Growing up with parents who owned a pet shop sparked a love of animals for a former Tauranga woman recently named New Zealand's vet nurse of the year.

Kate Leveridge, 25, won the title from the New Zealand Veterinary Nursing Association for her work as a veterinary technologist in the intensive care unit of Massey University's Pet Emergency Centre in Palmerston North. The 24-hour-a-day centre provides critical care to pets.

Miss Leveridge said she was over the moon at the win but it was nothing compared with helping her patients and their owners.

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''Seeing an animal you've helped reunite with the owners, that's the real heart-warming thing. I definitely get tears in my eyes when you see animals you've helped save see their owners again.

"There's something magical in that moment,'' she said.

''I guess it's just making a difference in patients' lives, seeing them improve and knowing you've helped them improve. And when you get emergencies on the day - the emergencies I love - you can use all your skills to help them survive. That's what gets me, that adrenaline.''

Miss Leveridge said vet work was something she had always wanted to do since she was a little girl growing up in Brookfield.

''I grew up with my parents owning the pet shop and I think my love for animals started then.''

Miss Leveridge also teaches veterinary and veterinary nursing students. In her spare time she helped fundraise for guide and special needs dogs. She has also spent holidays volunteering at a desexing clinic in Ecuador and has recently applied to volunteer for similar work in Tonga.

Miss Leveridge said she was grateful for the support she had received over the years, especially from her "vet idol" Nick Sygrove from Vet Care Bethlehem.

''When I was still in training I'd always come home and he would let me do practical work with him. He gave me his own dog for me to practise on.''

Miss Leveridge recently headed an inaugural weekend of professional development workshops for vet nurses throughout New Zealand to learn hands-on training such as CPR with animal mannequins.

''Everything is quite challenging but I guess that's what I love. If it was easy you wouldn't push yourself and keep learning. That's the big thing. The more you learn, the more you realise that you need to keep learning. That's why I created this workshop.''

At home, Miss Leveridge is the proud owner of a cat named Prince Stanley Whiskers, or Stan for short.

Dean of Veterinary Sciences associate professor Jenny Weston said Miss Leveridge was an outstanding example of the high quality of Bachelor of Veterinary Technology graduates.

''We're very proud of Kate's achievement and how she presented herself during the judging process. It's great to have her teaching students within our Veterinary Teaching Hospital and being such a positive role model."