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Meet America’s Top 10 Veterinary Heroes and Vote for Your Favorites

Voting now open for the 2020 American Humane Hero Veterinarian and Hero Veterinary Nurse Awards™, sponsored by Zoetis Petcare

WASHINGTON, DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, June 11, 2020 — Behind every beloved pet is a dedicated veterinarian or veterinary nurse, working to keep our best friends healthy. To honor these vital and tireless professionals, American Humane, the country’s first national humane organization, is pleased to announce that voting is now open in the seventh annual American Humane Hero Veterinarian and Hero Veterinary Nurse Awards™, sponsored by Zoetis Petcare (a U.S. business unit of Zoetis). Following the review of more than 250 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. Pet owners and animal lovers alike are invited to visit every day between now and August 13 at 12 p.m. Pacific Time to vote for 2020’s top American Hero Veterinarian and American Hero Veterinary Nurse.

The winners will be honored at the 10th annual American Humane Hero Dog Awards®, which will air nationwide as a two-hour special on Hallmark Channel this fall.

“These 10 finalists are inspiring examples of the veterinary community,” said Tara Bidgood, DVM, PhD, DACVCP, executive director, Zoetis Petcare Veterinary Professional Services. “The American Humane Hero Veterinarian and Hero Veterinary Nurse Awards are Zoetis Petcare’s way of helping to put a spotlight on their vital work. Congratulations to these extraordinary finalists and all veterinary professionals who work so hard every day to protect and help provide better, healthier lives to beloved pets.”

“Animals are often heroes to us, and we need to honor and recognize those who are heroes to them,” said Robin Ganzert, Ph.D., president and CEO of American Humane. “These dedicated professionals work behind the scenes to keep our best friends happy and healthy, and for that we thank them.”

Meet the 10 heroic veterinarian and veterinary nurse finalists!

Here are the nomination essays written by their supporters:

American Hero Veterinarian finalists

Dr. Daniele Knight (Alpena, Michigan) – Dr. Daniele not only treats all pets as if they were her own, she also trains all of her staff to be as thorough as possible. She and her husband, Dr. Ryan Knight, donate tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of services every year to local shelter adoptees for free spays, neuters, and exams. They also participate in a “Trap, Neuter, Return” program, where they spay/neuter feral cats that are trapped by community members and brought in for the procedure, for the cost of only $50. They have recently had the practice AAHA accredited, and they apply these standards not only on regular patients, but also on every shelter/TNR animal that has a surgery performed there.  Dr. Daniele has been on our local news several times, unpaid, to promote animal welfare points including not declawing cats, getting annual testing for heartworm and tick-borne diseases, and the dangers of essential oils in homes with pets.  Dr. Daniele is also vegan and she really cares about the environment, as well. She has designated areas in the clinic for recyclable items. She has worked very hard to train her staff to be “fear-free” in handling pets.  Her clinic does absolutely everything right, and she deserves to be recognized, not only for her love of animals, but for her donations to the community, and also her standards of care!

Dr. Katherine Polak (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. Her dedication is inspiring!

Dr. Mike Adkesson (Brookfield, Illinois) – Mike Adkesson, DVM, DACZM, DECZM, has dedicated his veterinary career to the conservation of wildlife and nature. He passionately believes modern zoos and aquariums play a pivotal role in educating and inspiring people to protect vanishing species and habitats around the globe.
As vice president of clinical medicine for the Chicago Zoological Society, Dr. Adkesson works tirelessly to ensure that the thousands of animals under his care are healthy, happy and thriving. Leading a team of caring professionals, he advocates for pushing the boundaries of what is considered possible in zoological medicine and continually elevating the standards of care. Whether that means a CT scan on a rhinoceros or knee surgery for a gorilla, Dr. Adkesson focuses on how to make it happen! Dr. Adkesson is committed to the success of those around him. He is past president of the American Association of the Zoo Veterinarians and an adjunct assistant professor with the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, where he has shared his knowledge, skills and compassion with hundreds of veterinary students, interns and residents over the years. For the past decade Dr. Adkesson has led marine conservation programs in Peru that focus on protecting wild Humboldt penguins, fur seals and sea lions. Through his work in the field as a wildlife veterinarian he helps ensure the population health of these endangered species and shares his expertise with Peruvian veterinarians and marine biologists.

Dr. Sam Dover (Santa Barbara, California) – Sam Dover D.V.M. is the founder and chief veterinarian of Channel Islands Marine & Wildlife Institute (CIMWI), a nonprofit organization dedicated to positively impacting conservation through marine mammal rescue, rehabilitation, research and education to promote ocean and human health. Dr. Dover utilizes his 31 years of experience to care for wounded and stranded marine life along Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties. Last year alone, the Institute responded to 3,363 rescue hotline calls, which culminated in rescuing 165 California Sea Lions, 10 Northern elephant seals, two Pacific harbor seals, two sea otters, two common dolphins and one Ridley sea turtle. Dr. Dover also collected scientific data on 201 dead stranded marine mammals and disentangled a gray whale from fishing gear. Dr. Dover supports a variety of research projects around the world, providing samples and information used to track diseases, health patterns and the effects of pollution in the ocean. He is actively involved with researchers studying the effects of anthropogenic influences on marine mammals, which ultimately impact human health. Dr. Dover and his CIMWI team provide medical care and rehabilitate marine mammals with the goal of releasing the rehabilitated, healthy animals back to the wild. These animals have a second chance at life because Sam Dover is living his dream.

Dr. Stephanie Jones (Oakland Park, Florida) – Pets and foster youth. In Ft. Lauderdale, when you hear these words spoken together with amazement you know that people are talking about Dr. Stephanie Jones. A partner at the Animal Hospital of Ft. Lauderdale (AHOFL), Dr. Jones has delivered outstanding veterinary care for over 20 years, specializing in reproductive medicine and soft tissue surgery. Her passion for surgery, innovative medicine, and optimal patient care makes AHOFL one of the few hospitals in South Florida offering stem cell therapy. Dr. Jones also serves as president of the Broward County Veterinary Medical Association. Her platform promotes the welfare of animals, community involvement, and continuing education and self-care for veterinarians. Dr. Jones has worked to advance an understanding of the human-animal bond and its role in society by establishing Pets Help the Heart Heal, Inc. This non-profit is dedicated to using the human-animal bond to improve the social, physical, and emotional health of underserved and foster youth by promoting veterinary medicine, animal industry career exploration, and healing from trauma through events and activities. Dr. Jones mentors teens, conducts career day presentations, and provides a shadow program for high school students. The board and volunteers of the organization believe that her love for animals and her career inspire today’s youth to reach for their dreams. Throughout our community, Dr. Stephanie Jones is bringing hope and healing to youth and animals.

American Hero Veterinary Nurse finalists

Kenzie Ergen (Hutchinson, Minnesota) – Kenzie Ergen grew up with a love for veterinary medicine. Her mom has been a technician since 1985 and as a child Kenzie loved going to work with her on days she didn’t have school. She remembers watching surgeries, comforting patients, observing appointments and talking to clients about their pets. Today, Kenzie is a hardworking, reliable, steadfast veterinary nurse. Kenzie shows up early and leaves late each day. Kenzie is very efficient and performs many tasks solo. Need a feral cat on the x-ray table? Kenzie’s on it. Need to premedicate an angry dog for surgery? No problem for Kenzie. She plays a vital role in the success of Lifelong Veterinary Clinic and is a perfect complement to the head veterinarian, Dr. Gearey. She acts as a main point of contact for many clients because of her extensive knowledge of the profession. I can recall many times clients calling and asking for Kenzie with questions regarding symptoms and signs their animal was displaying. Animal care is Kenzie’s top priority at all times. I worked with Kenzie last summer when I interned at Lifelong Veterinary Clinic. Kenzie taught me an exceptional amount about diagnostics and medications. She even would write up study guides and folders of information for me to utilize when I was assisting with appointments. Kenzie opened my eyes to and exemplified the dedication and drive you must have to be a great veterinary nurse and that is why she deserves the Hero Vet Nurse award.

Lacey King (Biloxi, Mississippi) – Lacey King is my wife of five years but has been my best friend for 15 years. Not only does she work full time at a veterinary hospital, but she has also been a volunteer for Friends of Jackson County Animal Shelter Pets. We also foster many animals and she prepares numerous health certificates so foster animals can go up north to their fur-ever homes.  Every other Sunday (on her day off), she helps the rescue vaccinate foster pets, place them on heartworm and flea preventative, and educate the foster parents. The clinic she currently works at is Beachview Veterinary Animal Hospital. She explains the different heartworm and flea preventatives with clients in the clinic and out of the clinic. She’s been devoted to taking care of any animal’s needs since she was a small child. Currently she is bottle feeding nine orphaned raccoons for Wild@Heart. She has so much patience for very aggressive animals, and some owners, and eventually ends up winning their trust. This is her passion and has been in the vet world since she was 16. My wife is amazing at what she does and tells me at least once a week, “It’s not work if you love what you do.”  All of this on top of being a mother of three and our own five dogs, three cats, and lots of chickens and turkeys. I can’t fit how amazing my wife is on one page. If only you knew. She is our hero!

Julie Nettifee (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.

Heather Czerpak (McMurry, Pennsylvania) – Heather is the kind of veterinary nurse everyone in the field should strive to become. She is a certified veterinary technician (CVT) and a VTS in ECC. She never lets her patients down and is a constant voice for them. She is always striving to better herself and everyone around her, so that they may become the best that they can be. Heather travels to local general practice hospitals to provide continuing education and teach RECOVER CPR to everyone there, and regularly holds continuing education talks at our hospital. When I think of a hero in the field, it’s always Heather. She is a training mentor and is always pushing others to strive to be better. If there is something someone doesn’t know, Heather is always willing to help them understand without judgment. She makes learning fun and brings life back into her coworkers after long and hard shifts. To me and many others, Heather truly is a hero, not only for her patients but for her coworkers, as well.

Kerry Schaefer (Mount Joy, Pennsylvania) – Kerry is a vet tech at Companion Animal Hospital. One of her many responsibilities is kitten adoptions. Occasionally, boxes of kittens are left on the doorstep or are brought to the hospital by a concerned citizen. Kerry takes on the monumental task of getting these babies healthy and finding them good homes. This can include bottle-feeding tiny kittens every few hours overnight, a task she does on her own time without compensation. While the kittens live at the hospital, Kerry makes sure they get the socialization they need in addition to getting them seen by a doctor and vaccinated. Adopting a kitten that is already social, litter trained and vaccinated is so great for the adoptive family! Then she tackles the most difficult task of all, sorting through applications, making phone calls, and setting up visits to ensure that the adoptive family is the perfect forever home for the kitten. In the rare event the home does not work out, she takes the cat back and finds it yet another home. Homing an adult cat is significantly more challenging. She completes all these tasks with great love and compassion. In addition to her tasks at work she takes tremendous care of her three cats, her recently adopted shelter dog, her beta fish and her husband. She also keeps bees. Beekeeping is so critical for our world! She is well deserving of this award and more.

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 each of the American Hero Veterinarian and American Hero Veterinary Nurse categories, please visit

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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