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America’s Top Veterinary Heroes Revealed!

Voting now open for the 2022 American Humane Hero Veterinarian and Hero Veterinary Nurse Awards™, sponsored by Zoetis

WASHINGTON, DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, July 28, 2022American Humane, the country’s first national humane organization, today announced that voting is open for the ninth annual American Humane Hero Veterinarian and Hero Veterinary Nurse Awards™, presented by Zoetis. Following the review of more than 500 nominations from animal lovers across the country, a blue-ribbon judging panel of veterinary professionals and animal care experts has selected 10 of the country’s top veterinarians and veterinary nurses as finalists. The public is invited to visit www.HeroVetAwards.org every day between now and September 15 to vote for the 2022 Hero Veterinarian and Hero Veterinary Nurse.

“The world’s animals depend on veterinarians and veterinary nurses, and we are honored to recognize their achievements in saving lives, conducting groundbreaking research, and working on the front lines of animal welfare,” said Dr. Robin Ganzert, president and CEO of American Humane. “Congratulations to this year’s incredible finalists! We encourage every animal lover to join us in giving them our heartfelt thanks by voting in this year’s campaign.”

For millions of Americans, animals are not just their best friends, but their heroes. Behind almost every hero pet (and millions more animals) is a hero veterinarian or hero veterinary nurse. These often-little-known benefactors save and improve the lives of animals every day, and for the past eight years, the American Humane Hero Veterinarian and Hero Veterinary Nurse Awards™ has honored their tremendous achievements. These awards are not limited to companion animal veterinarians. Professionals from all fields of veterinary medicine are eligible for entry including, but not limited to those who work in research, emergency services, shelters, and those who work with large and exotic animals.

“Veterinary teams continue to serve and strengthen our communities during these evolving times by leading the efforts that support the health and wellbeing of the animals that make our lives better,” said Tara Bidgood, DVM, PhD, DACVCP, executive director, Zoetis Petcare Veterinary Professional Services & Medical Affairs. “Zoetis is proud to honor America’s veterinary community by highlighting their life-changing contributions to society, alongside American Humane.”

The winning veterinarian and veterinary nurse, based on public votes, will be recognized at the star-studded “American Humane Hero Dog Awards” gala on November 11 in Palm Beach, Florida.

Meet the 10 heroic veterinarian and veterinary nurse finalists!

Here are the nomination essays written by their supporters:

American Hero Veterinarian finalists

Dr. Lara Croft (Denver, Colorado) – In early fall of 2021, the great resignation became apparent in Denver Zoo’s animal health department. A team of four veterinarians and four certified veterinary technicians (CVTs) was suddenly a team of two veterinarians and three CVTs. With a collection of over 3,000 individual animals across all taxa to care for, the stress was heavy and the workload immense. The continued challenges of Covid and the rise of the Omicron variant, led to many days where team members stayed home to protect themselves and others, leaving an ever more reduced staff. Dr. Lara Croft, one of Denver Zoo’s remaining associate veterinarians, was a true hero for her team, Denver Zoo, and the animals in her care during this time.

Faced with daunting circumstances, Dr. Croft quickly recognized the need to support and guide the animal health and animal care teams, providing a calming voice in the chaos and navigating both difficult and rewarding cases with grace, calm, and a focus.  Whether it was a quality-of-life discussion, development of a birth plan, or continuing to make sure we collected life-saving plasma from our elephants, Dr. Croft helped her team tremendously to navigate a path to success. Her ability to support the team’s efforts by helping prioritize cases, adapt to an ever-changing schedule, and work extra hours and days ensured that every animal received the best care possible and that the team was ready for the next case.

Dr. Croft is surrounded by an amazing team at Denver Zoo and could not have done any of this without them. Through her leadership and positive can-do attitude she united the team providing a continued sense of hope that ensured the medical care of the Zoo’s animals did not falter.  It is this dedication to the care of the animals, the care of the team, and the willingness to step up during challenging times that make Dr. Croft a hero worthy of recognition for the work she did and continues to do every day.

Dr. Raquel Fagan (Mount Dora, Florida)Since becoming the owner of Shamrock Animal Hospital in 2016, Dr. Fagan and her team at Shamrock Animal Hospital have pursued a simple mission.  Do Great Work, Have Fun and Give Back. 

Since 2019, Dr. Fagan has served as the Medical Director for Patriot Service Dogs, a nonprofit organization training service dogs for veterans.  PSD trains service dogs from 8 weeks until around 2 years of age and matches them with a disabled US Veteran at no cost.  By donating her time and resources, along with generous donations of products and services from veterinary industry partners, Dr. Fagan is able to provide all vaccinations, heartworm prevention, spay/neuter services at no cost to Patriot Service Dogs.  On some occasions, that might mean bringing multiple puppies to the office for vaccines, exams or other treatments that may be necessary.  She also speaks with the recipient veterans to go over the basic standards of care to keep the dogs healthy, productive and ready to work after they have been paired with a Patriot Service Dog.

PSD completes a significant portion of training in the largest women’s prison in Florida.  The WOOF program allows incarcerated women to work with and train the dogs on approximately 85 different commands that are critical to their success upon placement.  On multiple occasions throughout each year, Dr. Fagan will come to the prison, along with her technicians, to provide wellness exams and/or vaccinations for dogs that are currently in training at the prison.  Not only does it allow her to see the environment that the dogs are being trained in, but it is also an opportunity to educate the inmate-trainers on a broad range of canine health topics and about opportunities that they may have in the animal health field following their release.

While there are hundreds of volunteers that help to fulfill the Patriot Service Dogs mission, Dr. Fagan and her entire team feel fortunate to be able to make positive changes in the daily lives of Veterans and their families that may have seemed out of reach to many.

Dr. Fagan and her team are a vital part of the PSD team!

Dr. Tarah Hadley (San Antonio, Texas) – Dr. Tarah Hadley, Assistant Director of Veterinary Care at San Antonio Zoo, has been a true champion dedicated to helping exotic animals. She helps lead an 18-person team at the 501c3 non-profit zoo where she was instrumental in setting up protocols to protect endangered species during the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Hadley paved the way with grace by ensuring the zoo’s at-risk species, including lions, tigers and primates, were at the front of the line to receive vaccinations for the SARS-CoV-2 virus. With Dr. Hadley’s help, San Antonio Zoo was one of the first in the nation to administer COVID vaccines to their animals.

Her transformational leadership, unwavering dedication and positive outlook guaranteed the safety of the zoo’s animals during low, record-setting temperatures in 2021. As the worst winter storm to hit San Antonio in decades disrupted the power grid, Dr. Hadley and her team acted fast to evaluate and temporarily rehome hundreds of animals.

A 2002 graduate of Tufts University, Dr. Hadley has always been a passionate advocate for all exotic animals. For years she provided free veterinary care to injured and orphaned wildlife at AWARE Wildlife Center, a 501c3 non-profit in the Atlanta metro area. When she became its Executive Director in 2011, she turned the small center into Georgia’s largest center for wildlife rehabilitation. Under her direction, AWARE rescued, rehabilitated and released more than 3,500 native species each year, including turtles, rabbits and birds. In 2014, she preserved the lives of dozens of animals when an unexpected winter storm brought Atlanta to its knees for days, preventing help from reaching the center.

Recently, Dr. Hadley has been aiding the homeless pet population in San Antonio. She privately hands out free food to the owners of any dog in need. Dr. Tarah Hadley is an exceptional example of a heroic veterinarian who has uplifted many lives with her kindheartedness.

Dr. Joanna Reen (Heath, Ohio) Dr. Joanna Reen is the heart and soul of the TNVR effort that has spayed/neutered and provided medical care for more than two thousand cats in Licking County over the past four years. More than 800 cats received care through the program last year alone. Through her efforts, Licking County TNR became a 501 (c) (3) in October 2018. She’s organized those who care for community cats, colony caregivers, volunteers who help trap, hold and/or transport cats for TNVR, and volunteers who help care for the cats at scheduled clinics. One or two Sundays a month are spent providing spay/neuter, rabies vaccine, parasite treatment and other essential medical care such as limb amputations or antibiotics for upper respiratory issues as indicated in their assessment, even holding cats in her own home for foster or follow-up care in unique situations. She receives no compensation for any of this. Colony assessments, organizing the administrative functions, medical paperwork, emergency medical care for community cats and coordinating TNVR clinics are all done on her own time. Somehow, she has managed to accomplish this while keeping the effort donation-only so that those caring for the cats are able to afford to get their colonies fixed. She has even pulled together the resources to launch a mobile spay/neuter surgical unit, “the Tipmobile,” this summer, doing the renovation of the RV mostly on her own. She is truly an amazing woman without whom there would be no TNR program in Licking County, Ohio.

Dr. Logan Wood (Minot, North Dakota) I have known Dr. Logan for several years. When I first met Dr. Logan, he was working full time as the veterinarian of our local zoo and volunteering in the evenings at our shelter. He would put in a full day at the zoo then spend another 6 hours at the shelter completing intake exams on 100-150 animals coming off transport vehicles from high kill shelters to our no kill shelter. 

As the veterinarian for the Souris Valley Animal Shelter, Dr. Logan is required to work long hours and is on call 24/7. He cares for and does all the initial intakes for the shelter as well as continued follow up care for the animals as they wait in foster homes and in the shelter for their forever homes. Dr. Logan goes above and beyond for these animals. He calls and texts foster families to provide continued care for sick or injured animals and gives advice and encouragement to the family members. Dr. Logan was instrumental in the design and layout of the multimillion-dollar upgrade to our shelter. He will oversee the whole surgical ward and perform required surgical intervention for the shelter animals, in the hopes to eventually open the clinic up to the animals even after they find their forever families.

Dr. Logan has even made house calls on his own time to evaluate sick and/or pregnant dogs, pups, cats, and kittens. He is a humble man that does not want to be in the spotlight, but I have never met anyone so dedicated to the care and wellbeing of animals in our community.

He also volunteers his time with several local indigenous communities, in North Dakota, providing free vaccine clinics and medical care to the people of the Turtle Mountains and MHA (Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara) nations.

American Hero Veterinary Nurse finalists

Cheri Herschell (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)It is my pleasure to nominate Cheri Herschell, CVT, for the Hero Veterinary Nurse Award 2022. Cheri offers immeasurable contributions to Crisis Center North (CCN) and our PAWS for Empowerment Program.

My first exposure to Cheri was in 2010, at a Canine Good Citizen class. My dog, Penny, had made a connection with a counseling client at CCN, the domestic violence (DV) program where I have served as the Executive Director for 23 years. Penny and I graduated with our AKC Canine Good Citizen title after six weeks of training and went on to get our Therapy Dog International certification, as well. My goal was to integrate shelter dogs into our trauma informed services. My second goal was to ensure that Cheri joined our team.

Cheri is instrumental on the nationally recognized PAWS for Empowerment Program. She trains CCN staff on appropriate interactions with working dogs, as well as certifies our canine handler teams who work hands-on with clients in counseling and court work. Her medical expertise as a veterinary technician is invaluable in creating guidelines for our working dogs, ensuring they are both mentally and physically healthy.

In 2018, Cheri joined the team at CCN as a Canine Intervention Specialist. In this position, she has taken on two important roles, one of which is attending magisterial court two days per week as a legal advocate with our newest Canine Advocate, Rune. Her other role ties to her roots as a Veterinary Nurse. DV organizations are keenly aware of the connection between animal neglect/abuse and domestic violence: where animal neglect/abuse exists, it is likely that human abuse exists too. Veterinarians and their staff are at the forefront of recognizing animal neglect and abuse. Utilizing her extensive experience as a Veterinary Nurse, Cheri develops and offers presentations for veterinary staff and students about the intersectionality of human and animal abuse.

Cheri’s 15+ years working as a Veterinary Nurse allow her to make a connection with a community which plays an invaluable role in keeping victims and their companion animals safe. Cheri has reached over 600 veterinary professionals with a tiered curriculum designed to help vets recognize their role as advocates in the fight against family violence. The presentations not only inform veterinary staff of the correlation between animal abuse and DV, but also assist them in recognizing and reporting animal neglect and abuse; signs of human abuse; and how to assist victims to get help. Most recently, Cheri was invited to speak at the AVMA Convention 2022, in Philadelphia, with her presentation titled, “When Domestic Violence Arrives at the Clinic: Intersectionality of Animal Neglect/Abuse and Domestic Violence.” We are delighted that Cheri is taking her message to a national veterinary audience, which will encourage veterinarians to partner with their local DV organizations, be advocates in the prevention of family violence, and keep both ends of the leash safe.

Kayla Stein (Lincolnshire, Illinois) – Kayla Stein is a Veterinary Technician at Lincolnshire Animal Hospital. I first met Kayla when she was working at a clinic near my house when I got a boxer puppy seven years ago. She has been there for all the medical milestones in my dogs’ lives. She has always provided the best care for my babies as their nurse. Through the years we have become friends, and she treats and loves on my babies like they are her own. She has always been a kind and compassionate nurse that goes the extra mile. 

Upon her getting a new position at a different facility, she found out I was going to have to put my older boxer down. Even though she could not be there during one of the hardest times of my life and an unbearable decision, she was in touch with the clinic and worked with the staff there to ensure that everything was in place. That, for me, made it a little more bearable when I was losing my best friend.

She has been the nurse to sit in the kennels with my babies after surgery and let me know they are ok. I trust her immensely with my dogs’ care. I truly believe that someone who loves your babies is important when it comes to their medical care. I started going to a new clinic, even though it’s 45 minutes away, because of Kayla and the trust I have in her, and I am so happy I did because the whole staff there is amazing.

Frank Torres (Tucson, Arizona)I am nominating veterinary technician Frank Torres from Desert Paws Mobile Veterinary Care. When I made my first appointment for my dogs, I was expecting a female technician to come with the veterinarian because the majority of technicians seem to be female (at least from my personal experience). Frank came into the house with the veterinarian, and I was nervous because my dogs can be very nervous. I needn’t have worried at all. Frank sat down and got some treats out and started just tossing them to my dogs since he could see they weren’t sure. Soon one of my dogs was hanging out near him and he was able to help the vet complete her exam with only gentle handling and yummy treats. He is gentle, knowledgeable and friendly; exactly what I needed to feel comfortable with the care my dogs were getting. Note when they have a vet appointment, my dogs know that they will be taken care of, and they know they will get some delicious snacks. Frank’s demeanor, knowledge and willingness to meet the animals at their comfort level make him an excellent veterinary nurse and person.

Katherine Wolcott (Youngstown, Ohio) – Katherine “Kaci” Wolcott, RVT has saved more than 2,400 animals that have been rescued through the Humane Department of Animal Charity of Ohio, since June 2017. She has worked at Animal Charity for six years and has helped treat THOUSANDS more. The 2,400 animals brought into our Humane Department have been abused, neglected, hoarded, abandoned and tortured. She works on felony abuse cases and helps bring justice to many animals who have lost their lives at the hands of their abusers. Kaci is on call 24 hours each day, 365 days per year. Last year, when she was going through cancer treatment, she still worked from home every day and made herself available for emergencies as needed. She currently not only runs appointments in our affordable veterinary clinic during the week, but she maintains the care of more than 130 animals in our shelter daily. Working with Kaci is full of moments that keep our staff motivated and supported. She is the shoulder to cry on, the one with the answers, and the one the whole staff can call a friend. Many animals would have lost their lives if it wasn’t for Kaci. We could not be prouder of her work and spirit.

Cassie Woodward (Gallatin, Tennessee) – I’m not sure how long Cassie has been at the Critter Clinic, but I do know it has been since she was in high school. Through the years we learned that we lived near each other, and she would always wave if she saw us outside.

On a professional side, she really loves these animals! When my dogs go in, she seems to be the only one that they will go get weighed for freely without pulling back. One funny story was when my mom was visiting, she dressed her chihuahua in a Santa suit and the dog got so mad we couldn’t get her out of it. I was so embarrassed to call them, but they told us to bring her down and they would try. Apparently, Cassie is the chihuahua whisperer. She was truly the only one that dog would allow to try to get her out of the outfit. Imagine Cassie’s reaction when I showed up two days later with my mom’s dog AGAIN stuffed in a Santa suit and mad as all heck!

Once when my cat became acutely ill, I contacted Cassie in tears. It was after hours, but she came to my home to assess him, and it was obvious he needed to be humanly euthanized. Cassie called one of the vets that agreed to meet us at the clinic to do it. This was an unexpected and extremely emotional time. I don’t think I could have survived that day without her.

Cassie has a smile and southern charm that you can’t help but love. And her heart for these animals is as true as they come. Going to the vet can always be challenging with nervous animals, but Cassie always puts the animals AND the humans at ease.

To read each of the finalists’ stories, as told by the people who nominated them, and to vote daily for one of the five finalists in the Hero Veterinarian and Hero Veterinary Nurse categories, please visit www.HeroVetAwards.org.

ABOUT AMERICAN HUMANE

American Humane is the country’s first national humane organization and the world’s largest certifier of animal welfare, overseeing the humane treatment of more than one billion animals across the globe each year. Founded in 1877, American Humane has been First to Serve™ the cause of animals and for 145 years has been at the forefront of virtually every major advance in the humane movement. For more information or to support our lifesaving work, please visit www.AmericanHumane.org, follow us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram and subscribe to our channel on YouTube for the latest breaking news and features about the animals with whom we share our Earth.

ABOUT ZOETIS

As the world’s leading animal health company, Zoetis is driven by a singular purpose: to nurture our world and humankind by advancing care for animals. After 70 years innovating ways to predict, prevent, detect, and treat animal illness, Zoetis continues to stand by those raising and caring for animals worldwide – from livestock farmers to veterinarians and pet owners. The company’s leading portfolio and pipeline of medicines, vaccines, diagnostics, and technologies make a difference in over 100 countries. A Fortune 500 company, Zoetis generated revenue of $7.8 billion in 2021 with approximately 12,100 employees. For more, visit www.zoetis.com.

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