Animals occupy a large space in Linda Zehler's heart

Linda Zehler

By Paige Hepner, university news and communications intern

Linda Zehler, director of lab animal research, will retire on May 11 after 32 years of managing and caring for all of Miami’s lab animals.

Zehler earned her associate degree in animal science from Miami University and Ohio State University. After receiving her degree, Zehler worked at a veterinarian clinic in Illinois and earned a management degree from the University of Illinois. She also became certified as a technologist in lab animal science, the highest certification available at the time.

One of Zehler’s favorite jobs before joining Miami was being in charge of research surgery for lab animals at a medical school in Illinois. There, surgeons trained on rabbits to learn Lasik eye laser techniques.

“Working there was very rewarding because the surgeons were physicians that went to hospitals to do the same surgeries on people.”

A career caring for animals

Zehler learned about a laboratory animal supervision position at Miami from a friend in Cincinnati. As the director of lab animal research in the departments of zoology and microbiology, her duties quickly expanded to include psychology and the Ecology Research Center.

At the time, she was in charge of animal colonies that were scattered between multiple buildings such as Boyd, Pearson, Benton and the Ecology Research Center. She is thankful the university built a new psychology building 12 years ago that accommodates for all of the animals under a single roof.

Life inside the lab

Every day in the lab is different, which has made Zehler’s job “a lot of fun.” She starts her day completing rounds and checking on all of the animal health mechanical systems. These systems are crucial for the animals and control things such as specific lighting, temperature and even ventilation. After her rounds, she spends time calling in work orders for broken equipment, caring for sick animals, and focusing on whatever needs to be fixed for the day, before she can set up new studies.

When a new study is proposed Zehler is in charge of finding space for the animals and learning how to properly care for them. She also serves on the institutional animal use committee that reviews, modifies and approves research animal studies on campus to make sure that they are humane and following all regulations.

Studies currently being completed at the university focus on alcohol and drug addiction in rats, social behaviors in prairie voles, and regeneration of limbs in axolotls. In addition, there are also studies being done on a variety of tadpoles, crabs, newts and mice.

One of Zehler’s craziest stories from the lab is when a community member brought in a 5-foot-long boa constrictor that was sick with a condition called rot mouth, “easily” treated by swabbing the animal’s mouth daily.

“I ended up taking the snake home. But one night the snake escaped from my youngest son’s room. I heard rustling in my room and found the snake crawling across our dresser. I’m assuming it was trying to climb in bed with me because it was warm. After that we decided to rehome it.”

Zehler has always been an animal lover and claims she’s owned almost every species of pets.

“I had a tokay gecko for years that a physical facilities employee found on the wall of a dorm. I kept it in my office in an aquarium, (which hopefully, was the regulation aquarium size). I kept some tarantulas as well that were being reared here.”

Life outside the lab

Outside of the lab, Zehler is expecting her first grandchild. She has three Shetland sheep dogs which she trains to compete in agility competitions. She is a member of the Queen City Dog Club and the Hamilton Dog Club. Through these organizations, she teaches classes that train dogs for agility competitions weekly, but she may increase her training frequency upon retirement.

When asked what she will miss most about Miami she did not hesitate, “I will miss the people I work with the most; the faculty staff and students I work with have become lifelong friends.”