat sitting in the Vancouver area.

My business grew and I soon hired staff. We had a few animals become sick while in our care, a stick impalement, a self-inflicted wound from a dog smashing glass at home, and a dog bitten by another dog while walking in the forest. In my 10+ upcoming years in pet care the animal health and injury-related experiences and training I had were immeasurable. Everyday we cared for many cats and even more dogs - the risks were there and I wanted to keep the animals safe.

I decided to fly to Calgary, AB to become an OESL Pet First Aid Instructor and started teaching in 2003. I quickly discovered that a combination of a love of pets and pet health were my life's passion! Meeting pet owners and pet professionals in class - all of whom shared similar interests in keeping pets safe was incredibly rewarding. I eagerly looked forward to each Pet First Aid course that I taught.

In 2006 Ethne Dickinson, the owner of OESL contacted me. Ethne asked me to take over the administration of the Pet First Aid program as she was retiring. OESL soon became Walks 'N' Wags Pet First Aid.

Upon a short transition, I moved the dog walking and pet sitting business over to our long-time manager Vanessa and it is now Best Friends Pet Care.

Since taking over the Pet First Aid training company, I have completed Animal Disaster Response training with Rescue 3 International, joined my local Animal Disaster Response Committee, and completed 5 international volunteer spay and neuter programs with World Vets International. This Fall I will join another organization, Amazon CARES on a spay and neuter campaign in Peru's Amazon. I also donate my time with Vancouver Orphan Kitten Rescue Association and Best Friends For Life. I am also an avid supporter of BC SPCA and SAINTS Rescue. In fact, our staff dog Tuxie came to us from SAINTS back in 2012.

Today I am hugely fulfilled in my role as Operations Director of Walks 'N' Wags Pet First Aid. Our Instructor family, our clients, and our colleagues are all wonderful people who I am honoured to work with. I also collaborate with fantastic manufacturers, Veterinary advisors (for our curriculum), and other professionals and organizations whom I never would have encountered otherwise.

It was a long, windy path to get here...but the skills, education, and people I met along the way all led me to my passion: pet first aid and animal safety. Walks 'N' Wags Pet First Aid is my home, my heart, and my love. Thank you for being a part of it.


Lisa Wagner
Operations Director
Walks 'N' Wags Pet First Aid


  1. I am really happy for you. To know that after many years you have found your passion. Love of pets and pet health is a great combination. In short we need to take care our pets to make them and eventually we will be also happy by watching them grow with a love for us. Thanks!

    Vets Somerset

    1. Thank you! I appreciate you taking the time to read my story. I hope that it inspires others to take a leap of faith when the time is right.

  2. Your circuitous route was meant to be, Lisa! It was terrific training for your current position without you realizing it, as you wended your way towards it! Here's to many more fulfilling and exciting years ahead in all that you do. :)