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Heroes to America’s Animals: Meet the Winners of the 2021 American Humane Hero Veterinarian and Hero Veterinary Nurse Awards™, Presented by Zoetis Petcare

WASHINGTON, DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, October 21, 2021 — Heroic canines were not the only honorees last night during the national television broadcast of the American Humane Hero Dog Awards® on Hallmark Drama. America’s first national humane organization also honored two 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. Mary Kate Lawler from Houston, Texas was named 2021’s American Hero Veterinarian, and Jill Elston from Milan, Pennsylvania was declared 2021’s American Hero Veterinary Nurse.

From left to right: Mary Kate Lawler and Jill Elston

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 veterinarian 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:

2021 American Hero Veterinarian: Dr. Mary Kate Lawler (Houston, Texas)
Dr. Mary Kate Lawler has graced the Spay-Neuter Assistance Program (SNAP) with her proficient leadership—as chief surgeon in San Antonio since 2006, and as Executive Director since 2015. Her tireless work and dedication allow her to perform as many as 8,500 spay/neuter surgeries per year. When the last surgery is finished each day and the patients are recovering, she deftly shifts to her role as executive director. Her exemplary veterinary skill, business acumen, and compassion keep the SNAP team focused on our mission. Dr. Lawler is a 1995 graduate of NYSCVM at Cornell University. Throughout her veterinary career, spay/neuter surgery has been her focus. She has traveled extensively and has participated in spay/neuter clinics in India, Mexico, Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands, American Samoa, Hawaii, and on the reservations in the American Southwest. She has led the SNAP team to perform over 20,000 spay/neuter surgeries and 8,500 veterinary wellness visits annually. Her unwavering dedication to the well-being of the people and pets of our community has pushed her to persevere through hurricanes, fires, and pandemics—keeping SNAP thriving in spite of the challenges. She is a hero in the eyes of those she leads and the vast number of companion animals whose lives she has improved.

2021 American Humane Hero Veterinary Nurse Award Recipient: Jill Elston (Milan, Pennsylvania)
Jill is the embodiment of an “American Hero Veterinary Nurse.” Since college, shelter medicine has been her passion, and a couple years after graduation she found her true purpose working at Animal Care Sanctuary, serving and caring for those who had no home. protecting the wounded and abused and giving a chance to souls everyone else gave up on. She courageously leads a team of veterinary professionals who provide veterinary care in an underserved rural area, and Jill herself has become the St. Jude of ACS, “Mama Jill’s Home for Lost Souls.” She is always first in line to take home the sad, broken, sick, abused, or neglected creature. She regularly rehabilitates fearful dogs and helps sick animals to recover. Her special project, though, is being a hospice for older dogs and cats who aren’t candidates for adoption, but who still deserve the dignity of a home and a family at the end of their lives. For all cats and dogs, she offers up her home, giving them a chance to flourish under comfortable (dare I say lavish) conditions, receiving the best of food and healthcare, a lively lifestyle, and a warm, soft spot next to Jill in the recliner or on the bed. These included Miss P. Kevin, Honey, Hershey, Yoda, Simza, Ava, Kado, Bacon, Barnaby, Poki, Grumio, Empress of Shadows, Squiggy, Mimi and her pups, Smokey, Teddy, Amos, Morgan, Edgar, The Bacon Bits, Cosby, Clancy, Murdock, Titan, Lou, Breeland, Yukon, Herc, and so many other patients I can’t recall. And Hickory, who started it all.

“We are so pleased to help shine a light on two outstanding veterinary professionals who go above and beyond to provide essential veterinary care to animals in need,” said Tara Bidgood, DVM, PhD, DACVCP, Executive Director, Veterinary Professional Services and Medical Affairs, Zoetis Petcare. “Dr. Mary Kate Lawler has helped prevent suffering through overpopulation and neglect on a massive scale and veterinary nurse Jill Elston exemplifies caring and compassion professionally and in her personal life. They are both truly heroes.”

“Veterinarians and veterinary nurses are heroes to the animals they serve and these awards are an effort to recognize the best of the best,” said Dr. Robin Ganzert, American Humane president and CEO. “Dr. Lawler and Ms. Elston are remarkable animal welfare advocates, and we are proud to honor their work in aiding the animals living in their communities. We also want to give special thanks to our friends at Zoetis Petcare for sponsoring this national campaign to recognize 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, founded in 1877. For more information, please visit and please follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

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 nearly 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. In 2020, Zoetis generated revenue of $6.7 billion with ~11,300 employees. For more information, visit

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