Zoo keeper’s experience started at Tolles

Amber Riley For The Madison Press

December 16, 2013

If you ask Deborah Miller, she’d say that being a zoo keeper is an amazing job and people do it because they love animals and want other people to have the chance to learn about them. She’d also add, that it’s not an easy path to pursue, but its completely worth it.

Miller, a Tolles graduate, who is now a seasonal keeper at the Lee Richardson Zoo in Garden City, Kansas, is fully trained on working with giraffes, holding and spotting for elephant footwork and bathing and has nearly completed training with addax and camels. Her role at the Kansas zoo will keep her busy until May. Her next goal is to make her way back to the Columbus Zoo or obtain a full-time position at another zoo.

“Becoming a zoo keeper can be a long journey. I know keepers who were seasonals for more than 10 years before a full-time opportunity came available. It’s a very competitive field and turnover is low. You have to have connections and experience — that’s why interning and being a seasonal keeper are important in becoming successful,” says Miller.

To gain the necessary experience, Miller traveled to New Zealand in 2010 to focus on studying human and animal interactions. The time abroad was very similar to the time she spent in Ohio visiting different wildlife parks, zoos, dairy farms, sheep farms and quarter horse congress so she was able to compare and contrast the two, making it a great opportunity to learn about another culture and how industries vary. Internships also played a key role in preparing for the complex job of being a zoo keeper. Miller interned at an animal clinic in North Ridgeville, Ohio, where she observed and scrubbed in on a few orthopedic surgeries. “It was a great experience and I learned a lot about emergency medicine and how a large vet hospital works,” Miller expressed.

Once very sure that her path would lead to veterinary school, by the time Miller was a senior at The Ohio State University, she had decided not to pursue that field. Instead, she applied her passion for animals at an internship with the Columbus Zoo where she worked in the Asia Quest region of the park. Later she was offered a job as a seasonal keeper for pachyderms. If it all goes as Miller hopes, her experience will lead her back home to central Ohio and she’ll build her career at the Columbus Zoo.

Now a graduate of OSU, Miller began thinking about her future early in high school. She applied and was accepted to the Pre-Veterinary Tech program at Tolles Career & Technical Center. “Going to Tolles helped me in so many ways. Being in the Pre-Vet Tech program you learn a lot about the industry and about other jobs you can have in the animal field. You get great hands-on experience in the lab and you learn a lot about animal behavior. And, it has helped me in my career path with exotic animals as well. I’m so thankful that I got the opportunity to go through the program and I love going back to talk to the classes about my experiences,” Miller affirms.

For more information about programs at Tolles, call (614) 873-4666 or visit

Tolles Career & Technical Center is an Ohio school of choice offering students the opportunity to specialize in one of 22 program areas in addition to rigorous academics and the opportunity to earn dual enrollment credit from local post-secondary institutions. Tolles is located south of Plain City and serves: Dublin, Fairbanks, Jonathan Alder, Hilliard, London, Madison-Plains, and West Jefferson.