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On the Job: Kathie Benko

Kathie Benkoi
Photo by
L. Brian Stauffer

Kathie Benko, a chief clerk at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, spends her days helping pet owners take care of their furry friends and goes home at night to care for her own menagerie, which includes dogs, cats, birds and ferrets.

« Click photo to enlarge

INSIDE ILLINOIS, May 6, 2010  | Anna K. Herkamp, Assistant Editor | 217-333-5491

What do you do as a chief clerk at the Veterinary teaching hospital?

Basically, we’re all in client services. There are five other people who work with me. It’s like a hospital, so when you come in we do the check-in, make charts up, and check them out. We talk to them about billing and financing. We answer all the phone calls and then decide where the calls go. We check in emergencies, that kind of stuff. Client services says it all – you help the pet owners.

What services are offered?

It’s a hospital, so we have specialty medicine here – like surgery, orthopedics, oncology.  In addition, each department can host clinical studies for certain kinds of diseases. For example, if there’s a specific cancer they’re studying, the (participating patients) receive veterinary care or a new drug. We have one clinical study by the dermatology department for allergies. The treatment isn’t (always) free, but a lot of it is covered. So, for example, my dog had cancer and I had to pay for the chemotherapy, but other portions of it the study were paid for. The trials help the researchers learn more about certain types of disease.

What kinds of animals does the hospital serve?

Everything considered a small animal, but mainly dogs and cats. We also serve exotics, which includes guinea pigs, hamsters and reptiles. They even treat animals such as tigers, which is really cool. A tiger is considered a small animal because it’s a cat.

Where do the tigers come from?

Some zoos, but mostly from the exotic rescue in Indiana – they come in sedated, but they’re so neat.

What does a veterinary hospital do for reptiles?

I guess it depends on which one – lizards are different from snakes. Basically, a lot of people don’t know what to feed them, so some lizards – like bearded dragons or iguanas – might come in with a calcium deficiency. A lot of people just feed them crickets and put them under a sun lamp and think they’ll be fine, but they have a lot of different nutritional needs.

How long have you worked here?

I’ve been here 13 years. I worked at the (Illini Union) Bookstore for 10 years before that. The whole thing is the animals. I love seeing them. It’s so much fun and I’m a total animal person. I have a house full of them.

What pets do you have?

Seven dogs, two cats, two ferrets and two birds. (The dogs) are large dogs: two mastiffs, a Newfoundland, a mastiff mix, a lab, a shepherd and a Pekingese. It is fun … and it’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of cleaning – the fur, every day – but it’s worth it to me.

Why work at the UI?

I love working here. I’m happy because I love seeing animals. You have to be an animal person to work here. If you weren’t, it would be hard to work here. I also like the wildlife people bring in.

What kinds of wildlife?

People bring in all kinds of wildlife to the (Wildlife Medical Clinic): injured hawks, owls, and we get a lot of bunnies, possums and some really unusual animals. Big, giant snapping turtles are cool.

What’s the worst thing about your job?

The worst thing about my job is when I see clients on a regular basis and so I bond with the owners and the pet. It’s very hard when the pets die. Our pets are members of the family.

Is there something about your department most people don’t know or would find surprising?

I think a lot of people don’t realize what this hospital does. They think it’s like a vet office, but that is not the case. We’re a specialized hospital, and people are surprised there are so many departments. They don’t realize your dog can get chemotherapy or cataract surgery.

Besides being a pet owner, what do you like to do for fun?

Pets are the big thing, but I love cooking. I love ‘Iron Chef’ kind of stuff. I love watching the Food Network. I love unusual foods. And I love to do a lot of Chinese cooking. My parents owned a Chinese restaurant in the Chicago area.

Favorite places to eat in Champaign-Urbana?

I really like Miko’s – it serves sushi. I also like places like El Toro.

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