The walls of Galina Cotton’s tiny office give testament to her professional and personal interest in animals: Rats of various hues peer out from posters and two plush guinea pigs perch on a high shelf. Nearby is a patchwork mouse, framed in a wooden embroidery hoop, which Cotton confessed was a gift that her daughter received “until I begged her for it.” Cotton is one of two caretakers for the hundreds of research animals in the psychology building.
How long have you worked for the UI?
I have been at the university for five years, all in the same position. I was a waitress for 15 years before I came to the university. I took a computer class on Prairienet over the Internet and wanted to learn more. I went to Personnel Services and began comparing salaries and qualifications for different jobs. This was the first job I tested for, not really thinking they’d call me on it.
What do you do every day?
I take care of the laboratory animals. We’re kind of a service for the researchers and are there to speak for the animals, protect their health and make sure that they are not suffering, ever. We’re policing the researchers; we work for the department of animal resources, which recently took us over. Each facility used to have its own animal-care workers. Now all animal-care people work for the department of animal resources.
There are several hundred animals in the building, mostly rodents. We check their feed and water and monitor their health. We look each of them over every single day. We make sure their environmental factors are good, like the temperature and the humidity, and change their cages every week. Because we’re an accredited research institution, there are all kinds of guidelines that we have to follow.
We have to keep track of all the data on them, including their offspring and dates of birth. Our animals are actually better taken care of than pets, even my pets at home, and I love my pets.
What kinds of research are they used for?
In the psychology building, there’s a lot of learning and memory studies as well as a study on estrogen vs. soy. There’s a researcher studying Alzheimer’s disease and another study on mercury levels in fish and water. Fish eat other fish and the mercury levels get concentrated. Then people in certain places eat the fish and end up with health problems.
What kinds of skills does one need to do your job?
Common sense. Surprisingly, that doesn’t come as easily as you’d think. You have to have compassion but also an understanding that it’s better that an animal not suffer. It’s also nice to be personable because we get to know the people who work here and they trust us.
What do you like most about what you do?
The people and the freedom. I get my assignments for the week, and then every day I just do it. I can kind of change things around somewhat. I like that freedom. The job is kind of isolated but it gives you time to think, so it’s nice.
What’s the most challenging part about what you do?
Making sure that I see any injuries or disease on an animal. I have to go into a room with over 100 animals and inspect each one. One could be sitting on its tail, and you might overlook a sore on its tail until the next day, and you don’t want to miss things like that. Sometimes it’s hard because we have the animals scattered throughout the building and my boss and I are the only full-time workers.
What kinds of pets do you own?
We have two parrots – a sun conure and a dusky conure. The sun conure is almost a year old, and we’ve had the dusky conure about two years. The dusky conure is green with a gray head. They are the most docile and sweetest parrots there are. The sun conure is more colorful, but what the dusky conure lacks in appearance she makes up for in her cuddliness.
What other things do you like to do?
I like movies and I like to read a lot. I’m reading cognitive works, which are related to my job. I like to spend time with my husband, Tony; our 16-year-old son, Anthony; and our 10-year-old daughter, Mariah.