As the lead veterinarian for ZooTampa's David A Straz Jr. Manatee Critical Care Center, Dr. Lauren Smith's day-to-day routine includes working with wild animals as big as refrigerators (or bigger). Manatees are gentle creatures, but they're still a lot to handle, particularly when being rescued after an injury and then returned to the water.

But Smith is up to the challenge.

A former military kid born in Texas, she graduated from Texas A&M's College of Veterinary Medicine in 2010. After working as a pet vet for several years, she was chosen to study aquatic animal medicine at the University of Florida -- an internship that took her to facilities across the state, including The Florida Aquarium, Clearwater Marine Aquarium, and ZooTampa at Lowry Park, Florida's only non-profit facility for treating manatees.

After a return to private practice and a brief time living in Alaska, Dr. Smith returned to Tampa Bay and joined the staff of ZooTampa as an associate veterinarian in 2015 and became the zoo's lead manatee vet.

By visiting ZooTampa, you're helping Dr. Smith and her team with their mission to protect and conserve Florida's native wildlife.

DYK: From November to April, manatees migrate inland to find warmer waters. Here's where you can meet them.