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Animal care fulfilling a lifelong dream

August 16, 2016

Cat Schmidt has excelled at defending IUPUI's goal in women's soccer games.

Catherine "Cat" Schmidt has excelled at defending IUPUI's goal during her Jaguars women's soccer career, but she also enjoys the company of animals -- especially exotic animals -- as an Indianapolis Zoo volunteer. | PHOTO COURTESY OF IUPUI INTERCOLLEGIATE ATHLETICS

On the Carroll Stadium soccer field, junior goalkeeper Catherine Schmidt is determined to keep opponents out of the IUPUI nets. But as an Indianapolis Zoo volunteer -- on the other side of White River from the stadium -- Schmidt is eager for people to come in and visit the animals for which she cares.

Since Schmidt was 13 years old, the IUPUI women's soccer standout has helped tend animals at the zoo, working in the Veterinary Hospital Animal Care/Nutrition department.

Schmidt during her 4-H years.

Catherine "Cat" Schmidt, here with one of her prized pigs, is a longtime Indianapolis Zoo volunteer who also indulges her passion for animal care as a member of 4-H. | PHOTO COURTESY OF CAT SCHMIDT

"My mom could tell you that I've wanted to be a veterinarian ever since I could first speak. It's never changed," said Schmidt, who goes by the nickname Cat. "It's all I've ever wanted to do."

Her volunteer work is typical of the type of experiential learning for which IUPUI is noted. But while she's been volunteering, Schmidt has tended animals of her own in 4-H, as she has done since her days as a student in Zionsville schools.

"In 4-H, I had rabbits, pigs, dairy cows, that sort of thing," she said. "My teammates tease me about it all the time. They even call me 'Dr. Cat.'"

She isn't the only Schmidt family member to care for others. "There are quite a few doctors in my family, but most of them take care of human beings. I grew up focusing on animals," she said.

For Schmidt, caring for animals is a little like solving puzzles, since "animals can't tell you what's wrong." She eventually would like to be a wildlife veterinarian, caring for exotic animals such as tigers, apes and even -- fittingly enough -- jaguars. "That would be appropriate, wouldn't it?" she said with a laugh.

She has also volunteered her time and effort at the Purdue University Animal Teaching Hospital to broaden her horizons. There have been times when she woke in the pre-dawn hours, drove to West Lafayette to work and then drove to the zoo in downtown Indianapolis. But to Schmidt, it's been worth every lost hour of sleep and every mile driven.

"Volunteering at the Indianapolis Zoo has been an incredible opportunity," she said. "I've gotten to learn from great people, those I admire. It has been the most self-fulfilling feeling in the world."

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