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Meet the Heroes to America’s Animals!

Heroic canines were not the only honorees at the American Humane Hero Dog Awards® 10th Anniversary Celebration earlier this week. Behind almost every hero pet (and millions more animals) is a hero veterinarian or hero veterinary nurse. These often-little-known benefactors save the lives of our best friends every day, and so each year, we celebrate them and recognize those who truly make a difference for animal welfare.

Meet the winners of the 2020 American Humane Hero Veterinarian and Hero Veterinary Nurse Awards™, presented by Zoetis Petcare!

2020 American Hero Veterinarian: Dr. Katherine Polak from Boston, Massachusetts

Dr. Katherine Polak is dedicated to animal welfare, both in the United States and around the world. Her work spans borders, helping animals in need, improving veterinary training, and campaigning against the most severe issues facing companion animals today. A specialist in shelter medicine and an Iowa State grad, Dr. Polak works for FOUR PAWS, an international charity active in 15 countries. She manages a variety of stray animal care programs throughout Southeast Asia, most notably against the cruel dog and cat meat trade. She has established a unique partnership program in the region that provides capacity-building support to local charities in Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand. One such program in Vietnam is the “Cats Matter Too” program, which provides medical care for thousands of cats in addition to education programs for children.

Previously, she was the medical director at Soi Dog Foundation in Thailand, where she trained local vets and launched a program in Bangkok to neuter upwards of 80,000 dogs per year. She is also the founding medical director of Spayathon in Puerto Rico. This groundbreaking initiative will neuter more than 85,000 dogs and cats over the next three years. In an effort to improve veterinary training, she also teaches in the Maddie’s Online Shelter Medicine program at the University of Florida, and conceived and co-edited a textbook, “Field Manual for Small Animal Medicine,” for vets working in limited-resource environments.

2020 American Hero Veterinary Nurse: Julie Nettifee from Raleigh, North Carolina

The word that comes to mind describing Julie in her profession and her life in general is compassion. She has an abundance of it and shows it in every aspect of her life, from the patience and care that she gives to the animals in her care, as well as their owners, to the dogs she fosters until they find their perfect forever homes. Julie has an extensive history with rescues, wildlife, animal shelter work, veterinary medicine and animal-based nonprofits including animal-assisted therapy, and she applies her passion, skills and interests to continue to benefit animals and their caregivers through her life’s work.

As a volunteer after one of the hurricanes here on the east coast, she befriended an elderly couple whose house had gotten flooded and had lost one of their two dogs when they were moving families to interim hurricane housing. They were being temporarily housed in Raleigh; however, Julie offered to take them back to where the little dog had last been seen, which was an hour away. They searched and talked to people and searched some more until they were finally able to rescue that little dog. Needless to say, this meant the world to that couple who had already lost so much. This is typical of who Julie is. With a can-do spirit, combined with a bright and bubbly attitude, Julie always has a smile for everyone. She deserves to be recognized for the humanity and compassion that she shares with those who are lucky enough to know her.

From all of us at American Humane, congratulations to these two champions of animal welfare. We are proud to spotlight their work in aiding the animals living in their communities and beyond. Special thanks go to our friends at Zoetis Petcare for sponsoring this national campaign and helping us honor the best of the best.

Pets are always there for us – so it’s only fair that we’re always there for them, too. That’s why Zoetis has been advancing pet health for more than 60 years, and their dedication and commitment is how they’ve grown to be the largest animal health company in the world. Zoetis discovers, develops, manufactures and commercializes medicines, vaccines and diagnostic products, which are complemented by biodevices, genetic tests and precision livestock farming. Zoetis serves veterinarians, livestock producers and people who raise and care for farm and companion animals with sales of its products in more than 100 countries.

For more information about this year’s American Humane Hero Veterinarian and Hero Veterinary Nurse Awards, visit

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