A nontraditional path: a second start for a “Vet Cat”

Jan. 1, 2024

Student Profile: Ariana Bootier

Ari and horse

For Ariana (Ari) Bootier, the challenges just kept coming – from homelessness to injury, to discouragement. 

But nothing would stop her from pursuing her lifelong dream of veterinary medicine. 

Now, as a nontraditional student and current senior, Ari’s already received confirmation of early acceptance into the Vet Cat Early Assurance Program at the University of Arizona College of Veterinary Medicine, and she knows this is only the beginning of a limitless future.


A life around animals

Reflecting on her early life, Ari says, “I've essentially dedicated a lot of myself to animal science and vet science.”

Originally from Massachusetts, Ari grew up on a horse farm, surrounded by all kinds of animals from a very early age. Beyond that, she attended a unique agricultural high school that allowed her to focus on equine science and canine obedience and handling. 

As an adult, Ari worked as a vet tech for 12 years, which prompted her passion for animal diagnosis and treatment plans. She wanted to provide excellent quality of life for animals while enhancing patient and client care.


Obstacles to overcome

Ari set out to attend college at 18 years old. Looking back now, however, she can say that she was not ready for the demands of college after graduating high school – a fact she points out is okay to admit about oneself. 

During this first college experience, she ended up homeless and living out of her car. This impacted her grades and emotional state, which eventually led to her leaving college.

Ari shares that she struggles with severe and social anxiety, which has been a lifelong challenge. She often shares this fact with other students to let them know that they’re not alone. 

But Ari held on to her dream of becoming a veterinarian, even when she was discouraged by her coworkers at the vet clinic where she worked as a tech. A veterinarian once told her she would never get into vet school and that she was wasting her time. 

Even with that discouragement, Ari refused to take no for an answer. She says, “I had put this dream on the back burner years ago because I didn't think that I was good enough. And it's been a process, you know, feeling that worth.” 


Hitting her stride

At 27 years old, Ari went back to college. For her, there was only one program she wanted to pursue – the veterinary science program at the University of Arizona. So, she began taking classes at Pima Community College in preparation to transfer to Arizona.

However, the setbacks weren’t over just yet.

After suffering an accident that pulled her out of the veterinary medicine field she loved so much, she felt lost and hopeless. She was removed from everything she’d ever known. Her grades started to slip again, with her GPA at 2.6, and she was worried she would have to drop out again. But instead of being overwhelmed by her circumstances, Ari took action, reaching out to find a supportive community.

One day, she looked up the clubs at Pima Community College and selected one at random: Phi Theta Kappa. She called the listed contact, Dr. Vorndran, saying, “I’m looking for a space where I can feel included and feel like I matter.” The group welcomed her in. 

Through this experience, Ari began to find new purpose and goals. It gave her hands-on application of her passion. She began to volunteer for every project, throwing herself into the work and supporting other students to do the same. 

She then joined the Honors Club at Pima, starting an honors dog-walking program at Pima Animal Care Center. Students from Phi Theta Kappa and the Honors Club would walk dogs in need of a shelter environment, connecting with others who also had a passion for animals.

It was this initiative that allowed Ari to merit the All-USA Scholarship, which enabled her to transfer over to the University of Arizona after earning her associate degree.

Now, as a current Arizona student, Ari is so thankful for the support of her Phi Theta Kappa and Honors College communities, who have helped her with her honors thesis and provided her with supportive mentors. In addition, Ari’s acceptance into the Vet Cat Honors Early Assurance program has provided her with an encouraging cohort now known as Honors in Veterinary Education (HiVE).

As of writing this, Ari has earned 13 scholarships that have helped cover tuition, food, books and more.


Life as a nontraditional student

At 34 years old, Ari’s journey could represent the experience of so many nontraditional students at Arizona. 

Along with her husband who is also attending school while working, she is navigating a life of bills, work, animals at home, and life responsibilities. Ari takes full responsibility for her education, from her schedule and coursework to her tuition. Fortunately, she has taken advantage of every scholarship opportunity and will continue to apply for anything and everything. 


Animal science highlights

When asked about her favorite experiences in the Arizona animal science program, Ari talks about the Al-Marah Equine Center, a Southern Arizona Experiment Station that houses 76 horses. She worked alongside her mentor, Dr. Cyprianna Swiderski, researching asthma in horses and exploring equine parasitology.  

Ari also had the unique opportunity to give a presentation on removing the fear factor when trimming dog and cat nails. 

The best part? 

She was able to bring in her very own cat for the demonstration. In front of 400 students, Ari and her cat taught the room about best practices, answered questions, and posed for photos.


Final advice

As Ari talks about the obstacles she’s had to overcome, the discouragement she’s faced, and the realities of being a nontraditional student, she encourages fellow students to persevere. She says it’s worth going through the challenges because one appreciates the opportunities that much more. She suggests embracing your most authentic self, the journey you are on, and the people who care about you – this will help you succeed in a way that is meaningful to you. 

And as for her own future, after vet school, Ari looks forward to going where she’s needed. She recognizes that there is a lack of affordable care in the equine industries, and she would like to be part of the solution. Mostly, she’s excited and ready to take the next step to fulfill her lifelong dream of veterinary medicine. 


For more information about the B.S. in Animal Sciences, click here.