Twelve years ago, when Barbara Rodriguez came to the Veterinary
Resources Division, ORS, she knew nothing of scientific research.
But after 1 year as a cagewasher, a couple of things became clear: "We
are the foundations of research," she says.
|Project Manager Barbara Rodriguez with Mumar
Aguilar, cagewash assistant foreman
She also realized that she could make a career out of it. Combining
hard work with continuing education, she got a string of promotions:
from cagewasher to animal caretaker, then to environmental technician,
up to cagewash supervisor, floor supervisor, assistant project
manager and now to her current position as project manager. "Research
is not done overnight," she notes. "Some studies go 10 to 15 years,
and it's very important to get the proper training."
Rodriguez describes cagewashing as physically demanding and laborious,
and, although some people enjoy it, it's still a hot and noisy
job with exacting standards. "It's not like washing dishes," she
explains. "We wear scrubs, booties, gloves, bonnets, masks and
overalls over our scrubs. We dip our [gloved] hands in chlorine
dioxide, so there's no cross-contamination. Using aseptic technique,
we move the animal to a clean cage. Then the dirty cage gets sanitized,
disinfected and sterilized. Every day we have cages to change."
They start their day by observing their charges closely; any animal
not doing well is immediately reported to the veterinarian assigned
to the unit. In addition to being fed and housed, the animals get
snacks and treats like pineapples, kale, apples and oranges. The
rabbits are taken out for exercise in baby pools (without water).
Meanwhile the room is swept, mopped and monitored for appropriate
decibel levels, temperature and humidity.
|Front, from l: Maria Guzman, cagewash technician; Barbara Rodriguez,
project manager; Lucas Desouza, cagewash technician; Second row: Clovis Nogouambe, cagewash technician; Back, from l: Antwan Pointer, cagewash technician; Mumar Aguilar, cagewash assistant
foreman; Carlos Blum, cagewash foreman; Olapomi Olorunfemi, cagewash technician
"By taking care of the study models," Rodriguez explains, "we
are the eyes and ears of the scientists. The lab head comes to
this facility with her peers; they are in touch with us all the
time. They tell us their needs; it's a constant exchange."
The profile of the cagewasher has changed, she says, from a kid
straight out of high school to "immigrants who have their degrees
already." This month, she will take yet another step up: she'll
sit for her CMAR exam (one of a series approved by the American
Association of Laboratory Scientists) to become a certified manager
of animal resources.
"This whole research system," she explains, "is built in layers,
one on another, and is important to society as a whole. This is
not a pet store. If only people knew how well the animals are taken
care of. Every bit of education helps."