Susan Turner: Animal Care Student


My name is Susan Turner, and I am 56 years old. I currently live in Galashiels, in the beautiful Scottish Borders. I was brought up in Leicester, where I gained a qualification in secretarial skills.

I worked in a variety of jobs, eventually working for 16 years in the NHS. In 2016, my husband died quite suddenly and I made the decision to move to Galashiels to start a new life with my then 11-year-old son, to be closer to family members. My son struggled with anxiety after losing his dad and my life was concentrated on getting him back to mental wellbeing and ensuring that he was the best person he could be in life.

Once my son was enjoying life again, I decided it was time to do something that I wanted to do for myself, something that I had wanted to do for several years. When I was young, I was always bringing ‘new pets’ home, and then being told to ‘take them back to where I got them from’. I have always had a vision to open a pet hotel, looking after other people’s animals whilst they are on holiday or unable to look after their pets themselves.

I enrolled on an NC in Animal Care course at the Borders College, Newtown St Boswells. Returning to education was very daunting at first but I soon felt very welcomed by all the students and tutors at the college. I am quite a rotund lady and took great delight in trying to find PPE to fit me, I had to chop about 30cm off the bottom of my boiler suit just to fit my little legs.

My first year was hard work as I was studying and looking after both my son and my elderly parents. I found new skills to learn and enhanced some of the things I had learned from previous jobs. I felt respected by the other students in my class and was encouraged by them to try new things. They also helped with tasks that I found difficult. Being a mature student meant learning a new way of doing things and using technology in the classroom.

There was lots of classroom work and plenty of time with the animals. Some of the subjects we covered were accommodation and handling of small animals, record keeping, safe working practices, small animal feeding, dog grooming and avian care. We also had to cover core subjects including English and Maths: the qualification I had previously gained in these subjects were so old that they didn’t exist anymore.

In this year I was nominated for a Lantra ALBAS Animal Care Learner of the Year. I was so proud to be nominated. As the awards were online due to Covid my son and I dressed in our finest and sat in front of the computer to watch the proceedings. I was so proud when my name was announced as the winner.

We ended the first year working from home and taking all our classes online. The way the course was structured was that half the year group took practical first and then classroom studies. Unfortunately, my class group studied in the classroom first and then were due to take practical lessons. This meant no practical skills in Year one. Year two, HNC Animal Care, was also entirely online. I quite enjoyed working online as I am focused and able to give the time to study. My son was also studying from home, so we set a timetable for studies and stuck to it.

Year three, my HND Animal Care, coincided with the reopening of the world and although the classroom element was still online, we were able to meet up to do practical lessons. A trip to the coast for environmental studies, walking through the woods learning about what was under our feet, cleaning out the animals and meeting up face-to-face with our peers. It also gave me an opportunity to do some work experience.

I was fortunate enough to get a placement at the Borders College working with the Schools Academy. Working with the young people allowed me to practice what I had been learning over the previous two years. I really enjoyed teaching the school pupils and although sometimes challenging I gained so much from it. I have now decided to try and follow a path working with young adults in education. The feedback I have received from the young people and the other tutors was positive and has encouraged me to try for jobs in this field.

Unfortunately, at Christmas, both my parents became very ill, and I had to stop my studies to look after them. But they are now back to the best health they can expect, and I am hoping to complete my HND this year and graduate from Borders College. I fell back into studying quite easily and am now getting on very well. I am in a small group, and we are a great team. I am also doing some work experience at Borders College in an animal care environment. As well as working with the tutors, I am helping a student on a one-to-one basis with their learning.

Earlier this year I was asked by Lantra if I could attend the Borders schools’ careers fairs and I opted to attend them all. What an opportunity. I really enjoyed it. I met some wonderful students who were really focused on what they wanted to do with their lives. I also met some who had no idea what they wanted to do in the future. I talked to them, and I listened to them.

I talked about various career opportunities in rural skills, and I heard some of their parents try to put them off being “outside in all weather” taking on a “thankless task”, but really is that what it is all about? It’s about doing something that you enjoy. A career now is not for life. Follow a path and change things if you need to. I had been stuck in an office for years and finally I am doing something that I really enjoy, something I have always wanted to do. I can recommend to anyone who is thinking of changing career and doing something you enjoy whether by choice or circumstance – Go for It. It really is worthwhile.