C-A-W-A. When you see those 4 letters after someone’s name, it means they’ve distinguished their skills in an already demanding field—and have passed a very comprehensive exam. We’re thrilled to introduce you to current CAWAs here on the blog, in hopes that you’ll be inspired to join their ranks. Shining in our November spotlight, meet Jessica Des Lauriers, Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at San Diego Humane Society.
The Association: How long have you been a CAWA?
Jessica Des Lauriers: 1 year.
The Association: How do you explain the concept of CAWA to folks who aren’t yet familiar with it?
Jessica Des Lauriers: The CAWA designation is an achievement of an animal welfare professional who has committed their career to best practices in animal sheltering.
The Association: How did you prepare for the CAWA exam?
Jessica Des Lauriers: I took this on during the beginning of the pandemic. I thought it would be a good opportunity to commit to studying. I am sure glad I made that commitment! Right away, I joined a study group of talented animal welfare professionals from across the U.S. We met virtually 2-3 days per week, and would discuss the chapters that we assigned ourselves during the previous study time. I found it to be extremely beneficial to discuss the readings and have a better understanding of the material. Most of all, I have built such a special bond with this group of people and feel so lucky to have them in my life. I also would read daily and made lots and lots of flashcards.
The Association: Walk us through exam day. How did you feel before, during, after?
Jessica Des Lauriers: I woke up very early on the day of the exam to allow myself time to work through my flashcards. I am already a nervous test taker, but I wanted to utilize every moment before the test. During the exam, I paced myself, yet thoroughly read each question. Once the test was over, it felt great to see my hard work and commitment paid off. I felt good about the exam, and that it was behind me.
The Association: Who is a current CAWA you look up to, and why?
Jessica Des Lauriers: My supervisor and mentor, Gary Weitzman, DVM, MPH, CAWA. When I shared with him that I was thinking about signing up for the test, he strongly encouraged me to do so and supported me along the way. He recognizes and respects the value in being a CAWA.
The Association: How has becoming a CAWA impacted your career?
Jessica Des Lauriers: We are currently in the process of redesigning our adoptions building at San Diego Humane Society. Having the knowledge from the CAWA reading materials has guided me in the process and made it much easier.
The Association: How have others in the industry reacted to your certification?
Jessica Des Lauriers: I feel like my colleagues look to me as an “expert,” and that is such a great feeling.
The Association: One last question. Share one piece of practical advice for those considering becoming a CAWA.
Jessica Des Lauriers: Make sure you commit to your study schedule, and sign up for a study group!