Our second highlighted employee is Melisa Clem, who recently celebrated her twentieth anniversary with Gulf Coast Humane Society. Melisa, a veterinary technician at the GCHS Veterinary Clinic, began her career as a volunteer kennel tech in August, 1996 through a Florida state program for single mothers. I asked about her first job and saw a slight grin appear. “This is it,” she said, obviously content she is still at it two decades later. During her early years, she recalled, the shelter had only a couple part-time veterinarians who would come in two times a week and would frequently take patients back to their private practices for more serious illnesses or injuries. The new clinic, just over a year in its location at 2685 Swamp Cabbage Court in Fort Myers, now has two doctors scheduled every day, working side by side with four full-time and two part-time vet techs, along with several front desk employees and volunteers.
Melisa, soft spoken and extremely modest, was born in Oklahoma to a military family. However, her parents divorced when she was quite young and her mother brought her to Southwest Florida, where her family still called home. Most memories of her youth are centered right here in the Fort Myers area. Her family includes husband Rob, son Bubba, twenty-three, and daughter Sara, sixteen, as well as Snickers, a Basset Hound and Suzie, a Beagle.
To see what Melisa's day is like, I tagged along with her as she went about her daily activities. Although Gloria Letendre, the clinic manager, told me I was there on a slow day, there was very little down time and most of my questions had to wait until Melisa finally took a lunch break around 1 P.M. A vet tech's duties at the clinic mirror those of a nurse in human health care, in Melisa's mind. And after witnessing just a brief moment in time at the clinic, I totally agree. When I arrived, she was assisting another vet tech with a dental cleaning on a dog that definitely needed it. Then, it was into an exam room for a wellness check for a bouncing, happy terrier puppy recently adopted from GCHS. Melisa, while checking the pup's vitals, gave the young owner helpful tips on living with a growing dog. Next was an annual exam for an adult dog with a couple minor medical issues, followed by a very young kitten with crooked front legs and a runny nose (And, I must note, whose adopted mama obviously saw nothing but perfection in her imperfect tiny bundle of fur.). With each animal and their human parents, I noticed Melisa was very methodical in her approach, intently listening to concerns, taking detailed notes, and making observations of the patients. Her compassion for each and every animal was palpable; a snuggle here, a scratch on the noggin there, small tells that confirmed she is doing exactly what she was meant to do.
Finally, we ended up in the operating room, I a fly on the wall, Melisa assisting Dr. Mark Huff with removing a growth from the foot of a golden retriever. Much more involved than a layman such as I would imagine, the surgery went on for a considerable time. As they anesthetized the patient, calm came over the room. No tension, just a pleasant atmosphere as they talked in hushed tones, casual conversation, a joke here and there, intermingled with specific requests from the doctor and swift responses from Melisa as they worked through the procedure. There were no surprises during the surgery, or if there were, they weren't apparent. When done, both Melisa and Dr. Huff seemed pleased with the outcome. Together, they carefully placed the fifty-plus pound retriever in a recovery pen, Melisa thoughtfully covering her with a blanket and making sure she was as comfortable as possible. While most patients come in for less intrusive things, such as annual checkups and inoculations or various ailments, Melisa said they average three or four surgeries a week.
Although her days are always filled with animals, no two days are alike and she never knows what's next. What does she enjoy most about her job? Educating people on the proper ways of caring for their adoptees and seeing returning patients, especially those GCHS alumni, who come back year after year. That grin appeared, again, at the thought of all the furry friends she's made over the years.
All day long, I was impressed with the air of cooperation between Melisa, Gloria, and the four other vet techs working that day. If a task required an extra hand or two, anyone with a spare moment would glide in to assist before disappearing around the corner en route to their next chore. Gloria described Melisa as passionate and committed to the job, her work calculated and thorough. She knows she can always count on Melisa to come in on a day off if another tech is out due to an illness or other emergency.
When not working, Melisa's interests include her collections of teddy bears and music boxes, although, she said, the collecting part may have gotten out of hand at times. She also enjoys fishing, often with family in Cape Coral and Punta Gorda. For her it’s more for the experience, the peaceful atmosphere, relaxing on the water's edge, than catching “the big one.” In fact, she says, unless her husband is willing to clean what she reels in, it's strictly catch and release for her.
So, after twenty years, I think Melisa is on her way to figuring out what to do with her life. Maybe after another ten or twenty years, she'll finally commit herself to some noble endeavor. I jest, of course, as it is so obvious she had this figured out many, many years ago. Congratulations, Melisa, on your significant milestone, and thank you on behalf of all the four legged creatures you have helped over all these years.