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First-year veterinary student Kari Kondratowicz of Saskatoon, Sask. Supplied photo.

Veterinary student in her ‘happy place’ with animals

Kari Kondratowicz still recalls the excitement of her high school work placement at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine’s (WCVM) veterinary teaching hospital.

“I was working in the biggest and best animal hospital in Western Canada, and I’ll never forget my first day … when I was allowed to observe my very first canine surgery,” says Kondratowicz, a first-year veterinary student at the WCVM. “I changed into my scrub suit, cap, mask and shoe covers and walked into the surgery suite as the vet made his ventral midline incision with a Sarah McLachlan ballad playing in the background.”  

Kondratowicz is a Saskatchewan farm girl who grew up with mud on her boots and a childhood that revolved around animals. When she started getting an allowance at age eight, it was spent either on toys for her pets or donations to the local SPCA.

Her family raised purebred Charolais cattle, and their dinner conversations revolved around cattle talk, discussing the latest research in genetics and pedigrees while comparing conformation of cattle listed in the sale catalogues.

Kondratowicz credits her success at judging cattle in the ring based on those discussions and the experience she gained in the pens. She represented Saskatchewan at an international judging competition in Montana and finished in the top five for Team Saskatchewan at the Canadian National 4-H and Youth Judging Competition.

One of her favorite activities was walking the pens to select purebred cattle for the family’s purebred breeding operation, Bar K Charolais, and for their show string. She was involved with feeding, fitting and clipping the prized show cattle, and over the years they won numerous champion show titles including National Reserve Grand Champion Bull at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto, Ont.

In addition to spending 10 years in 4-H beef and light horse clubs, Kondratowicz belonged to Pony Club and participated in western and English equestrian events.

After high school, Kondratowicz decided to try a taste of big city life. She earned a Diploma at Vancouver Film School, began working as a producer and ended up managing business affairs for entertainment companies in Vancouver and Toronto.

A successful producer, Kondratowicz was enjoying her busy, fast-paced life in the entertainment industry, when everything changed — her dad died in a traffic accident.

“The greatest challenge I’ve overcome is the adversity I faced after my Dad’s sudden passing. Life did not stop, though the pain and trauma of abruptly losing him affected me tremendously. I started questioning everything in my life, including my reasons for pursuing my first career in film and television.”

Feeling the need to get back to her roots and find her “happy place,” Kondratowicz began working with animals again — quickly becoming a staff member at the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre in Vancouver where she was part of the team to successfully rehabilitate the Vancouver Aquarium’s first harbour porpoise. It was working at the centre that reignited her passion for veterinary medicine.

“The loss of my father inspired me to seek out my true goals and aspirations in life. I decided that I needed change, and I wanted to make a difference. And so I began pursuing the career I’d dreamed of when I was eight years old.”

She moved back to Saskatchewan where she completed a degree in biomedical sciences and spent many hours volunteering at the WCVM and local veterinary clinics and working at the Saskatoon Zoo.

Kondratowicz began the four-year veterinary program at the WCVM in mid-August. Today, she and her 78 classmates receive an official welcome to the WCVM and the veterinary profession during a white coat ceremony in Saskatoon, Sask.

Kondratowicz appreciates the support and encouragement she received from her family, as well as the veterinarians, professors and colleagues she met along the way. While she can see herself working in a mixed private practice after graduation, Kondratowicz plans to keep her options open — experience has taught her that it’s hard to predict where life will take you.

Right now she’s enjoying the excitement of new beginnings and looking forward to the next four years.

“I feel like I was born to do this,” says Kondratowicz. “Every experience in my life has shaped me and led me to a career in veterinary medicine. This journey has challenged me, but I’m proof that it’s never too late to pursue your true dreams.”
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