College Grad Spotlight: Happy Pets Employee Cassandra Balsley

Cassandra Balsley was always interested in the medical world. For years, she wanted to be a neurosurgeon or pediatrician. She also dabbled with the idea of becoming an elementary school teacher, as she volunteered at a preschool for many years. However, when she was fifteen years old, she chose to pursue the animal care profession. Her goal is to improve animal health and care for not only those in her own community but for others around the world. Her path started at a young age because her love for animals was all consuming and brought her joy and happiness.

When Cassandra was eight years old, she got her first dog, Shiloh, a yellow lab and Vizsla mix. That is a wonderful age to get a first dog because it helps teach responsibilities and creates a great bond. Previously, Cassandra interacted with her grandparents’ golden retrievers and always wanted to have a dog of her own. Shiloh is the dog who started Cassandra’s true love for animals and her passion to help and protect them. Shiloh unfortunately developed cancer and passed away at the age of ten when Cassandra was sixteen. His disease left unanswered questions, catalyzing Cassandra’s drive to become a vet and leading to her particular interest in cancer research. During her junior year at Arizona State University, she was excited for the opportunity to help an ASU professor with his cancer research, which involved analyzing patterns of cancer susceptibility across the animal kingdom from an evolutionary perspective. From this project, Cassandra was able to develop her own research project examining cancer patterns across different dog breeds and the effect inbreeding may have on increasing cancer risk. She hopes to further her research in vet school and potentially specialize in oncology.

Before Shiloh passed away, Cassandra got one of her current dogs, Daisy, who is a Black Lab mix and has now been in the family for six years. She also recently adopted a 10-week-old yellow lab puppy named Lincoln. Lincoln has been a new experience for Cassandra as she has never had and/or trained a new puppy. This new adventure has been helpful to her in seeing what it is like to raise a dog from the beginning. She has learned the importance of puppy socializing, repetition, unconditional love, and felt the joy of getting a good night’s sleep (any other puppy owner would understand). Lincoln has started his puppy training through the Happy Pets puppy program, where he has learned to sit, lay down, shake, and stay. Cassandra is currently working on training Lincoln to walk on a leash properly, as her other dog, Daisy enjoys pulling Cassandra around during walks (Daisy gets very excited). Lincoln has been growing up so fast and will soon be able to join the big dogs at Happy Pets.

After graduating from Red Mountain High School in 2014 and starting her undergraduate studies at ASU, Cassandra started working at Happy Pets Palace. During her job interview, she made it known that her goal was to become a veterinarian. Happy Pets was a perfect place for her to be exposed to hundreds of dogs, of all sizes and personalities, and learn dog language. As she later observed during her vet shadowing experience at Mesa Northeast Animal Hospital, understanding how dogs communicate their feelings to humans and/or other dogs is an important concept to grasp. At the animal hospital, Cassandra shadowed three veterinarians, all who showed the passion for helping animals and humans alike. There, she learned the in and outs of a vet clinic, further solidifying her decision to become a vet.  Along with her animal and vet experience from Happy Pets and Mesa Northeast, Cassandra completed her honors thesis on cancer in dogs, participated in Sparky’ Service Dogs, a club at ASU that allows students to train service dogs, worked as a pet sitter and travelled to Cambodia, with her coworker, Shannon, to volunteer at a local village school and an elephant sanctuary.

Last December, Cassandra graduated with a Bachelor of Sciences in Biological Sciences (with a concentration in neurobiology, animal physiology and behavior) and a minor in Anthropology from ASU. She was awarded Summa Cum Laude with a 3.89 GPA and graduated from Barrett’s, the Honors College. Cassandra is looking forward to entering vet school at Colorado State University in Fall of 2018. It’s wonderful when young adults recognize what makes them happiest and follow a path incorporating those interests into their lives.

Cassandra has transitioned to a full-time employee at Happy Pets and her added responsibilities will be helpful toward her future vet career. She will be spending more time talking with dog owners which will help her become more comfortable and develop a personable “bedside manner” as well as helping her overcome shyness. Cassandra will also be learning office skills and supervisory duties for her future role. Thriving in the veterinary field requires not only extensive medical knowledge but also the ability to understand how to run a good business. Learning to lead a team, managing money, interacting with customers, and maintaining a good workflow are all essential components of being a vet. Cassandra is grateful to have the opportunity to learn not only how to interact with dogs, but also how to manage a successful business.

Besides learning about dog language and running a business, Cassandra enjoys playing with the dogs and seeing their happy faces every day. To her, this is the reason she wants to pursue a vet education. Her ultimate goal is to make sure every pet can live happy and healthy as the one she encounters every day at work. She is able to share this love for dogs and all animals with her co-workers, who many of them also want to pursue a career involving animals. She cherishes all the friendships she has made during her three years of working at Happy Pets.

Co-worker, Mia Powers, a Shift Leader with Happy Pets, enjoys working with Cassandra. “Cassandra has a friendly personality and she’s going places in this world. She has an amazing connection with animals and they all adore her,” she said.

Choosing a profession requires careful consideration. Following your passions and doing what makes you happy will lead to career fulfillment. When you can identify something that brings you joy when you perform routine job tasks, it will help you stay on course. Surrounding yourself with like-minded people who share similar interests and values can be incredible because of the encouragement you’ll receive and the natural friendships that can form. Although the vet field can be challenging and requires patience and dedication, Cassandra believes it is the best field to fulfill her dreams and make a difference in animals’ lives as well as the people who care so deeply for them.

Here at Happy Pets, we love having Cassandra on our team. She is helpful in so many ways and we are thankful for having such a great employee for three and a half years. When she goes to vet school in a few months, she will be missed but we know there will be greatness in the next chapter of her life and the pets whom she will be helping.