KRISTEN BEITZEL, Class of 2011, was fresh out of high school in 2005 when she acquired a job as a receptionist at a local veterinary hospital. She eventually graduated to become a veterinary technician, and although she knew she wanted a career working with animals, she never realized how the job would impact her life.
Back then, Kristen was having a rough time. The effects of a personal trauma she’d endured in high school had escalated approximately 6 months after graduation. Emotionally, the California native was experiencing severe panic attacks, depression and other symptoms related to post traumatic stress so life became difficult and it was getting worse – until that day a black Labrador puppy showed up at the veterinary clinic with its owners.
“The owners had this Lab puppy for less than a week, but they also had three Jack Russell’s at home and they decided adopting the puppy was not the best decision they could have made,” Kristen recalled. “They asked if anyone wanted her, and I said, ‘I’ll take her.’”
Kristen named the puppy Nietzsche. At the time, she thought she was merely adopting a companion dog, but that puppy soon became her savior. Nietzsche had an intuition when it came to the Kristen’s mental issues. The pup routinely sensed the onset of a panic attack — even before she did — and reacted by body slamming her or licking her in the face. If the attack persisted, Nietzsche would find someone in another part of the house and get him or her to follow her to Kristen.
Eventually Kristen was diagnosed with the mental disorder and began treatment. As she grew stronger emotionally, she decided it was time to further her education. Although she’d given up her dream of becoming a veterinarian, her experience with Nietzsche solidified the fact that she wanted to stay in the business end of the veterinary field.
“I started looking for business degrees online and saw that Tiffin University ranked high,” she said. In 2011, she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Business Management and now works as the practice administrator at three Valdez Veterinary hospitals based near San Francisco.
“I oversee about 54 employees,” she commented. “I also oversee finances, scheduling, resources and hiring/firing. I work with both doctors and clients.”
Ten years later, Nietzsche continues to work with Kristen, particularly after she was diagnosed six years ago with another debilitating disease.
“In 2009, I was diagnosed with Lupus, which is an auto-immune disease. When Nietzsche won’t let me out of her sight, it usually means my immune system is in the process of going haywire,” Kristen explained. “She ‘braces’ for me, helps me with stairs and will even pick up items when needed.”
Nietzsche has completed service dog training, and most recently, was in the running for the 2015 American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards. Although Nietzsche did not garner the top spot in her category, that fact is of little consequence to Kristen who knows that her beloved black Lab is a hero every day.
“Not all disabilities are visible. If you saw me, you’d never know I had trouble walking or that I had panic attacks,” she said, “I truly believe I would not be here today if this miracle hadn’t come into my life. The petite Labrador has saved me in more ways than one. She is a natural hero.”