Ever since she was a little girl, Kayle DeUel dreamed of working with animals when she grew up. And, with being surrounded by animals on the family farm, that dream was never without the fuel to keep it aflame. Despite her family’s longstanding involvement with Shorthorn cattle, Kayla’s passion for animals began with rabbits, finding its expression in the countless rabbit shows she participated in. “I showed rabbits in 4-H and FFA shows, as well as a couple of state shows and one national level show.”
Kayla, along with her siblings and cousins, made up the third generation of their family to participate in 4-H and FFA. She joined the East Side Kids 4-H Club, where she was able to hang out with her cousins, as her Aunt Judy served as one of the club leaders. She participated in general projects like woodworking, sewing and textiles, baking, and others, but livestock took precedence. Aside from rabbits, she cultivated a particular interest in goats and even participated in a couple of cattle shows along the way. “I showed cattle here and there, but the goats and rabbits were kind of my thing."
When she entered high school, Kayla joined the Southwestern High School FFA Chapter, using her opportunities through the organization to prepare her for the next step in achieving her lifelong dream while simultaneously maintaining her activities in 4-H. As if that wasn’t enough work, she added cheerleading to the mix, too!
When Kayla was involved in 4-H, a club member aged out when they turned eighteen. As she neared the end of a ten-year career in 4-H, she was able to give back by interning for the Jersey County 4-H program during the summer before and following her senior year, assisting former coordinator Judy Benz in preparing for the whole host of activities that take place during the busy summer season, from the general projects show to the various livestock shows at the fair.
After boxing up her ribbons, hanging up her esteemed blue corduroy jacket, and completing her final 4-H projects, Kayla moved on to the next chapter of her life. Having been accepted into the University of Illinois’ animal science program, Kayla was finally nearing the end of her lifelong pursuit of a career working with animals. She moved into the 4-H Cooperative Sorority House, a one-of-a-kind sorority in the University’s Greek system. While living in the house, she became close with other girls who grew up actively involved in 4-H or similar organizations, learning about the experiences of others who grew up in 4-H but with different experiences. “A lot of us had an FFA or agriculture background, but my pledge class had a couple of girls in it who didn’t come from an agriculture background. For us, that was unique and gave us more perspective."
Upon graduating with her Bachelor’s of Science in Animal Science with a concentration in pre-veterinary medicine, Kayla decided that she didn't want to pursue higher degree work. She moved back to Jerseyville, married her husband, Spencer, and began a family while building a career she still loves to this day.
“After I moved back home, an opportunity with the Jersey-Calhoun Veterinary Clinic came up. I got hired there as a receptionist before starting to take an interest in technician work, so they trained me for that role. I’ve been an on-the-job trained technician since 2017 and have built a career working for several different clinics. Currently, I’m a veterinary technician at Daniel Randall Veterinary Clinic in Godfrey."
Kayla explained that there are a variety of different opportunities available for those interested in a career as a vet tech, but no matter the route you take, a core facet of this role is a passion to help animals. “They can’t speak, so as a vet tech, you have to speak for them. That’s what makes me feel like I’m in the right field. My dog can’t tell the doctor what’s hurting or what’s wrong, so I go in and figure out what it is and how to fix it. It’s a highly rewarding job."
There are many different roads that this career might take a person. Someone desiring to be a veterinary technician might choose the route that leads to caring for small animals like household pets, while others might seek certification to work with farm animals, exotic animals, or other forms of wildlife, leading to careers in zoos, aquariums, and even universities. Opportunities even exist to work in laboratories. “I looked into the nutrient route at one time so I could work at a feed mill helping formulate livestock food or pet food. It’s a very broad path. A lot of people only think about the vet clinic side, but there’s a lot you can do with it.” And, of course, it serves as a good foundation should one choose to pursue a career as a veterinarian.
Kayla explained that she had a fairly good idea of where she wanted to go in her career, given that education programs try to help students find the specific route they would like to pursue. “In undergrad, I took a variety of classes in the animal science field including equine science classes (including foal watch and a course where we worked with training yearlings), small animal courses, nutrition, reproduction, and courses pertaining to the human-animal bond. As a veterinary technician, you can take further courses to be specialized in specific areas if you prefer. Most technicians don't specialize in anything specific but have the ability to work in many different areas like emergency care, small animal care, large animal care, and others. I have found my place is in general practice with small animals.
While on the subject, Kayla further detailed what the experience of a potential veterinarian in undergrad might look like. “At the University of Illinois, students do many different rounds. You get to do small animal rounds, farm animal rounds, and an equine round. We even had camels and zebras to observe. After completing those rounds, you get to decide where you would like to specialize. While in school, you put feelers out to get your rounds in those specific areas and decide which route you’d like to go, whether that be small animals, small and exotic animals, farm animals, or wildlife, and you don’t have to pick only one. You can determine other specialties as well depending if you’d like to go the general practice route or another route like critical or emergency care."
In reflecting on the course of her life from her cloverbud days in 4-H to her life today, Kayla gives a lot of credit to the 4-H for the role it played in developing her as a young person. “It was a family thing. Knowing I wanted to work with animals kept me up with it and I really enjoyed raising livestock and being a part of a group where people did the same thing. It helped make me the person I am now, developing my leadership abilities and work ethic. It got me interested in the University of Illinois and got me into the 4-H cooperative sorority.” So, to the least, 4-H opened a world of opportunity for her.
“You don’t have to come from a farm to be in 4-H or FFA. You don’t have to have an ag background at all. There are many learning opportunities and experiences to enjoy that will develop your leadership ability and make you a better person for your community. Sure, you learn about the ag industry, but you don’t have to come from a farm."
While reflecting, Kayla raised a strong point regarding her livestock showing background and the impact it had on her as a child. “You have something that relies on you, so it makes you more dependable— more of a hard worker. Your livestock needs to be fed and watered twice a day. Their living area needs to be cleaned regularly. You have to take care of something other than yourself. It shapes you. You can’t just go home and sit on the couch. There are animals to take care of."
It’s that passion for animals that drives Kayla in her career as a veterinary technician, as well as the role she wants animals to play in her family’s life. Today, Kayla has a new dream for her young and growing family, which includes a life with animals in the country, surrounded by goats and probably a good number of rabbits.