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Grants and Awards

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

Voting now open for 2016 American Humane Hero Veterinarian
and Hero Veterinary Technician Awards™, sponsored by Zoetis; Winners to be featured in national television broadcast on Hallmark Channel

WASHINGTON, DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, May 19, 2016 — American Humane, the country’s first national humane organization, is pleased to announce that voting is now open in the third annual American Humane Hero Veterinarian and Hero Veterinary Technician Awards™, sponsored by Zoetis. Following the review of nearly 300 nominations from animal lovers across the country, a blue-ribbon judging panel of celebrities, veterinary professionals, and animal care experts has selected 10 of the country’s top veterinarians and veterinary technicians as finalists. Pet owners and animal lovers alike are invited to visit every day between now and July 21 to vote for 2016’s top American Hero Veterinarian and American Hero Veterinary Technician.

The winners will be flown to Los Angeles to be honored on September 10 as part of the sixth annual American Humane Hero Dog Awards®, presented by the Lois Pope LIFE Foundation. The Hero Dog Awards will air nationwide as a two-hour special on Hallmark Channel this fall.

“Our 293 nominated Hero Veterinarians and Hero Veterinary Technicians are all outstanding examples of the veterinary community,” said J. Michael McFarland, DVM, DABVP, group director, Companion Animal Marketing at Zoetis. “The American Humane Hero Veterinarian and Veterinary Technician Awards are Zoetis’ way of giving back to the heroes who keep our best friends healthy and celebrate the human-animal bond. Congratulations to our 10 extraordinary finalists!”

“To us, all vets and vet techs are heroes,” said Dr. Robin Ganzert, president and CEO of American Humane. “Behind every hero dog is a hero vet and vet tech, so what better time to honor these extraordinary veterinary professionals than the night in which we celebrate America’s bravest heroes on both ends of the leash, the 2016 American Humane Hero Dog Awards? Good luck to our finalists!”

To read each of the nominees’ 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 Technician categories, please visit

Meet the 10 heroic veterinarian and veterinary technician finalists!

American Hero Veterinarian

Dr. Jennifer Dunlap (Somerville, TN)

Dr. Jennifer Dunlap is not just an equine vet, but a true hero to all the animals of West Tennessee. She donates her time, services, money, sweat, tears and prayers to fighting animal neglect and cruelty, not just with horses, but all species. Dr. Dunlap is the first call for many authorities when situations demand veterinary services and follows each case through to the court system, testifying honestly and competently. She recently founded and maintains the nonprofit Animal Response Foundation in Tennessee, and has recruited a network of well-informed and trained volunteers to assist with all aspects of rescuing animals in need. Her nominator says that, “Dr. Dunlap is truly the very definition of competent, caring professional in her field, and deserves this award for being the voice of those who cannot speak, in the Mid-South, and beyond.”

Dr. Natalie Isaza (Gainesville, FL)

Dr. Natalie Isaza is the founder of the Veterinary Community Outreach Program at the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Isaza works with local animal rescue groups and shelters, providing spay/neuter surgical services, heartworm treatments, general well care, and more specialized veterinary care for animals in need. In addition to her work with homeless animals, she is a co-founder of St. Francis Pet Care, a free vet clinic for low-income people in her community. By providing care for these pets, she has helped many animals stay in their homes. She implemented a program where shelter animals receive free veterinary care for treatable conditions. She and her students also visit animal shelters in rural counties surrounding Gainesville where they provide veterinary care and transfer animals from these shelters to rescue groups so they can be adopted. Her dedication has inspired many veterinarians she has trained to become public servants, and helped them to be strong advocates for animal welfare. Her nominator says, “She is a hero to the voiceless animals she serves and to the families who otherwise might lose their beloved companions.”

Dr. Michelle Mayers (Simpsonville, SC)

Dr. Michelle Mayers has become a hero veterinarian for the greater Greenville, South Carolina. After moving there three years ago, she jumped right in and became a true advocate in the community for the human-animal bond. Dr. Mayers created a dog park for the whole community to enjoy at Simpsonville’s City Park. She has started a free quarterly course on pet first aid and CPR through the Greenville County Recreation Department. In addition, she has partnered with Roper St. Francis Hospital to provide a quarterly free course called “Introducing your Newborn to your Pets.” Not only does she go to numerous elementary, middle and high school classes to educate students about veterinary medicine, she has also created a kids club for Hillcrest Animal Hospital for children to learn about becoming better pet owners. Dr. Mayers also works closely with Presbyterian College’s School of Pharmacy, providing lectures and allowing monthly interns in the small animal hospital setting to increase their knowledge about veterinary pharmacology.

Dr. Victoria Smith (Olympia, WA) 

Dr. Victoria Smith of Steamboat Animal Hospital works tirelessly with the Animal Cruelty Investigator in Olympia, Washington on cruelty cases. She has examined and treated hundreds of animal victims and has been an integral part of securing convictions of abusers. Her forensic training and experience is the key to helping the victims who have no voice to tell their story. Dr. Smith always makes herself available to save a victim of cruelty or neglect. Dr. Smith’s superior work has put Thurston County on the map. Thanks to Dr. Smith, they have never lost a cruelty case, largely due to the thorough and detailed reports that she prepares for the prosecutors. Dr. Smith is committed to helping stop cruelty and neglect and understands the importance of her work and the impact it is having worldwide, with many of her most severe cases drawing national and international attention from the news media.  Thousands of people sign petitions demanding justice and write letters in response to her stories. Her nominator says that, “Because of Dr. Smith, victims of cruelty are no longer silent.”

Dr. Heather Wilson-Robles (College Station, TX)

Dr. Heather Wilson-Robles is currently an associate professor of oncology and the Palmer Chair in Comparative Oncology at Texas A&M University (TAMU). In every respect, Dr. Wilson-Robles is a true hero through the contributions she makes as a clinical oncologist, scientist, and role model. She came to TAMU in 2007 with her future husband, Juan Carlos (JC), and a dream to develop new ways to treat cancer. Almost immediately, she formed collaborations with scientists at MD Anderson Cancer Center, NCI, and elsewhere to explore cutting-edge therapies for pets that impact human cancer. Some of her work has included ground-breaking studies on T-cell transplants for dogs with lymphoma and genetic modification of these cells for treating canine bone cancer. Dr. Wilson-Robles understands the struggle that ensues due to cancer – much of this skill comes from her journey. In 2014, JC was diagnosed with cancer, and she supported him until he sadly passed away. Her nominator says, “It is hard to explain the impact [JC’s death] had on our community and impossible to describe Heather’s strength and grace. Since these events, Heather has taken a leadership role in our unit, developed a clinical trials core, and continued to give in ways that defy description. Her story illustrates her grit, innovative spirit, and impact.

American Hero Veterinary Technician

Megan Brashear (Portland, OR)

Megan Brashear is a hero to so many people, especially to those working in the veterinary field. She has made countless how-to videos, provides tips to help serve the patients of DoveLewis Emergency Animal Hospital better, and presents at numerous conferences and seminars. She has taken the extra steps to not only become a certified veterinary technician, but to take on another two years of education and training to earn specialty certification in emergency and critical care medicine. She has spent the last 18 years lovingly tending to sick and injured pets, returning them to grateful owners who may not even realize the incredible amount of love and dedication she gives every pet every day. Her nominator says, “Megan is a hero to every pet she cares for, she’s a hero to every one of those pets’ owners, and she’s a hero to others in the veterinary field because she makes us want to be better, learn more, and do better for animals every single day.”

Ellen Carozza (Arlington, VA)

Ellen Carozza goes out of her way to not only make the animals feel comfortable, secure and loved but also the owners of the pets that come to Nova Cat Clinic and those with pets in dire need out of state. Ellen has saved many kitten lives that otherwise would have been terminated. She is a professional, well-informed technician, and an instructor, considered by many to be an “all-around magnificent person and healer.” Her nominator says, “My Lakshmi recently passed and Ellen was with me every step of the way to help pick up the pieces of my broken heart and guide me through the grieving process. Not many people do that and not only did she do this, but she did it in a truly caring and authentic way. Ellen is one of the most skillful and compassionate veterinary technicians I have ever known. Ellen is 100 percent my hero.”

Olivia Faith (Crestview, FL)

Olivia Faith is said to be the kind of person who lights up the room and draws people with her energy and infectious smile. She will put her own needs on hold so that she may help others. On top of being the only NAF vet tech at Eglin Air Force Base, working at Hurlburt Field and with the 7th Group Special Forces unit, she has volunteered thousands of hours organizing the 5K Strut Your Mutt for the Hurlburt Military Working Dog Kennels, EZ Mobile Pet Clinic, PAWS Animal Shelter, and more recently helped with the reunion of MWD Rocky and his human handler, Specialist Brown. She has volunteered with two nonprofits to protect and honor not only our nation’s working K-9s, but all working animals around the globe. She has taken it upon herself to work with large pharmaceutical and pet companies to put together care packages to send to the 7th Group Special Forces’ military working dogs and handlers. She spends many hours on her own time staying late for patients, taking as much time as they need to have a full understanding of the medical needs for their pets, and is always willing to go above and beyond what is expected and required of her. Olivia is also a breast cancer survivor and during her treatments never missed a day of work. She loves working with MWDs and is now awaiting a contract deployment to Baghdad, Iraq.

Joan Gorman (Kansas City, MO)

Joan Gorman is said to be someone the entire veterinary community looks up to in the Kansas City area. Joan teaches veterinary technology at Maple Woods Metropolitan Community College, where she has been for over a decade. She works late nights making sure the dogs and cats whom the school houses are taken care of properly, and answers dozens of phone calls daily from frantic students. She has committed her entire life to bettering veterinary technology and strives to maintain one of the highest pass rates in the country for the Veterinary Technician National Exam. She is a founding member of the KCRVTA, one of the first local registered veterinary technician associations. She pushes her students to become the best technicians known in the Midwest. Her nominator says that, “She is my personal mentor and I could not have ignited the flame that drives my career had it not been for her consistent guidance. She fights every day to improve the lives of so many, and she deserves to be recognized for the amazing sacrifices she has given while expecting nothing in return.  I know so many others that feel this way about Joan. Hher reputation says it all!”

Kim Knap (Urbana, IL)

Kim Knap does rehab for dogs with mobility problems at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital.  Her nominator’s dog, Dexter, started seeing her for rehab on a knee injury that had been healing since before he was adopted in 2014. That winter he still was not using that leg, so he was brought to Veterinary Teaching Hospital to see if water treadmills and rehab exercises might help. Dexter usually hates going to the vet, and is aggressive to the point of needing a muzzle at his regular vet’s office. But from the get-go, he was smitten with Kim.  He would even try to sneak out to the garage on off days in hopes that he would be taken to see her. When it was later discovered that he would need another surgery, Dexter’s owner started a GoFundMe page to pay for it, and Kim both donated and shared it with the rest of the vet staff and the staff of the humane society that Dexter was adopted from. It took only 24 hours to get the funds needed to pay for the surgery.  Dexter walks great now, and is so strong that sometimes his owner really has to watch him because he can get up on the kitchen counter. Says her nominator, “[Dexter] wouldn’t be in such good shape if Kim hadn’t caught the problem he’d been having, and I felt totally comfortable leaving him there for two days because I knew she’d be there with him. She went above and beyond for Dexter.”

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