Home / Newsroom / Heroes to America’s Animals: Meet the Winners of the 2020 American Humane Hero Veterinarian and Hero Veterinary Nurse Awards™, Presented by Zoetis Petcare

Heroes to America’s Animals: Meet the Winners of the 2020 American Humane Hero Veterinarian and Hero Veterinary Nurse Awards™, Presented by Zoetis Petcare

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA, October 20, 2020 — Heroic canines were not the only honorees last night at the American Humane Hero Dog Awards®: 10th Anniversary Celebration. America’s first national humane organization also honored a couple of human beings – with the American Humane Hero Veterinarian and Hero Veterinary Nurse Awards, presented by Zoetis Petcare (a U.S. business unit of Zoetis). After a nationwide search and tens of thousands of public votes, Dr. Katherine Polak from Boston, Massachusetts was named 2020’s American Hero Veterinarian, and Julie Nettifee from Raleigh, North Carolina was declared 2020’s American Hero Veterinary Nurse.  They received their awards in a special ceremony during the Hero Dog Awards, which was broadcast nationally on Hallmark Channel.

The American Humane Hero Veterinarian and Hero Veterinary Nurse Awards were born out of the idea that behind almost every hero pet (and millions more animals) is a hero vet or veterinary nurse. These often-little-known benefactors save and improve the lives of our two- and four-legged best friends in many ways, and it is time to honor their achievements. Hundreds of worthy nominees were considered by a special blue-ribbon panel of celebrities and renowned veterinary and animal care professionals. After narrowing down the field to the top five in each category, the American public made the final determination through online voting. Here are their stories, as told by those who nominated them:

2020 American Hero Veterinarian: Dr. Katherine Polak

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 Humane Hero Veterinary Nurse Award Recipient: Julie Nettifee

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.

“We are honored to recognize two outstanding veterinary professionals who go above and beyond to provide essential veterinary care to animals in need across the country and internationally,” said Tara Bidgood, DVM, PhD, DACVCP, Executive Director, Veterinary Professional Services, Zoetis Petcare. “Dr. Katherine Polak has an extraordinary commitment to animal welfare around the global, as well as to improving veterinary training so more animals can be cared for and more lives saved. Similarly, Julie Nettifee demonstrates exceptional care and compassion for the animals she dedicates her life to every day. They are both truly heroes.”

“To us, veterinarians and veterinary nurses are heroes and we want to recognize the best of the best,” said Dr. Robin Ganzert, American Humane president and CEO. “Dr. Polak and Ms. Nettifee are remarkable animal welfare advocates, and 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 because we know how committed they are to recognizing the achievements of the veterinary community.”

More information about this year’s American Humane Hero Veterinarian and Hero Veterinary Nurse Awards is available at

About American Humane

American Humane is the country’s first national humane organization. For more information please visit, and please follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

About Zoetis

Zoetis is the leading animal health company, dedicated to supporting its customers and their businesses. Building on more than 65 years of experience in animal health, 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. In 2019, the company generated annual revenue of $6.3 billion with approximately 10,600 employees. For more information, visit

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