October 21, 2022

Jennifer Taris earned a bachelor degree in finance and a master’s in business many years ago. After a career in corporate finance and raising a family, she is back in the classroom working toward an associate degree. Her educational journey represents a lifelong learning process.

Taris, 52, is studying Veterinary Technology at Great Bay Community College in Portsmouth. Her goal is not to work as a tech in a Seacoast veterinary office, but to be better equipped and more useful as an animal-rescue volunteer for the Humane Society of the United States, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and other organizations.

Taris, of Pelham, travels around the world where animals are in peril because of climate disasters, abuse, and neglect. She has volunteered across the United States and internationally in Fiji, Belize, and the Marshall Islands.

“Going to those places, I always work in recovery, helping the animals recover after surgery. But I could be more helpful if I had more medical knowledge,” she said. “I am going to take the knowledge I gain at Great Bay and continue my volunteer work, but in a higher capacity. I will be more helpful and versatile.”

Her animal-rescue volunteer work began about a decade ago. After a beloved pet cat passed away, she adopted two kittens and decided to return her appreciation by volunteering for the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. One thing led to another, and soon she was volunteering for national organizations, traveling to places where animals were suffering.

“All those TV commercials you see? That’s where we help. Usually, we get called in by authorities, who say, ‘We need help.’ It’s usually abuse and neglect, dog fighting, puppy mills. When they take animals into their possession, they need people who can help provide daily care. You want to be the first one to show them that all people aren’t terrible. You want to be the first one to give them love and care.”

Taris also volunteers for organizations that send volunteers to locations with populations of stray dogs to provide large-scale spay and neutering services, as well as basic care like vaccines, deworming, and flea-and-tick prevention and treatment.

She spent 10 days in Louisiana last year after Hurricane Ida. The hurricane devasted life for humans and animals alike. She was part of a crew that picked up animals displaced by the storm and brought them to shelters for food and safety.

“A lot of people had to leave their animals when they fled. We were trying to find and feed animals. We also did a lot of feeding in place. We would go to houses that had animals and no people, and we would feed the animals. For people who were stuck at home with their animals, we brought food to them,” she said.

The more she experienced, she more she wanted to do. “I thought, ‘Maybe I want to learn a little more so I could be more helpful.’”

That’s why she turned to Great Bay. Taris is on target to graduate with her associate degree in spring 2024. Before she enrolled, she admits to having a moment of reflection when she wondered, “Am I too old to do this? My background is finance. I love animals, but anatomy and finance are two things that do not go together,” she said.

Would she fit in? Would she feel accepted? Could she do the work?

Going back to school with classmates the ages of her kids could have felt daunting, but Taris said she has felt welcome by students and professors alike. She is not too old, she fits in perfectly well, and she can do the work. “Age does not matter. We are all in the same place,” she said. “Younger students are great. They are very encouraging.