A graduate of Rhode Island School of Design (in film, animation, and video), Courtney Hermon-Taylor tried for a while to find work in her field, but her films were "too gory" and nobody would hire her. Two weeks at an office job had her ready to slit her wrists, so she responded to a classified ad looking for a veterinary technician. That was 1996. Since then she's patched up hundreds of animals around the country. Her healing hands have a way with automobiles, too: Hermon-Taylor frequently moonlights as a mechanic, and her 1973 Starsky & Hutch Gran Torino is a fixture at the local drag races.

As an animal lover, does your work ever get to you?

You have to keep in the back of your mind that no matter what you're doing to the animal, you're actually helping them. Yes, you're hurting them when you stick them with needles; you're hurting them when you put catheters in. But it's amazing how many animals really do understand that you're trying to help them. When I work with an animal that's slightly aggressive, I say, "Please don't bite me." And you know, they've never bitten me.

You're also mechanically inclined.

Yes. They go together. I work with my hands a lot and love doing technical things. I think medical and mechanical stuff are related. One is logic of the body, and the other is logic of machines.

Favorite part of being a vet tech?

Picking at cool little abscesses and making them pop. That's the most entertaining anyway. Spiritually, it's seeing them get better and go home, seeing them run into their owner's arms.

There's got to be really hard days. What happens then?

There's a switch inside me that just shuts off. But not a lot of people have it. I worked with a doctor who cries at every euthanasia.

How many animals do you have at home?

Dommie, my little kitty, named for Domino Harvey (a model turned bounty hunter), Zero Bars the senile Doberman, and Nigel the absolutely intelligent pit bull cross who can speak on command. He won best freestyle dog at the Matador's dog contest. I have canaries—the girl lays infertile eggs and the boy never fucks her and I feel like that's my life. I also have a Siamese fighting fish, Bangkok. It's amazing how dirty his water can get and he doesn't die. I learned that fighting fish are so hardy because, in their native habitat, they live in horse hoof prints that fill with water and mud. A Thai lady told me that.