Our alumni dedicate themselves to a better future for all
By Claire Tucker
Photos by Kellen Bakovich
I didn’t plan to be a veterinarian. At 6 years old, I knew I was born to be a whale trainer. But my obsession didn’t end with Free Willy. After countless zoo and aquarium internships, I landed a junior trainer position with bottlenose dolphins in Hawaii. I had my dream job at 20, but I was still searching. One day, while I was doing wound care on one of my favorite dolphins, Kolohe, it clicked. Yes, I wanted to work with animals. But more than that, I wanted to improve their health.
My role looks a lot different now. I am a small animal emergency and critical care resident at Colorado State University’s James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital. I spend my time in the ER and the critical care unit, taking care of very sick pets and talking to their worried families. OK, maybe I don’t get to be in the sun every day with dolphins. But when people ask if I love what I do, I say yes with my whole heart. Even on the worst days.
During my time as a veterinarian, change has been constant. I have seen the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic and still experience the surge of new pets joining new households. I have seen my teams strained by too few resources and too many hours. I have grieved as my colleagues have left for other professions. The technology and the medical knowledge are as advanced as ever, but I worry about the people. The most significant challenge we face is sustaining the passion that got us into the field in the first place.
For these profiles, I sought out the people who are showing up for animals of all kinds. The people whose daily tenacity is translating into noticeable progress within veterinary medicine. The people in whom that passion for veterinary medicine is sustained.
My hope is that you will see in each story the seeds of positive change. The next generation of veterinary medicine is emerging. We are committed to ensuring the health of animals, large and small, but also the health of people, of communities, and of our planet. I look forward to our work together.
Claire Tucker is a small animal emergency and critical care resident and a postdoctoral fellow at CSU’s One Health Institute. She is also a writer and a researcher.
Field Veterinarian and Instructor, Rural Area Veterinary Services, et. al.
Small Animal Locum Veterinarian, Wycone Veterinary Services
People love their animals, no matter where they live. During my extensive travels as a volunteer, field, and locum veterinarian, I have witnessed the deep and long-standing bonds between people and the animals that share their space. My goal is to provide accessible veterinary care throughout the United States and internationally.
One increasingly worrisome barrier to this work: climate change and its driving factors. For example, the intensifying summer heat on the lands of the Standing Rock Sioux cut our clinic days short. Wildfire smoke drifting from Colorado and the air pollution in Kathmandu made it nearly impossible to work outside. Severe flooding on San Carlos Apache land affected the few roads that lead to the clinic. Experiencing these changes has only renewed my passion to deliver high-quality, One Health-centered medicine no matter where I am.
I aim to do this through an educational, direct care, and consulting program built upon my unique and varied experiences. My work ranges from virtual instruction to guiding spay/neuter and medicine clinics in underserved communities to telehealth consulting. To practice exceptional, sustainable care includes passing on expertise to the next generation of professionals and to local veterinary teams. Education helps increase the capacity to care for all animals and the families that love them.
Aaron Wallace and Conor Blanchet
Founders, Lacuna Diagnostics
From the first days of our combined Master of Business/Doctor of Veterinary Medicine program, we knew we wanted to make a difference in animal health. Lacuna Diagnostics is the world’s first point-of-care cytology solution. Cytology tests – the examination of cells under a microscope – diagnose disease by examining individual cells or small groups of cells. Veterinarians used to wait days for results to assess the severity of disease and to help owners make very difficult decisions. Lacuna Diagnostics has disrupted that timeline, decreasing the turnaround times for cytology samples to hours.
At first, large diagnostic labs laughed at our ambition. They didn’t think the technology was ready. But we have proved the market was ready for telecytology and we have changed the standard of care. We’re extremely proud of that. We are excited to see that our acquirer – Heska Corporation – is continuing that momentum.
We are also proud to be part of a generation of veterinarians that exemplifies the entrepreneurial spirit. We have friends and classmates who are building practices, strengthening communities, and increasing access to veterinary care. Surrounded by these inspiring colleagues, we look forward to our next great idea to improve veterinary medicine.
Director of Veterinary Teaching Hospital and Land Grant Program, Navajo Technical University
I am a practicing veterinarian – one of just three based on the Navajo Nation. The only way we can become a better nation and have a better economy and come out of poverty is through education. We have to look to education to survive and maintain who we are. It’s the way we will move forward as a society. My goal is to help as many students as I can to attain an education.
I direct the Veterinary Teaching Hospital at Navajo Technical University in Crownpoint, New Mexico. This year, we are launching a bachelor’s degree program in animal science. This new program will make Navajo Technical University the only tribal university with animal science and veterinary technology programs running side by side. We will prepare students for careers related to livestock production and veterinary medicine. These are critical needs on the Navajo reservation, as many families rely on livestock for food, fiber, and a source of income.
To serve this area of the Navajo Nation is important to me. There is just so much we can do. By caring for the animals, I am nurturing our culture. The work is never-ending, but it’s worth it.
Senior Director of Shelter Medicine, ASPCA
In vet school, my shelter medicine elective was a light-bulb moment. I saw this burgeoning field as an opportunity to influence behavior change, population medicine, and public health. My shelter medicine residency at CSU allowed me to learn from amazing mentors and join the Colorado community of shelter medicine veterinarians who are committed to the care of animals across the state and across the nation.
Shelter medicine is all about problem-solving. How do we improve animal welfare – from the individual to the system? How do we keep animals with their families and out of the shelter? How do we improve access to care for those who need it? I see shelter veterinarians as the ultimate problem-solvers. We tackle those challenges daily.
During my time with Larimer Humane Society and now with ASPCA, I work on issues from managing hoarding cases to serving as a shelter consultant. That adaptability and versatility is rooted in my veterinary training. It is what allows us to elevate and advance the field. When I mentor students and residents, I try to remind them of their power to change our world.
Anna Fagre and Ash Malmlov
Founders, Bat Health Foundation
During our veterinary training and Ph.D. research, we realized how closely wildlife and environmental health are intertwined. Bats play an incredible role in so many ecosystems. We started the Bat Health Foundation to bring together scientists, veterinarians, and public health professionals to protect bats and promote public health.
Data surrounding the health of many wildlife species are limited, and this knowledge gap prevents the identification of unhealthy individuals or populations. Bat Health Foundation fills this knowledge gap for bats. We use a variety of diagnostic techniques to generate data from field samples, obtain data from collaborators, and use scientific literature as a data source. All of these data are fed into our flagship effort, Batabase, a free and dynamic database available to anybody studying bats.
We are committed to transparent science communication and advocating for trainees and the future generation of wildlife health experts. We engage with specialists from diverse disciplines to advance the field through equity, leveraging innovative technology, and fostering idea-sharing. Science will only benefit from a diversity of voices, geographies, and backgrounds, and we look forward to supporting that through the Bat Health Foundation.
Veterinarian, Red Barn Veterinary Service
Education Director, Equitarian Initiative
I am a mixed large-animal veterinarian in an area of Minnesota that was historically populated with family dairy farms. The land has undergone an enormous transition and is now a patchwork of historic farms and new homesteads with first-time livestock owners. I spend time mentoring owners and helping to support their goals. I also work with a whole new set of species, from goats to honeybees.
My work in Minnesota helps me to see the relationship between animals and people every day. I take that experience and use it in my role with the Equitarian Initiative. This nonprofit works to improve the health, nutrition, productivity, and welfare of working horses, donkeys, and mules, and to empower their care providers to make sustainable change. Partnering with local organizations, we help to deliver lessons on how to improve and celebrate the health of the equids in diverse communities, linking it to human health and environmental sustainability.
I really believe in the power of education and its ability to create connection. As I look to the future, I hope to use teaching as a vehicle for sustainable community-building, whether that’s in Minnesota or around the world.
Veterinary Medical Officer, U.S. Department of Agriculture
I am fascinated by the strategy of epidemiology. How do you make sure you don’t get a disease you don’t have? For example, I work a lot with African and classical swine fever. Those diseases are in feral swine in the Dominican Republic and Haiti and have caused a lot of destruction in other countries. If they come to the United States, they could decimate the American pork industry. My job is to develop and deploy the tools to help detect disease and raise awareness to make sure we can stop it before it enters the country.
As I have spent more time in data science, I am actually learning it is more about the people than the numbers. Now, as a supervisor, I get to work with some of the most talented scientists. I hope to support them as they design the tools to create real change. Ultimately, our work together is to strengthen American agriculture through a safe and reliable food supply.
Ray Whalen, Christianne Magee, Andrea Linton, Trent Gall
Colorado State University
CSU’s Virtual Animal Anatomy Program is far more than an educational tool. In 1999, when Professor Ray Whalen launched the program, he had two goals: to improve anatomy instruction and to reduce animal euthansia worldwide.
Whalen teamed up with Dr. Trent Gall to create an interactive canine anatomy software program. From the start, the program has relied on countless veterinary students who shared Whalen’s vision of making veterinary education more humane, more ethical, and more effective.
“We would dissect a layer, take 500 or so photographs at different angles, and then overlay the information. Each student gave this project the care and dedication that is required to produce these specimens,” Whalen said.
The Virtual Animal Anatomy Program has been more successful than Whalen and his students ever dreamed. It has more than 1 million users from 195 countries. The suite includes feline, equine, and bovine models. And the technology has progressed from CDs to virtual reality thanks to instructional designer Andrea Linton and endless experimentation.
Dr. Christianne Magee, who now leads the team, says anatomy is a foundational learning experience for a career in veterinary medicine. “When you have that strong foundation, you can apply it to any species and any clinical scenario because you can problem-solve,” Magee said.
The team is particularly proud of their pandemic response. When they recognized that education was going remote internationally, they made the program available for free to 146 new schools and more than 12,000 learners.
“We have many dreams for the program in the future,” Magee said. “I would like all CSU D.V.M. alumni and all Colorado Veterinary Medical Association members to have free access. We want Colorado to support Colorado. And eventually? If we could get corporate sponsorship, we would love to give it away for free.”
Director of Clinical Research, Medicine, and Pathobiologic Services, RTI
I’m not your typical pathologist. My work spans from basic to applied science. I spend my time developing vaccines for bovine respiratory diseases, researching heart disease in calves, connecting research to human diseases, and teaching the next generation of scientists. My understanding of pulmonary hypertension and congestive heart failure is extensive, but there is so much more to learn.
My main goal is to improve animal welfare. High-performance cattle that die from interstitial pneumonia or congestive heart failure is demoralizing for producers and others invested in the cattle industry. If I can support the discovery of diagnostics or a treatment that improves the lives of cattle, that will be a success.
There is an elegance to comparative medicine. While my work will improve the health of cattle, it will also improve the health of people. For example, the Texas Heart Institute uses our understanding of the bovine cardiopulmonary system to create technology used in mechanical support devices and the artificial heart. That, for me, is the true work of the veterinarian: helping many species, including humans.
Founder and CEO, Farms for Orphans
An internship during my second year of veterinary school at the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project in the Democratic Republic of Congo changed everything. First, my husband and I adopted two children from the DRC. Second, I began to think deeply about food equity and sustainability, eventually starting Farms for Orphans.
FFO is a nonprofit organization that ensures that vulnerable children have a sustainable source of nourishment. Nutrition can make the biggest difference in human potential. FFO farms palm weevil larvae, a protein-rich insect that is typically wild-harvested and available only seasonally. Insects have been eaten in the DRC for millennia, and now they are more important than ever. Harvesting palm weevil larvae from the forest can be damaging to the environment, whereas farming the larvae allows for easy access and decreases the impact on the forests.
We are expanding our farming operations to provide this popular food at a low cost to communities throughout the DRC and Congo Basin. We have also partnered with the Wildlife Conservation Society to train rural communities surrounding the Okapi Wildlife Reserve on how to farm palm weevil larvae. Swapping bushmeat for palm weevils will reduce pressure on wildlife populations and exposure of villagers to zoonotic diseases.
Contract Epidemiologist, Illinois Department of Public Health
Owner, Transboundary Epidemiology Analytics LLC
My D.V.M. gave me a deep understanding of disease in individual animals, while my Ph.D. taught me the importance of the big-picture approach: how politics, economics, and the environment also impact animal health. I feel uniquely equipped to tackle tough, real-world problems.
After graduating, I started an epidemiology consulting company called Transboundary Epidemiology Analytics, based on my interest in high-impact diseases and in working with clients across borders. I am most interested in understanding how animal health and conservation connect in southern Africa. When an ecosystem spans public and private land, it can be difficult to manage disease in a way that meets the needs of all parties. My passion is for practical research and solutions that work in that context. I want to see species thrive across a vast landscape, no matter what entity owns the land on which they walk.
Lead Public Health Veterinarian, Center for Food Security and Public Health, Iowa State University
Sustainable and regenerative agriculture practices provide resilience to the impacts of climate change. The rise of organic and alternative livestock systems comes from realizing that our practices and relationship to the land must change. As the landscape of American agriculture evolves, there is a need for veterinarians to serve in new ways.
My passion is to provide education and opportunities for veterinarians to better support unconventional livestock producers. Part of this work explores how to bridge the gap in communication and understanding to go beyond traditional approaches and treatments. The tools and philosophies of vets and alternative producers may be different, but the common ground is strong. Both desire the best possible health and welfare for the animals under their care.
Educational efforts today will mold the next generation of veterinarians. I’m proud to encourage the growth of our profession to support the changing landscape of livestock and agriculture into the next century.