By Bianca Roa           At ECHO, Leahy Center for Lake Champlain, don’t expect to find Jennifer Dean easily. She could be any...

A Day in the Life of Animal Care

By Bianca Roa


At ECHO, Leahy Center for Lake Champlain, don’t expect to find Jennifer Dean easily. She could be anywhere in the building. Running from one task to another, helping volunteers, talking to guests about the animals in her care.  

Dean has been a big part of the animal care team for the last couple of years. Her title as an Environmental Exhibit Specialist does not come close to encompassing the full extent of her contributions to ECHO. The list of tasks she keeps on any given day spans from turning on the facility's technology elements to moving ten-foot driftwood for the animals’ “furniture.” Among the most important is educating visitors of all ages about the animals.

Daily public programs allow Dean to give individual animals their time to shine. Among her favorites for these demonstrations are Winston the black rat snake and Elizabeth the American eel. She connects with these animals because they have big personalities. They don’t talk to her, but they tell her things with their behavior.


“One of the great things about working with these animals is that they are here to be appreciated,” says Dean. The guests love interacting with the hundreds of animals on site. However that means she must care for them and also advocate for them. She stressed that the animals for may be entertaining, but they aren’t here purely for our entertainment.

During the day, Dean recalled advice from her grandmother, who owned a Morgan horse farm. “You work with animals, you don’t make them do what you want them to do,” she says. Its obvious how this guides the work that she does with ECHO’s animals.

Her grandmother and the rest of her big family shaped her passion for this industry. They lived the farm lifestyle and everyone had animals of some kind. 

So why did she choose marine science?

Her parents unintentionally steered her towards the creatures of the ocean. Dean credited her career to their numerous Florida trips. For several years Dean’s family would make the trek for her parents’ anniversary. There she and her brother fished, snorkeled, and scuba dived. She fell in love with the water and everything in it.


Dean’s dedication and passion for animal care is abundantly clear. She is an animal lover through and through, and the list of her animals at home proves it. Beaumont the 12-year-old Boston Terrier that she’s had since he was a puppy. Two sugar gliders she has rescued. A stray cat and her new litter of kittens, not to mentioned the other strays that she regularly feeds.

Despite all the effort that goes into caring for these animals, Dean wouldn’t have it any other way. It feels incredibly rewarding to her. 

“They don’t have a bad day and take it out on people,” she explains. “They seem to have an overall good day and good attitude.” 

And it goes even farther than that for Dean - animals connect her and everyone else they encounter with nature. “Animals give people a reason to appreciate and care,” she says.


All of those passions come together perfectly on her favorite day of the year: the spiny softshell turtle release. That sense of community is infectious. She appreciates how “ECHO employees, guests, and the Fish and Wildlife rally together for these little turtles.”

These turtles hatch so late in the year that many wouldn’t have survived. The program is close to her heart because it gives them a chance they might not of had otherwise.”It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it in the end,” Dean said. She even jokes that if it were a movie, “It would be one of those feel-good movies on Lifetime or the Hallmark Channel.”

Jokes aside, Dean believes in the work she is doing. She admitted that working in the field of animal care can be hard, but their efforts allow animals that cannot go back into the wild a purpose. Through education programs and relocation exclusively between science centers

“What is nice about this industry is that we do a lot of swapping, that way animals that cannot go back into the wild can still have a life that does education," she said. "We also don’t sell them so we can guarantee that the animals will have a good life.” With that attitude, the animals are in good hands.

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