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DEAN'S MESSAGE

The role of companion animals in our society is undeniably important. We at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) recognize the significance of the human-animal bond, and research supports that—studies have proven that our pets make us healthier, both physically and mentally. That impact is not lost upon our younger generations. Reports that Millennials and Generation Z are choosing animals as their “starter families,” and sometimes their only families, show us that our pets mean more to us now than ever before. For more than 103 years, the CVM has been dedicated to taking care of the animals that take care of us, and through the Small Animal Hospital’s (SAH) three core missions— leading-edge patient and client care, innovative teaching, and clinical research—we’re taking care of animals and humans now, as well as ensuring both are taken care of well into the future, in innovative and exciting ways. In this edition of CVM Today, we show you the depth of the commitment our clinicians, veterinary technicians, students, and donors have to those three core functions. In many ways, those functions intersect. You cannot be a leader in patient care without research and innovation that advances the field and creates new treatment options; likewise, producing the next generation of patient-care providers requires teaching veterinary students using innovative methods and equipment. Some of that innovation is derived from the research being witnessed and participated in by those same students, who may one day contribute to the field by becoming researchers, themselves. In addition, the work our faculty members are doing in the realm of clinical trials will mean as much to humans as it does to their animals; not only do these trials work to treat and cure many mysteries related to animal disease, which is beneficial in and of itself, but they offer valuable information that can translate to people, while also fast-tracking medicines and procedures so they can go to human trials much more quickly. And we would be remiss if we didn’t mention our patients, who benefit so greatly from the students who learn from and work with those pets, as well as from the innovations and discoveries continuously occurring throughout the hospital. You will read stories in this edition about extraordinary technologies and even common procedures saving the lives of extraordinary animals. We can’t look to the future of small animal medicine without looking at all that is going on in the hospital. The growth of the specialties being offered—now at 16—and the growth in the numbers of students we’re educating ensure we will continue to take care of the entire profession well into the future; the work they are doing will dramatically change the way we view veterinary health care. And we will continue to do all of this while maintaining the quality of care our clients and patients experience, and expect, when they visit the SAH. The Small Animal Hospital has meant much to many people. As I travel across Texas, the stories of praise and gratitude from people about their animals and families that have benefited from the SAH continue to add up. I can relate to each and every one, because my experience has been the same. The doctors have saved my dog—Cohen, named after Leonard Cohen—three times since I moved to Texas. Cohen, at 14 years of age now, continues to bring me joy and make me laugh, all because of the extraordinary talent and dedication of the faculty, staff, and students. When Wade and Casey’s (my son and daughter-in-law’s) Goldendoodle, named Penny, had a life-threatening episode, they brought her straight to the SAH. The dreaded diagnosis was cancer, but because of the compassion and expertise of the clinicians and staff, Wade and Casey enjoyed Penny longer. They are profoundly grateful for their experience. Treating these animals means as much to each person working in the hospital as it does to the clients who bring in their pets—and as much as it has for me and for my children.

ELEANOR M. GREEN, DVM, DACVIM, DABVP The Carl B. King Dean of Veterinary Medicine

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CONTENTS

Dean's Message............................................................................. 2 CVM Information........................................................................... 4 Vital Observations......................................................................... 6

ACADEMICS ImmersED....................................................................................... 8 Fostering A Community Of Hope.............................................. 10 Making A PAWSitive Impact....................................................... 14 Learning In The Lab.................................................................... 18

COLLABORATION Persistence Makes Perfect.........................................................20 A Canine Connection..................................................................24 Hearts And Minds....................................................................... 26

PATIENT CARE The Honor Of Caring For ‘Miss Rev’..........................................30 A Hero's Hero...............................................................................34 Making Waves.............................................................................. 37 Werner The Wonder Dog...........................................................40 The Magic Bullet..........................................................................44

RESEARCH Feeling The Heat..........................................................................48 Testing For Trouble..................................................................... 52 Gut Instincts.................................................................................56

CLINICAL TRIALS Creating A Culture To Cure.........................................................58 Dog Aging Project...................................................................62 Oncology..................................................................................64 Cardiology...............................................................................66

HOSPITAL Blazing New Trails........................................................................68 All In A Day's Work......................................................................72 A Passion For Pets In Crisis........................................................ 76 A Cut Above..................................................................................80 The Cat's Meow...........................................................................84

GIVING Generosity And Gingersnaps....................................................86 An Unbreakable Bond................................................................90 A Heart Of Gold........................................................................... 92 In Memoriam...............................................................................94

Vol. 20, No. 2

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CVM INFORMATION

COLLEGE ADMINISTRATION THE CARL B. KING DEAN OF VETERINARY MEDICINE Dr. Eleanor M. Green EXECUTIVE ASSOCIATE DEAN Dr. Kenita S. Rogers ’86 EDITOR-IN-CHIEF: Jennifer G. Gauntt EDITORIAL ASSISTANCE: Marissa Vargas ’19 WRITERS: Monika Blackwell Dr. Ann Kellett Briley Lambert ’18 Megan Myers ’19 Corley-Ann Parker Ashley Villarreal ART DIRECTOR: Christopher A. Long GRAPHIC DESIGNERS: VeLisa W. Bayer Jennie L. Lamb PHOTOGRAPHER: Tim Stephenson CORRESPONDENCE ADDRESS: CVM Today Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences Texas A&M University 4461 TAMU College Station, TX 77843-4461 vetmed.tamu.edu CVM Today is published by the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences for alumni and friends. We welcome your suggestions, comments, and contributions to content. Contact us via email at cvmtoday@cvm.tamu.edu. A reader survey is available online at: tx.ag/cvmtodaysurvey. Permission is granted to use all or part of any article published in this magazine, provided no endorsement of a commercial product is stated or implied. Appropriate credit and a tear sheet are requested.

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ASSOCIATE DEAN, PROFESSIONAL PROGRAMS Dr. Karen K. Cornell ASSOCIATE DEAN, RESEARCH & GRADUATE STUDIES Dr. Robert C. Burghardt ASSOCIATE DEAN, UNDERGRADUATE EDUCATION Dr. Elizabeth Crouch ’91 ASSOCIATE DEAN, GLOBAL ONE HEALTH Dr. Gerald Parker Jr. ’77 ASSISTANT DEAN, RESEARCH & GRADUATE STUDIES Dr. Michael Criscitiello INTERIM ASSISTANT DEAN, HOSPITAL OPERATIONS Dr. Doug Allen ASSISTANT DEAN, FINANCE Ms. Belinda Hale ’92 INTERIM DEPT. HEAD, VETERINARY INTEGRATIVE BIOSCIENCES Dr. C. Jane Welsh DEPT. HEAD, VETERINARY PATHOBIOLOGY Dr. Ramesh Vemulapalli DEPT. HEAD, VETERINARY PHYSIOLOGY & PHARMACOLOGY Dr. Larry J. Suva DEPT. HEAD, LARGE ANIMAL CLINICAL SCIENCES Dr. Susan Eades DEPT. HEAD, SMALL ANIMAL CLINICAL SCIENCES Dr. Jonathan Levine ASSISTANT VICE PRESIDENT FOR DEVELOPMENT (TEXAS A&M FOUNDATION) Ms. Chastity Carrigan ’16 CHIEF OF STAFF Ms. Misty Skaggs ’93 DIRECTOR, TEXAS INSTITUTE FOR PRECLINICAL STUDIES Dr. Egemen Tuzun INTERIM DIRECTOR COMMUNICATIONS, MEDIA, & PUBLIC RELATIONS Jennifer G. Gauntt

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CVM INFORMATION

COLLEGE DIRECTORY COLLEGE OF VETERINARY MEDICINE & BIOMEDICAL SCIENCES Texas A&M University | 4461 TAMU College Station, TX 77843-4461 vetmed.tamu.edu DEAN’S OFFICE & ADMINISTRATION 979.845.5051 ADMISSIONS 979.845.5051 BIOMEDICAL SCIENCES PROGRAM 979.845.4941 DEVELOPMENT & ALUMNI RELATIONS 979.845.9043 CVM COMMUNICATIONS 979.845.1780 CONTINUING EDUCATION 979.845.9102 GRADUATE & RESEARCH STUDIES 979.845.5092 GLOBAL ONE HEALTH 979.845.8612 PUBLIC RELATIONS 979.862.4216 VETERINARY INTEGRATIVE BIOSCIENCES 979.845.2828 VETERINARY PATHOBIOLOGY 979.845.5941 VETERINARY PHYSIOLOGY & PHARMACOLOGY 979.845.7261 SMALL ANIMAL CLINICAL SCIENCES 979.845.9053 LARGE ANIMAL CLINICAL SCIENCES 979.845.9127 VETERINARY MEDICAL TEACHING HOSPITAL ADMINISTRATION 979.845.9026 SMALL ANIMAL HOSPITAL 979.845.2351 LARGE ANIMAL HOSPITAL 979.845.3541

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VITAL OBSERVATIONS

Dr. Jonathan Levine, head of the Small Animal Clinical Sciences Department, shares his perspective on how the Small Animal Hospital has changed, what makes it great, and his vision for the future. Story by JENNIFER GAUNTT The Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital (VMTH) is all about the animals, but as head of the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences’ (CVM) Small Animal Clinical Sciences (VSCS) Department, Dr. Jonathan Levine is all about the people. Levine, a professor of neurology and the Helen McWhorter Chair of VSCS, works to ensure that the Small Animal Hospital (SAH) maintains its three core functions— leading-edge patient and client care, innovative teaching, and clinical research—by taking care of both the people who provide those services and the clients who entrust the SAH with the care of their beloved pets.

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“I'm proud of our people. Everybody—from the technical staff to our faculty, to our interns and residents—does amazing, amazing work, and to be part of all they do is a real gift,” Levine said. “Our job is to support people; we want to help them to be the best and that feeds into our clients, our research, and, really, everything we do.” As the VSCS leader for the past four years, Levine has emphasized the importance of listening, accepting both positive and negative feedback, and offering compassion. He’s also sought the guidance of psychologists and social workers to create a climate that values mindfulness and the general wellbeing of his employees. At the same time, the SAH has experienced massive growth in energetic clinicians and specialty areas that have allowed the hospital to expand their advanced services. “Look at oncology,” Levine said. “In 2015, we had one radiation oncologist, two board-certified oncologists, and a couple of residents. Today that group has grown into a comprehensive oncology service that provides each


VITAL OBSERVATIONS

“Everything we do ultimately impacts individuals. We're able to deliver excellent care because the environment in the hospital is right, because the values are aligned, because we’ve helped innovate care. We've built it.” - DR. JONATHAN LEVINE client with integrated expertise from surgeons, medical oncologists, and radiation oncologists. The number of cases coming in has exploded in that area, and a lot of them are referred to us by other specialists.” Through his “listening” approach, the hospital also has begun to identify areas within its 16 specialty services— which range from emergency medicine to dentistry, to ophthalmology, diagnostic imaging, and sports medicine & rehabilitation—where workflow can be improved. “Everyone who works in the SAH knows we can improve how we see patients and deliver care,” he said. “Although focusing on processes is not the most exciting work, we believe that when we get workflow right, it makes people’s lives better, whether it's our clients, our patients, or the people who are doing the day-to-day clinical work, and we want to do that.” Intricately linked to the missions of patient care, teaching, and research are the top-tier clinicians who are dedicated to the values of innovation and discovery. This has been facilitated by supporting investigators such as Kate Creevy, an associate professor of small animal internal medicine, who recently received a $22-million National Institutes of Aging grant for her Dog Aging Project, a long-term study designed to understand how genes, lifestyle, and environment influence aging. The discoveries clinician-scientists like Creevy will make will not only impact veterinary medicine, but human medicine, as well. External collaborations between SAH clinicians and those at Baylor College of Medicine and MD Anderson further emphasize that point. “There's a tremendous opportunity for teaching hospitals to be innovation engines and places where new, meaningful discoveries blend with excellent patient/client care,” Levine said. “What does that look like? It looks like clinical trials that are done with human health care partners, wherein everything from cancer drugs to cardioprotective drugs, to new ways to battle arthritis are approached in animals, with the hope for future changes to human health care. “It also can look like new cardiac devices that have already been used in human medicine making their way into veterinary medicine,” he said. “Our teams have been among the pioneers for generating everything from implants to procedures that are changing lives.”

Dr. Jonathan Levine

His dedication to thinking about the SAH as an “innovation hub” has been a game changer for the hospital, while also representing the future of veterinary medicine. “The telehealth program that we're embarking on is like being on a ship, and there's this distant land far away. We know how valuable it is in human medicine and we've seen parts of it in veterinary medicine with teleradiology, for example,” Levine said (Read more on page 68). “Now there's this opportunity through change in the profession to look at how we deliver the VMTH into someone's house. That's incredible, to have internationally recognized experts, primary care clinicians, and ER docs talking with either an established client or a new client,” he said. “How do you get a practitioner who's living in rural Oklahoma, or Houston, or West Texas access to a dermatologist? If that clinician can virtually be in an exam room, receive digital images at Texas A&M, and talk with clients live, it's a game changer.” While what’s on the horizon for veterinary medicine is exciting, making those things accessible will have the biggest impact on both the patient and the client, in whom hospital clinicians, students, and staff regularly witness the profundity of the human-animal bond. “Everything we do ultimately impacts individuals. We're able to deliver excellent care because the environment in the hospital is right, because the values are aligned, because we’ve helped innovate care. We've built it,” Levine said. “When all our arrows are pointing in the right direction, the outcomes are great for clients. Our clients are treated kindly and respectfully and are listened to, because that's modeled throughout our organization.” ■

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ACADEMICS Dr. Ashley Saunders introduces “Jingles,” a cardiology case study, to her classroom of DVM students as they prepare to work through Jingles’ case from his admission to discharge.

IMMERSED Faculty and staff at the Center for Educational Technologies work to enhance the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine curriculum through active-learning activities that draw from actual Small Animal Hospital cases. Story by JENNIFER GAUNTT More than 140 Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) students sit in groups in a classroom as cardiology professor Dr. Ashley Saunders displays a case study on a large screen. A dog comes into a clinic exhibiting coughing issues. After Saunders presents the dog’s history, students pull up on their individual screens laboratory tests that were run. What will they do next? As each team types in their thoughts, Saunders can pull up a live report on her own device and see how her teams are responding, in real time. “By seeing students’ line of thinking, Dr. Saunders can more easily respond to misconceptions or misunderstandings and see if there is a need for further

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discussion on a topic,” said Molly Gonzales, instructional assistant professor at the Center for Educational Technologies (CET). “If there are some groups that respond in an unexpected way, she can turn the conversation to discuss what was missed, what could be considered, or why that might not have been the best course of treatment. She’s actively walking through the clinical process with them. “Through these clinical simulations, students can test their knowledge and understanding in a low-risk environment, where the only consequence for making a mistake is the opportunity to learn,” she said. This kind of exercise is indicative of the way the CET harnesses technology and the diverse expertise of faculty in the Small Animal Hospital (SAH) to create learning experiences for students (both here and across the country) that enhance critical thinking, engage active learning, and strive to establish more confident veterinary graduates. Housed within the CVM since 2011, the CET has been supporting the creation of e-learning materials and tools that offer an innovative way for rethinking how professors deliver content and how students acquire knowledge. Other examples include the creation of videos that show students how to perform procedures on life-like models, using GoPro cameras to observe students as they perform procedures, and developing online activities that allow students to hone their knowledge of foundational veterinary skills, such as identifying teeth in a variety of species.


ACADEMICS

COLLABORATION PATIENT CARE RESEARCH

Students use CET-developed online learning modules (top) and videos of procedures (bottom) to augment their veterinary education and to practice or observe skills before they practice those skills in a classroom setting.

GIVING

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HOSPITAL

students with the necessary tools to deliver care across different clinical environments. “This call to action from the association affirmed the need for the continued use and future development of immersive learning experiences that engage learners in critically thinking through a problem and making informed decisions that lead to the appropriate diagnosis and course of treatment for patients,” Gonzales said. “This call also challenged us to see how we can provide immersive learning experiences to our former students and practicing veterinarians.” Luckily, for both practicing and budding veterinarians, the CET is here to answer that call. To access the catalog of CPED courses, visit https://tx.ag/ CETCPED and to learn more about the CET, visit http:// www.tamucet.org. ■

CLINICAL TRIALS

classroom. Another advantage is that students can control the pace of their own education through individualized learning tools that can be accessed at any time. “Modules are designed so the students can control their own education by getting involved and making decisions on their own,” said Dr. Jordan Tayce, CET instructional assistant professor. “For example, with our adaptive case studies, students go through a series of scenarios and their performance dictates the next case that is unlocked, so if a student needs more practice, they have the opportunity to do so, but if the student excels, then fantastic, they could move on to the next thing.” These tools have become so valued at Texas A&M that faculty at more than half of the veterinary schools across the country also license them to augment their own curricula; in addition, the CET has made some of its 170 educational resources available for continuing education purposes through partnerships with VetFolio and Texas A&M’s Continuing & Professional Education (CPED) platform. “There are not a lot of other veterinary schools that have units like ours,” Tayce said. “Veterinarians are not trained to teach; they’re trained to be veterinarians. We offer that lens of the teaching perspective for faculty and for students. We offer students the opportunity to learn and think in ways that are different from the ‘traditional’ way of learning. What we’re doing is research based and it works in practice.” Importantly, these resources also align with the new Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) Competency-Based Veterinary Education (CBVE) Framework. The CBVE has challenged veterinary schools across the country to reassess whether their traditional teaching methods were preparing future generations to be practice-ready and if those methods truly equipped

ACADEMICS

“The CVM is home to hundreds of faculty and staff who dedicate their time to create an environment where a lifelong love of learning and passion for veterinary medicine are the norm,” Gonzales said. “With new research and technology constantly advancing the field of veterinary medicine, the college recognizes the importance of having a dynamic curriculum with immersive learning experiences that address the needs and challenges of the current veterinary landscape.” The CET-created resources offer many advantages for DVM students; in addition to stemming from real hospital cases, these resources integrate across the new DVM curriculum, which allows students to better apply materials learned in their first year into their second and third years, so that when they experience similar scenarios in their fourth-year clinical rotations, they can more readily associate what they’re seeing with what they learned in the


ACADEMICS Jamie Foster and Radley

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ACADEMICS

ACADEMICS

“More than likely, there is a chance that there are signs that are just not being observed or recognized. There are ways for veterinarians to intervene to help these women and these animals.” - MELODIE RAESE

COLLABORATION PATIENT CARE

Story by MEGAN MYERS

CLINICAL TRIALS HOSPITAL GIVING

Years of research has made it clear that there is a strong link between animal abuse and domestic violence. According to past research by faculty members of the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), 71 percent of battered women reported that their abusers threatened or harmed their pets, as well, usually in an effort to gain control over the victim. In addition, 40 percent of those women delayed escaping an abusive situation if it meant leaving a pet behind. To help both these women and their pets, a group of CVM students have created Aggies Fostering Hope, a program that has the potential to improve, and possibly even save, the lives of local women suffering from domestic abuse by providing them with a safe, temporary home for their pets. The program was created by fourth-year veterinary student Hunter Greer and was further developed by a group of third-year students led by Melodie Raese and Jamie Foster for the “Veterinarians Impacting Their Community” course, a unique learning opportunity for CVM students. Taught by Dr. Glennon Mays, director of recruiting and student services and clinical associate professor, and Dr. Jordan Tayce, instructional assistant professor, the class incorporates the Texas A&M core values into the DVM professional program curriculum by encouraging students

RESEARCH

CVM veterinary students give back to the Bryan/College Station community by creating a program to help local domestic abuse victims—and their pets.

Melodie Raese

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ACADEMICS

to find innovative ways to combine community service and veterinary medicine. While researching the link between animal abuse and domestic violence, Greer, Raese, and Foster discovered that many of the safe houses for battered women are not able to take in animals. “Aggies Fostering Hope is a three-pronged approach to this problem,” Raese said. “The first is fostering and medical care for the animals of women who are fleeing domestic violence.” Collaborating with the Texas A&M Health Promotion Office, the students are working to secure agreements with both the College Station and Bryan police departments to transport pets to safety when helping a woman leave an abusive situation. The police will take the animals to the Texas A&M Small Animal Hospital (SAH) for any necessary medical treatment, and then a foster will provide a safe home until the owner and pets can be reunited. The second prong involves public information, both about the program itself and about the link between animal abuse and domestic violence. According to the National Link Coalition, pet abuse is one of the most significant indicators of future domestic abuse.

Hunter Greer

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“After learning about the link between domestic violence and pet abuse in the CVM curriculum, I learned that veterinarians have the ability to impact the community beyond the clinic doors. With the known challenges of our profession, I believe dedicating time to helping others provides a newfound gratitude for our own stresses.” - HUNTER GREER “The third prong of this program is informing veterinarians, because 75 percent of the animals that are in abusive homes are being seen by veterinarians,” Raese said. “More than likely, there is a chance that there are signs that are just not being observed or recognized. There are ways for veterinarians to intervene to help these women and these animals.” The idea for this program originally came from Greer and Dr. Karen Cornell, CVM associate dean for professional programs, who then collaborated with Raese and Foster to further develop the program as a class project. Cornell had previously worked with Dr. Kate Creevy, the Mark A. Chapman Chair in Shelter and Companion Animal Health, to create the University of Georgia’s version of this program, Vets for Pets and People. Now at the CVM, they both serve as mentors for Aggies Fostering Hope. Greer said her inspiration for the program arose when she was an undergraduate volunteering at Phoebe’s Home, the Bryan/College Station safe house for women fleeing domestic abuse. “After learning about the link between domestic violence and pet abuse in the CVM curriculum, I learned that veterinarians have the ability to impact the community beyond the clinic doors,” Greer said. “With the known challenges of our profession, I believe dedicating time to helping others provides a newfound gratitude for our own stresses.” The “Veterinarians Impacting Their Community” course began with each student creating an original community service idea, the top 10 of which were chosen and developed into full projects to be presented to a panel of judges at the end of the semester. As the first-place winner, Aggies Fostering Hope is now in the process of becoming a fully functional program. The SAH has agreed to contribute by offering discounted prices for the care of animals brought in through the program, and Boehringer Ingelheim will provide vaccinations and antiparasitic medications for the animals. “We also have agreements with Purina to supply the food for the dogs, cats, or any animals that are brought into this program,” Raese said.


ACADEMICS

ACADEMICS

AGGIES FOSTERING HOPE After leaving abusive situations, women and their pets will separate and take different pathways for care and healing until they can be reunited.

COLLABORATION

Reunited PATIENT CARE

Phoebe's Home Police

Abusive Household RESEARCH

Small Animal Hospital

Foster Home

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GIVING

needed,” Foster said. “My real hope is to see other students hear about the project and have the desire to join in.” The final steps to get Aggies Fostering Hope up and running involve developing solid protocols with the many organizations that have agreed to partner on this project, including the SAH, the Bryan and College Station police departments, Phoebe’s Home, and corporate sponsors. “We would really like it to be in place by this fall; we hope to see its longevity and make sure that it's in place and doesn't fade,” Raese said. “This is a project that I think needs to be taken hold of and really nurtured to grow.” Thanks to dedicated CVM students and faculty members, Aggies Fostering Hope will be providing an invaluable resource to local pet lovers and giving future classes of CVM veterinary students a great way to serve their community. ■

HOSPITAL

In addition, Greer, Raese, and Foster succeeded in adding Aggies Fostering Hope to the College Station Student American Veterinary Medical Association (SAVMA) constitution, which will ensure that there is always an elected student official in charge of the project. “We had put a program similar to this in place back in 2013, but without the students and contacts on campus, the program did not flourish,” said Dr. Stacy Eckman, clinical associate professor. “The vision and momentum of the students will enable Aggies Fostering Hope to be a more successful program.” Raese and Foster, both members of SAVMA, plan to continue their involvement with the project during their time at the CVM. After graduation, Raese will go into service as a U.S. Army veterinarian and Foster plans to do veterinary mission work around the world. “We need people who are passionate about this project to make it work, so I will be involved in whatever way I am

CLINICAL TRIALS

Police provide transportation for women fleeing domestic abuse and their pets, first taking the woman to Phoebe’s Home, a local safe house, and then taking the pet to the Texas A&M Small Animal Hospital. Once the animals are given any necessary medical care, a foster home will keep the pet until it can be reunited with the owner.


ACADEMICS Angelica Frazer, Colton Aleman, and Fallin

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ACADEMICS

ACADEMICS

“You feel like a mom because you see your child up on the stage running with the diploma in his mouth to his veteran and you're just so proud of them for actually making it and graduating.” - ANGELICA FRAZER

Story by MEGAN MYERS

HOSPITAL GIVING

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CLINICAL TRIALS

hours per week; I feel like it would be a full-time job.” Aleman, a senior biomedical sciences major and member of the Corps of Cadets, has a passion for mental health awareness and hopes to one day serve as a clinical social worker with the U.S. Navy. At Texas A&M, he was one of the first members of Aggie Mental Health Ambassadors, an organization that works to end the stigma against mental health on campus. Having lost his uncle to suicide as a result of PTSD, Aleman said he really appreciates what Patriot PAWS stands for and hopes to accomplish. Though too busy to take on a dog himself, he does what he can to help Frazer with hers. Frazer’s current service dog, a 1-year-old Labrador Retriever named McDermott, will stay with her until December before moving on to another trainer. Thanks to a partnership with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Patriot PAWS is able to rotate dogs between the care of Texas A&M students and the men and women in Texas prisons. “It's a great community service for those who are in the prison system,” Frazer said. “They fall in love with the dogs, and it really helps them through their hard times as well.” The dogs, usually puppies when they begin training, need about two years of practice before they can pass the American Canine Good Citizen Test and be sent to live with a veteran. When the dogs are trained within the Texas prison system, they learn in an environment that offers few distractions for them; when Texas A&M students take over handling the dogs, that training is reinforced in a distraction-filled environment that more readily aligns with what they will encounter as a certified service dog. Besides traditional behavioral cues, the dogs are also taught a large variety of skills, such as how to close and

RESEARCH

Texas A&M students are often known for having the desire to help others in their communities and beyond. Angelica Frazer, an ambassador for the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), is a perfect example of this dedication to selfless service. As the incoming president of the student organization Patriot PAWS of Aggieland, Frazer spends much of her free time training service dogs for veterans. “Our end goal is to reduce the veteran suicide rate in the U.S., because right now there are 22 veterans, on average, who commit suicide every single day,” Frazer said. Patriot PAWS of Aggieland and its parent organization, based in Rockwell, Texas, offer trained service dogs at no cost to veterans with physical disabilities, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or other mental health conditions. Since her freshman year at Texas A&M, Frazer has helped raise and train 11 dogs for Patriot PAWS, caring for each for about four months. Patriot PAWS of Aggieland, the largest service dog organization at Texas A&M, typically has around 100 students training dogs each semester. Members of the student organization spend one semester learning cues, attending weekly training classes, and shadowing experienced trainers. They can then be certified and start training a service dog, as long as they continue to remain active within the organization. “After that first semester, you can literally get a dog the week after, as I did my freshman year,” Frazer said. “It's a commitment, but it's worth it.” Though Frazer does the majority of dog care and training on her own, she always has the support of her boyfriend and fellow CVM Ambassador, Colton Aleman. “It's a large time commitment,” Aleman said. “I've seen how much time she puts into it. I'd actually love to know the

PATIENT CARE

CVM ambassadors Angelica Frazer and Colton Aleman train service dogs to provide veterans with a source of comfort in the home they served to protect.

COLLABORATION

MAKING A PAWSITIVE IMPACT


ACADEMICS

Angelica Frazer and Laurie

open doors, bring over a drink or prosthetic leg, and put on their own service vests. “Once we have them paired with a veteran, we work with the dog for a couple of weeks to teach them how to help with that veteran’s specific disability,” Frazer said. “Sometimes the dogs are a better match for social companions,” she said. “We do find veterans who just need a social companion, someone to be there and guide them and be with them all the time.” After the veterans and dogs work together for a short trial period, Patriot PAWS hosts “Pairing Day” to permanently match each veteran with the best dog for his or her needs and personality. “We often see that the dog picks the person,” Frazer said. “They definitely bond during Pairing Day; you can see it just click.” Pairing Day is full of celebration, but can also be bittersweet for the Patriot PAWS trainers who must say goodbye to their dogs. “You feel like a mom because you see your child up on the stage running with the diploma in his mouth to his veteran

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and you're just so proud of them for actually making it and graduating,” Frazer said. “But you're also really sad because they’re leaving ‘home.’” With caring for her dogs, serving as the Patriot PAWS president, and being a CVM Ambassador, Frazer keeps a very busy schedule. In addition to leading tours of the CVM, she also shows guests around main campus for MSC Hospitality, the official host of the Memorial Student Center. She said her goal is to attend veterinary school, preferably at the CVM, where she can also be a member of the Veterinary Emergency Team. One day, she hopes to work as a mixed-practice veterinarian. Besides her temporary service dog in training, Frazer also has a Great Pyrenees-Lab mix named Dante whom she adopted after he dropped out of the Patriot PAWS program. “It's interesting having a pet at home and then having my service dog with me on campus,” she said. “Dante gets the fun part of it, but the service dog gets the working part. Both of them love it, though. If they get fed, they're happy dogs.” ■


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Angelica Frazer and Hawk

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LEARNING IN THE LAB The Texas A&M Gastrointestinal Laboratory has provided veterinary student Marshal Covin with opportunities to explore and expand upon his classroom studies. Story by MEGAN MYERS Marshal Covin, a second-year veterinary student at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), never expected a simple “howdy” to lead to countless opportunities for advancing his veterinary career. But after introducing himself and striking up a conversation with an unfamiliar staff member, who turned out to be veterinary technician Chanel Reinertsen, Covin was encouraged to apply for jobs at the CVM and was soon employed at the Gastrointestinal Laboratory (GI Lab) as a junior biomedical sciences major. “For about a year or so, I was a student worker there helping with service,” Covin said. “Veterinary clinics from around the world send fecal, serum, and other samples to the GI Lab, and I'd help them process it, put it where it's supposed to be, answer phones, and things like that.” Soon, Dr. Jörg Steiner, GI Lab director, distinguished professor, and Dr. Mark Morris Chair in small animal gastroenterology and nutrition, noticed Covin’s potential and requested his help on a research project. They began to develop a real-time polymerase chain reaction test to detect an especially elusive liver fluke called O. viverrini, a zoonotic parasite that can cause serious illness in animals and people. “We extracted DNA from adult specimens of O. viverrini and chose a primer to target the gene we wanted, but we were unsuccessful in getting sufficient amplification of the DNA in our test,” Covin said. “Thus, more work is needed on the project.” After that project was put on hold, Covin was moved to the research sector of the GI Lab and given his next project, for which he used analytical validation to prove that two new protein tests were as effective as the older version that took a far greater amount of time to run. These new tests detect C-reactive protein in dogs, a common marker for inflammation from various causes, including pancreatitis, parvovirus infection, and surgical trauma. “These projects may help improve patient care for any

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“I think we're really fortunate here, because we have such wonderful faculty who are willing to take us under their wings. Dr. Steiner has helped me in so many ways.” - MARSHAL COVIN clinic or lab that is looking to use either of these two tests to measure canine C-reactive protein,” Covin said. “I got two abstracts out of it, which is really awesome,” he added. “I was fortunate enough to go to Seattle and present the first one at the Annual Forum of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine, and then Dr. Jonathan Lidbury presented the second at the European College of Veterinary Internal Medicine Congress in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, in Europe.” Covin’s current project with Steiner involves studying blood serum to develop a new medication for Wilson’s Disease, a genetic disorder in people and dogs. “It's a copper-storage disease wherein people can't excrete copper, so their liver ends up failing,” Covin said. “The current medication for it takes a year to work. This new one that we're trying to work on takes potentially a week.” Though Covin and Steiner have only worked on a few projects together, Covin said it has been fantastic having the opportunity to work in the GI Lab with CVM faculty

Marshal Covin


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Marshal Covin with mentor Dr. Jörg Steiner

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faculty and staff members. As for now, he finds his past and present research projects to have been a very interesting part of his time at the CVM. “They're all really cool,” he said. “I can't even pick a favorite. Each one has its own unique challenges.” Even though Covin doesn’t plan to go into research after graduation, his experiences in the GI Lab will be beneficial when he is working as a mixed-practice veterinarian. “As a general practitioner, having a background in research is really helpful because you can help enroll clients in clinical trials and keep up to date with the latest and greatest innovations,” Covin said. “But, at some point in the future, I might absolutely go back to academics or research.” With the years of practical experience and the multitude of contacts with world-renowned experts Covin has gotten from his position in the GI Lab, who knows where the future will take him? ■

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members who enjoy mentoring students. “I think we're really fortunate here, because we have such wonderful faculty who are willing to take us under their wings,” he said. “Dr. Steiner has helped me in so many ways.” Covin even had the opportunity to travel to Germany this summer with Steiner and two other CVM veterinary students. There, they studied pigs in an effort to develop a new pancreatitis treatment for humans. “Besides the world-class mentorship I get from Dr. Steiner and Dr. Lidbury, I also get a ton of help from other GI Lab staff,” Covin said. “Our technicians, Ph.D. students, and supervisors are always eager to lend a helping hand, which is one of the things I love the most about the GI Lab. “We definitely have a team-player mentality,” he said. “I can confidently say that none of my research would have been possible without their support and guidance.” With three years left at the CVM, Covin has plenty of time to work on many more research projects with GI Lab


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Stephanie Young 20 | CVM TODAY // FALL 2019


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When Texas A&M veterinary student Brianna Armstrong teamed up with animal science major Stephanie Young, the “SKY” became the limit. Story by JENNIFER GAUNTT

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Stephanie Young and Brianna Armstrong show off their $10,000 check after winning a pitch competition in Georgia. began to reevaluate the internal “no” she had given herself regarding SKYPaws.

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Early iterations of SKYPaws (now, formally, SKYPaws, LLC), named after Young’s initials, included a clip that connected to the webbing between the toes on an animal’s paw. When Armstrong came on board, the pair began refining the device, and the patent-pending version now allows veterinarians to monitor their patients’ heart rates, respiration, temperatures, and other vital signs by lying the sensor against the animals’ skin. “SKYPaws eliminates the wires and condenses all of the sensors down into one device. This creates less hassle for the veterinarian and the technician, and it allows for remote, instant access to your patients’ vitals,” Armstrong said. “The vitals are live-streamed across our website or application, which can be accessed anywhere within the facility by the veterinarian, so they don't have to be patient-side in order to see what's going on with the patient’s vitals.” The idea for SKYPaws stemmed from an experience Young had while working at the College Avenue Animal Clinic in her hometown of Levelland, Texas. During one shift, a dog named Charlie underwent a routine surgical procedure. The surgery went well, without any complications, so the hospital staff called Charlie’s owner to inform her that she could pick him up at the end of the day. Before that could happen, though, Charlie died.

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Texas A&M student Stephanie Young’s mantra is “Let them tell me no.” Perhaps that’s because the one time Young almost took no for an answer, it came from herself. She had just earned third place in the biomedical engineering division of the state science fair on a project for which she had created a canine-vitals monitoring device. After the competition, it was suggested that she patent her idea, but being somewhat disappointed in the results, which made her believe people weren’t really interested in a device created by a high schooler, she cut what she saw as her losses and moved on to become an animal science major at Texas A&M, with hopes of becoming an Aggie veterinarian. Her perspective changed, though, when Dr. Glennon Mays, Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences’ (CVM) director of recruiting and student services, talked to her class one day. Following his talk, she approached Mays and over the course of the conversation, told him about her invention, SKYPaws. “I didn't expect to tell him about it. I remember arguing with myself in line. I was like, ‘This is stupid,’” Young recalled thinking. “I don't know if y'all believe in a higher power, but I believe in God, and I believe He was sitting there telling me, ‘you need to tell him.’” And so she did. Mays encouraged Young to participate in the CVM’s Veterinary Entrepreneurship Academy (VEA), a program that brings together veterinary students, academic institutions, startup partners, and veterinary practices from across the country to accelerate animal heath innovation and empower the next generation of veterinary practitioners. Though not quite a veterinary student, she was offered the opportunity to participate in the VEA last summer. Through that experience, she found both encouragement and the person who would become her partner—third-year veterinary student (at the time) Brianna Armstrong; she also


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Stephanie Young and Brianna Armstrong embraced networking while sharing their product, SKYPaws, as an exhibitor during the 2019 Veterinary Innovation Summit.

Brianna Armstrong discusses SKYPaws during the Startup Pitch Competition at the 2019 Veterinary Innovation Summit, where the team won their second $10,000 prize.

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“The veterinary hospital was so busy that day, and his vitals were fine, so we put Charlie in the kennel and decided to check on him every once in a while to make sure that he was doing OK,” Young said. “Not five minutes later, I was mopping the facility and I happened to walk by and notice that Charlie was unusually still. Knowing that something was off, I called the veterinary technician over, and Charlie wasn't breathing. At that moment, the whole clinic flew into a frenzy. They did everything they could, but, sadly, Charlie didn't make it. “One of the hardest things was talking to the owner, saying that her dog Charlie, who was going to go home to her family and had been doing just fine, wasn't,” Young said. “That whole time, I was wondering if there was a way that we could monitor these patients better, without just leaving them in the kennel and hoping that they're still breathing. “SKYPaws was born that day,” she said. When the VEA renewed her enthusiasm for the project, Young began exploring fundraising opportunities;


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Dr. Sonya Gordon (left, with Brianna Armstrong) will be one of the veterinarians to test SKYPaws when prototypes are completed.

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device that can provide longitudinal information from pets in their home environment with minimal stress would play an important role in managing a variety of diseases, both clinically and in research studies, and also as a monitoring tool in hospital situations.” As Armstrong completes her fourth-year clinical rotations and Young her junior year, the pair will keep looking for the next “yes” that will help them make their dream a reality. “We hope to hit market within three years. A lot of people want us to hit market a lot sooner than that, and I think with the appropriate funding, we might be able to. We're currently working with engineers who are students, and we'll definitely have a device within a year that we'll put in the hands of some veterinarians to start testing,” Armstrong said. “So, I'm being cautious and saying I think in three years we might be ready.” For more information on SKYPaws, visit www. skypawsdevice.com. ■

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“The development of this kind of device, that is small and easy to use, will facilitate the diagnosis and management of heart failure in companion animals.”

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Almost better than the money is the validation the pair has received for their product. “The feedback we have received is that SKYPaws is incredible, it’s where the industry is going, and that people love our passion and hope we are the ones to do it first,” Armstrong said. “It’s just been really positive and really uplifting to see that what we're doing, what we believe in, so many other people also believe in. That's always a really good feeling.” A number of practicing veterinarians with whom Armstrong and Young have talked about SKYPaws have expressed interest in helping test the prototypes once they’re created, including Dr. Sonya Gordon, a cardiologist in the CVM’s Small Animal Hospital. “The development of this kind of device, that is small and easy to use, will facilitate the diagnosis and management of heart failure in companion animals,” Gordon said. “An all-in

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while attending a conference, she came across an ideas competition that paid a top prize of $10,000—the caveat, however, was that only veterinary students could apply for the competition. Seeking out advice, she went to VEA mentor Dr. Aaron Wallace, co-founder of Lacuna Diagnostics, who was also at the conference. “I went over to his booth and told him I wanted to apply for this ideas competition but it says in big, bold letters, ‘For Vet School Students Only,’” Young said. “Dr. Wallace goes, ‘Stephanie, you're in the VEA, and that's for vet school students only. Let them tell you no, because that's the worst that could happen." With just three days before the application deadline, Young gave it a shot and asked Armstrong to join the team. “When Stephanie came to me with her idea and was asking me if I would be interested in being a part of SKYPaws in the competition I thought, why not? Because, one, I really love entrepreneurship and, two, I would now have a partner who can help me get this going,” Armstrong said. “It ended up working out really well; we're great partners in that we kind of balance each other out, as far as personality types go, so it ended up being a really great partnership.” The pair spent the next eight months engrossed in preparation—constructing a prototype, creating a business plan and countless videos to explain the product, completing market research that included interviewing veterinarians, and developing and refining their pitch. This past March, they traveled to Athens, Georgia, for the contest and won. Since then, they’ve also won an additional $10,000 at the Veterinary Innovation Summit’s startup competition.


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Dr. Unity Jeffery, in her lab

Through her Dogs Helping Dogs laboratory, Dr. Unity Jeffery studies common canine diseases to improve veterinary care in the future. Story by DR. ANN KELLETT If you ask for Dr. Jeffery at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), you’ll need to be more specific. Dr. Nick Jeffery and Dr. Unity Jeffery are a husband-and-wife team who both devote their lives to advancing animal health care at the CVM. An assistant professor of veterinary pathobiology, Unity Jeffery utilizes her Dogs Helping Dogs laboratory to better understand, diagnose, and treat common canine diseases. She got the idea while earning her Ph.D. at Iowa State University.

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“To get research funding, small animal veterinarians typically have to focus on problems that overlap with human medicine,” she said. “Dogs Helping Dogs focuses on problems that aren’t so interesting to funding agencies.”

TACKLING THE MOST IMPORTANT PROBLEMS At the moment, she’s working on some of the biggest problems a dog can have—heatstroke and a disease associated with it (and other conditions), called disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC). Heatstroke can occur quickly and is deadly in the majority of cases. It is of particular concern for dogs with thick fur and short noses, as well as those that are obese or have other medical conditions. DIC is less well known to most dog lovers and occurs when numerous small blood clots form throughout the body in


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“The patients we work with today are teaching us how to improve future care. I am very grateful for the generosity of the owners and pets who participate in our studies and the technicians, interns, residents, and clinicians who help make this possible.”

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Dr. Unity Jeffery

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Retriever Lifetime Project,” Jeffery said. “We’re using annual health check data from the dogs enrolled in this study to determine how much lab results vary in healthy dogs. The results will help us determine if changes detected at annual wellness checks are clinically important or just normal fluctuations.” Jeffery expects some of these studies to have an immediate impact. “I hope our fluid therapy study will help improve the standard of care of canine patients almost immediately after it is published,” she said. “Others, like the heatstroke study, are chipping away at a really big problem. It will probably be a few years before it pays off, but without these initial studies we’ll never improve survival for these patients.” Her colleagues understand the importance of this work. “I’ve got great collaborators in the Small Animal Hospital who take the time to enroll patients and collect samples, even when their day-to-day clinical work is very demanding,” she said. “This is particularly true of our emergency and critical care service. They deal with the most seriously ill patients in the hospital but they recognize that clinical research holds the key to improving care for their patients.” ■

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Jeffery’s other main focus is to improve the accuracy of the tests given by veterinarians during an examination and the laboratory results of these tests. “Laboratory and point-of-care analyzers can be marketed to veterinarians even though they may not consistently provide accurate results,” she said. “Laboratory accuracy is important to us because it is a major patient safety issue and we base so many of our diagnostic and treatment decisions on laboratory testing.” Several projects are underway or recently completed. In one, she and CVM emergency and critical care team member Dr. Christine Rutter worked with a couple of point-of-care instrument manufacturers to assess the performance of their analyzers in clinical patients. In another, she and clinical pathology resident Carolina Azevedo looked at how high blood lipid concentrations interfere with lab testing. “One of the projects that I’m most excited about is a study involving data from the Morris Animal Foundation’s Golden

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conjunction with a severe illness such as cancer, sepsis, and liver or kidney disease. About 150 dogs have provided blood for her studies so far. Healthy dogs, mostly the pets of staff and students at the CVM, provide control samples, and others come from dogs that have been treated at the Small Animal Hospital (SAH). “The patients we work with today are teaching us how to improve future care,” Jeffery said. “I am very grateful for the generosity of the owners and pets who participate in our studies and the technicians, interns, residents, and clinicians who help make this possible.” Gathering data in these kinds of clinical studies takes much longer than in traditional experimental research, but Jeffery says the enrollment target for two studies was reached in June. “I’m really excited to see the final results,” she said. “With one study, we’re hoping to take a first step in developing new tests and therapies for dogs affected by heatstroke. The other looks at how different fluid therapies affect the health of blood vessels, which we hope will help us keep patients from developing DIC.”


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A team of academic researchers and a Small Animal Hospital clinician have come together for the health and safety of dogs working at the U.S. border. Story by BRILEY LAMBERT

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study, which is also being done in collaboration with the Institute for Infectious Animal Diseases (IIAD) at Texas A&M. Chagas disease, caused by the protozoan parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, is transmitted through kissing, or conenose, bugs. While Chagas disease has long been known in Central and South America, there is now increasing awareness for the disease in the southern United States where kissing bugs occur. Hamer, Meyers, and Saunders all have devoted portions of their research to understanding the full impact of Chagas disease. When they began looking at government working dogs across the U.S.—and not just on the southern border— they found that approximately 7 percent were exposed to the parasite that causes Chagas disease. “The DHS maintains more than 3,000 working dogs across the country, including the security dogs at the airports,

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Dogs working at the United States-Mexico border face daily obstacles as they endeavor to keep the country safe from terrorism and criminal trafficking, but a team of researchers at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) and its Small Animal Hospital (SAH) is working to ensure that Chagas disease is not one of those obstacles. Working with Dr. Ashley Saunders, a cardiologist at the SAH, CVM associate professor Dr. Sarah Hamer and recent doctoral graduate Alyssa Meyers have spent the past four years examining the impending health implications of Chagas disease and the effect this disease has on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) working dogs’ ability to work. As a result of their early findings, last year, the team received DHS funding to complete the third phase of the


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customs and border protection dogs, Coast Guard dogs, federal protective service dogs, and secret service dogs,” Meyers explained. “These are highly valuable dogs, often selected for their drive and pedigree, and, unfortunately, our initial research found that up to 18 percent of the working dogs along the Texas-Mexico border were positive for exposure to T. cruzi, the Chagas parasite.” The team has now narrowed the research to understand the long-lasting health implications of Chagas disease in these working dogs, a project that has required Hamer and Meyers to take trips to the border several times a year to assess the dogs while on the job. “It’s pretty cool work because we’re intercepting these border patrol dogs while they’re working,” Hamer said. “We just want a glimpse, to take a blood sample, monitor their heart, and we want to put on a Fit Bark—which is like a Fit Bit, but for dogs—all while they’re still working and doing their normal jobs.” Because Chagas disease can cause acute or chronic heart disease or death in dogs and humans, Saunders, who has worked with Hamer for years on Chagas-related research to help with the project, came aboard to evaluate the tests used to assess the dogs for heart disease.

Collaborator Dr. Marty Henderson performs an echocardiogram in the field.

“The collaboration with Dr. Hamer’s lab is important for advancing our understanding of Chagas disease from all aspects—the epidemiology of the disease, the vectors and the dogs themselves. It is a more effective way to work and learn and has been invaluable.” - DR. ASHLEY SAUNDERS

Dr. Ashley Saunders, a cardiologist at the Small Animal Hospital

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“The collaboration with Dr. Hamer’s lab is important for advancing our understanding of Chagas disease from all aspects—the epidemiology of the disease, the vectors, and the dogs themselves,” Saunders said. “It is a more effective way to work and learn and has been invaluable.” Their work also has potential to affect the work Saunders does in the SAH every day, she said. “We routinely see dogs with heart disease attributed to Chagas disease,” she said. “For clinical patients, the disease can be difficult to manage and prognosis can be poor with no available treatment. This is frustrating for owners and us. “Getting involved in this research allows us to better understand the disease and treat our patients,” she said. Because there is no vaccination to prevent Chagas disease in humans or animals, and treatment is limited, Meyers said the team also plans to use this grant to focus on what can be done to control the kissing bugs and prevent transmission.


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Alyssa Meyers and Italo Zecca, a recent doctoral graduate CLINICAL TRIALS HOSPITAL GIVING

“Vector control includes things like clearing brush where kissing bugs can dwell from around kennels and houses, minimizing the use of light at night because kissing bugs are drawn to light, and securing access to kennels, to prevent bugs from getting in,” Meyers said. Although securing the kennels may seem like an easy fix, it can be a costly and challenging intervention for these facilities, which house dozens of dogs, according to Hamer. Along with studying Chagas disease, Hamer’s team will be using the grant to study other vector-borne diseases— including those spread by ticks and mosquitoes—that may impact these working dogs. “Because these working dogs spend lots of time outside where they may be exposed to vectors, they may provide a sensitive indication of the different vector-borne infections across the landscape that are not only important for dog health, but also human health,” Hamer said. “Our studies will have an increased focus on what we can do to ensure these animals remain healthy. We’re excited that Texas A&M University is helping secure the health of these important animals that are on the front lines of security for our country.” ■

Dr. Sarah Hamer and Alyssa Meyers

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THE HONOR OF CARING FOR Some may see her as just a dog, but Texas A&M’s First Lady is so much more for Aggies­— and for her Aggie veterinarian. Story by DR. ANN KELLETT Dr. Stacy Eckman stays busy teaching veterinary students and interns, while also performing everything from routine checkups to extraordinary life-saving measures for patients as a clinical associate professor and chief medical officer for the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences’ (CVM) Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences (VSCS). As an Aggie graduate, Eckman says one patient always stands out—the First Lady of Aggieland and one of the most famous dogs in the nation, “Miss Reveille.” While Reveille I was a black-and-white mutt (“a fox terrier and mongrel mix,” according to George Comnas, Class of 1935, one of the students who smuggled the injured dog into their dorm in 1932) and Reveille II was a Shetland shepherd, every Reveille since Reveille III took office in 1966 has been a Rough Collie. Known for their intelligence, obedience, and beauty, Collies originated about 350 years ago in Scotland as a working breed for herding cattle and sheep. Today, they are the 40th most-popular breed in the country and are as likely to be family pets as working dogs. Unlike the collies that portrayed Lassie on the celebrated TV show that ran for nearly two decades, all Reveilles so far have been female. And Eckman has known the last three very well. Since leaving private practice in Corpus Christi 10 years ago to return to Texas A&M as a clinician at the Small Animal Hospital (SAH), Eckman has provided care for Reveille VII in retirement, Reveille VIII while active and in retirement, and, now, Reveille IX. “I see her at least twice annually, but we often see her or are in contact with her handlers more frequently to answer questions,” Eckman said.

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Reveille IX preparing for a check-up with technician D’Lisa Whaley, Dr. Stacy Eckman, and handler Colton Ray


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Handler Colton Ray and Dr. Stacy Eckman give Reveille IX a treat after a checkup.

Reveille spends all of her time—24 hours a day—with the Mascot Corporal, a sophomore in Company E-2 of Texas A&M’s Corps of Cadets. The Mascot Corporal (currently, Colton Ray) is chosen from the company each spring, and for the next year Reveille goes everywhere with him or her—to class, on dates, and home for the holidays.

HELPING CHOOSE ONE OF THE MOST FAMOUS DOGS IN THE COUNTRY Eckman also served on the committee that selected Reveille IX in 2015—a major responsibility, given Reveille’s high profile and demanding schedule. “We traveled to several states to ‘interview’ dogs, breeders and owners, and even some rescue organizations,” she said. “It was amazing to see the variety of candidates!” The search took seven months and the 12-member committee of students, faculty, and staff considered 15 applications from breeders and other Collie enthusiasts from across the country. They picked four finalists and ultimately selected a 16-month-old puppy donated by Overland Collies in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, a well-known kennel in the collie-breeding world. Her predecessor, Reveille VIII, ended her seven years of service with a well-earned retirement at the Stevenson Companion Animal Life-Care Center, operated by the CVM. She died at age 12 and was laid to rest with her

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Reveille IX at the Aggie Quad Arches (Photo by Mark Guerrero, Texas A&M Marketing & Communications)

“I see her at least twice annually, but we often see her more frequently or are in contact with her handlers more frequently to answer questions.” - DR. STACY ECKMAN predecessors in Kyle Field Plaza, on the north side of the stadium. “She was quite the lady,” Eckman said in a Texas A&M news story at the time. “Even sick, she was regal—she just had that air about her.” Reveille IX was younger when Eckman met her. “She was more playful and mischievous—she needed more attention and training—but all of them have been sweet and loving,” Eckman said. These qualities are important in a dog that spends her life in the public eye, and each has had her quirks. Reveille II, for example, had a habit of relieving herself on Kyle Field during games, leading cadets to place bets on which yard line she would choose. And her successor was known as lovable, but not the brightest canine ever.

PREPARING A 16-MONTH-OLD FOR FIRST LADY STATUS In the decades since, and as the demands placed on Reveille have grown along with student enrollment, her handlers


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here, in and out of the classroom and clinics. “The CVM has grown, but there is still a deep desire to help students be successful and provide them with the best opportunities,” she said. Today, that means more access to technology and teaching tools.

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Since being named the CVM’s first chief medical officer for the SAH in 2017, Eckman has intended to maintain the exceptional patient care and exceptional student learning experiences that are at the core of the hospital’s mission, no matter how much the hospital grows or changes. In her view, this means a focus on process management, or “how we can serve clients and patients to the best of our abilities, while continuing to provide students, interns, and residents with exceptional learning opportunities,” she said. Despite all of the changes on campus, Eckman emphasizes that “there is just something about how special this place is that it is almost impossible to articulate.” Without a doubt, Reveille helps make Aggieland special. “I even follow her on Twitter” Eckman said, “and I am not too Twitter-savvy!” ■

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and caregivers have emphasized training that prepares Reveille for crowds and near-constant activity. “Training early on is foundational for most dogs,” Eckman said. “That means slow introductions to a variety of people and noises and eventually building up to a higher level of crowds and noise.” She also says her handlers have excelled at learning to read and respond to Reveille’s body language and other physical cues. “That helps keep the trust in their relationship,” she said. “When she is getting tired or overwhelmed in a situation, they recognize that and change the situation or the approach. Even though her handler changes yearly, they do an excellent job of communicating her training and teaching each other so they remain consistent.” Eckman says her role as Reveille’s chief caregiver makes her “proud and humbled.” “As a die-hard Aggie, it is such an honor!” she said. She also says it was an honor to return to Texas A&M as a faculty member eight years after earning her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree from the CVM in 2001. “That was definitely not in my long-term plan!” she said. “But I couldn’t be more thankful for the education I received

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Fourth-year veterinary students and Dr. Lori Teller cannot pass up an opportunity to have their photo taken with the First Lady of Aggieland during a recent visit to the Small Animal Hospital.


PATIENT CARE

Surgical oncologist Dr. Brandan Wustfeld-Janssens (left) and surgical resident Dr. Whitney Hinson (right) say goodbye to T-Rex and handler Houston Police Officer Paul Foster following a preoperative checkup. 34 | CVM TODAY // FALL 2019


PATIENT CARE

ACADEMICS

“I have always been interested in oncology and the unique challenges it presents us as veterinarians. The opportunity to provide comfort and hope to our patients and their families is very rewarding.” - DR. BRANDAN WUSTEFELD-JANSSENS

COLLABORATION

When a Houston police dog was given an uncommon cancer diagnosis, CVM surgical oncologist Brandan Wustefeld-Janssens stepped in to save his life and get him back on his feet. Story by DR. ANN KELLETT

HOSPITAL

AN UNCOMMON—AND GOOD—PROGNOSIS Wustefeld-Janssens said T-Rex was typical in the presentation of his cancer, but received an uncommon diagnosis. “Bone cancer is typical in large or giant breed dogs and is located in a long bone near the knee,” he said. “Most often— about 85 percent of the time—these types of tumors are osteosarcoma.” But it turns out that T-Rex had something else: a lowgrade chondrosarcoma—a tumor of the cartilage—which has a very good prognosis.

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GIVING

“I have always been interested in oncology and the unique challenges it presents us as veterinarians,” said WustefeldJanssens, an assistant professor of surgical oncology. “The opportunity to provide comfort and hope to our patients and their families is very rewarding.” He earned a veterinary degree at the University of Pretoria in South Africa and then completed an internship and surgical residency at the University of Liverpool in the United Kingdom. In 2017, Wustefeld-Janssens came to Texas A&M after finishing an elite fellowship in surgical oncology at Colorado State University, making him one of just two fellowshiptrained surgical oncologists in Texas. He also is a Diplomate

CLINICAL TRIALS

BRINGING COMFORT AND HOPE TO PATIENTS AND FAMILIES

of the European College of Veterinary Surgeons and a recognized specialist in surgical oncology with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. “I knew of Texas A&M from my student days, and Texas appealed to my wife and me, since it is so similar to South Africa, where we grew up,” Wustefeld-Janssens said. “As luck would have it, the university was looking to expand the oncology team to include a surgical oncologist. The rest, as they say, is history.” Also appealing is that the CVM has a state-of-the art radiation therapy unit with outstanding radiation oncologists. “This allows us to deliver radiation very accurately in a way that cannot be matched with other machines,” he said. “We are currently exploring ways to use this advanced technology to extend survivals in cancers that spread to the lungs. We also are looking at ways to produce custom made, 3D-printed implants to reconstruct bone defects after cancer surgery.”

RESEARCH

Houston Police Department Officer Paul Foster has worked with his four-legged K9 partner, a Belgian Malinois named T-Rex, for four years. “We go out every night and hunt down the bad guys who run,” Foster has said, adding that since T-Rex has come aboard, the duo has captured more than 100 bad guys. But when Foster noticed T-Rex limping a few months ago, a veterinarian gave him some bad news—bone cancer—an especially common diagnosis in larger breeds like T-Rex. While treatments are available, they have many side effects, and the prognosis is generally grim, as the cancer often spreads quickly throughout the body. That’s when Foster brought T-Rex to the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences’ (CVM) Small Animal Hospital (SAH) and Dr. Brandan WustefeldJanssens.

PATIENT CARE

A HERO'S HERO


PATIENT CARE

“This was great news, since the more common osteosarcoma has a poor overall survival rate of just 15 to 20 percent at two years,” Wustefeld-Janssens said. Given the grade and type of tumor he presented, T-Rex didn’t need chemotherapy; instead, Wustefeld-Janssens and his team amputated the affected leg and saved his life. T-Rex hardly seemed to notice. “He dragged the student working on his case out the front door of the hospital the very next day!” Wustefeld-Janssens said. “I am always blown away how amazing dogs are. They can recover so quickly from a fairly large surgery that would take a person months to recover from.”

RESEARCHING TREATMENTS AT THE MOLECULAR LEVEL “Cancer develops spontaneously in dogs, just like in people, and our pets are often exposed to similar environmental risk factors as those associated with cancer in people,” Wustefeld-Janssens said. “Some cancers in dogs are indistinguishable from the same disease in people when the cells are looked at under the microscope. While cancer in a pet is scary, there is always something that can be done. “Many people are surprised to find out not only that dogs get cancer, but that many of the techniques and methods we use are identical to those used with people,” WustefeldJanssens said.

Following his operation, T-Rex is still working for Houston P.D.

That’s why his group focuses on translational research and the unique opportunities that canine patients provide to study a disease so similar to that found in humans. “Producing quality research and providing world-class, cutting-edge service to canine patients required a similar financial investment to that needed for centers for human patients,” he said. But the results of this investment are promising. “We are developing new treatment targets for difficult cancers like osteosarcoma and lymphoma,” WustefeldJanssens said. “And the research pioneered in dogs is being taken over to clinical trials in kids with the same cancers. “The technology and techniques used to study the molecular mechanisms of cancer are significantly more available and more cost effective than they used to be,” he said. “We hope to have a better understanding of the molecular drivers of canine cancer soon so we can come up with new and innovative ways to treat cancer at the molecular level.”

BACK IN ACTION

T-Rex

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Meanwhile, T-Rex is back on the job in Houston, this time sniffing out explosives and as a demonstration dog rather than chasing bad guys. “Giving him a purpose and giving him something to do, I think, will help with his rehabilitation,” Foster said when T-Rex left the hospital. Wustefeld-Janssens agrees. “The CVM is one of very few hospitals in the United States that has a fully integrated clinical team,” he said. “This means the traditional subspecialties in oncology—medical, radiation, and surgical—work together on every case and make comprehensive treatment plans that offer the best chance for a good outcome, allow us to be innovative in treatment, and integrate cutting-edge clinical trials.” Patients like T-Rex would, no doubt, agree. ■


PATIENT CARE Rimmy, the rescued bottlenose dolphin © 2019 SeaWorld Parks

Neurosurgeon Nick Jeffery has seen his fair share of unusual cases, so when he had the opportunity to perform the first spinal tap on a dolphin, saying “yes” was a no-brainer. Story by DR. ANN KELLETT On an average day, Dr. Nick Jeffery spends much of his time trying to develop new treatments for dogs with spinal cord injuries, which means he has performed thousands of spinal taps—extracting the watery fluid around the brain— on dogs. A member of the innovative and interdisciplinary Texas A&M Institute for Neuroscience, one of just a few centers in the world that focus on spinal cord injuries, he also studies the loss of neurologic function associated with injury to the cruciate ligament in the knee and, specifically, whether

the common experience of feeling unsteady after the knee is stabilized by surgery is neurological in origin and how it might be fixed. These injuries are common in both dogs and humans; 15 to 20 dogs come through the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences’ (CVM) Small Animal Hospital (SAH) each week with ligament injuries. But when the professor of neurology and neurosurgery got the call to join a team in performing the first-ever spinal tap on a live dolphin, he jumped at the chance to be a part of something “quite interesting.”

DOLPHINS ARE COOL—AND TRICKY “I didn’t know anything about dolphins except that they’re cool,” he said. “I learned that only a few have been successfully anesthetized until recently. It’s risky. While CSF

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(cerebrospinal fluid) sampling has been performed on dead dolphins, this was the first for a live dolphin.” This one, Rimmy, was a young, female bottlenose, the most common species, seen in TV shows like Flipper and at aquariums and marine parks. Like hundreds of others each year, Rimmy was stranded along the Gulf Coast. She was found in September 2017 at Sea Rim State Park in Sabine Pass, and a marine mammal rescue group treated her in Galveston for pneumonia, nasal parasites, and other ailments. But before the staff of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration could find her a permanent home, they had to make sure she was healthy. The fear was that she might have Brucella, the pathogen that causes brucellosis, a highly contagious disease found in many species of animals, as well as about half a million humans each year and can cause brain disease in dolphins. “They took blood samples and did other tests that all indicated that she may or may not have it. They couldn’t be sure,” Jeffery said. The only way to rule out the possibility was to perform a spinal tap to extract and test some of the watery fluid that surrounds the brain.

HEALTHY OR NOT? That meant anesthetizing her—a huge deal because dolphins don’t fare well out of the water and it’s difficult to give them oxygen during a procedure because they breathe differently, holding their breath almost all of the time, unlike other mammals.

“It was nice to be able to contribute to this because it meant that Rimmy could go live a nice life, which she otherwise wouldn’t have been able to do.” - DR. NICK JEFFERY “Humans breathe in and out all the time, but most of the time a dolphin’s lungs are full of air so that it can stay underwater,” Jeffery said. “The anesthetists had to try to mimic that for more than eight hours during the procedure.” In addition, a dolphin’s larynx, or “voice box,” can either point forward through their mouth or upward so that it goes through their blowhole, which can present a problem when trying to insert tubes to anesthetize a dolphin. Fortunately, a team of dolphin and sea lion anesthesia specialists was on hand, including SeaWorld veterinarians Dr. Jennifer Camilleri, Dr. Steve Osborn, and Dr. Hendrik Nollens, as well as SeaWorld’s animal husbandry team. Rimmy was sedated and then placed in a hammock on a crane and lifted out of the water. The veterinary team used ultrasound to place an intravenous catheter and kept her skin wet throughout the intensive procedure. They also had to keep her lungs from crushing since she was more than six feet long and weighed about 250 pounds. Then, it was Jeffery’s turn. While Jeffery has performed thousands of spinal taps on dogs, he had to study dolphin anatomy in order to correctly account for the shape of the skull and the relationship of the brain to the spinal cord. “While I initially thought it would be very different in dolphins—because of the shape of the skull and because the relationship of the brain to the spinal cord is completely different—since I’ve completed the procedure, I realize that it’s not so different from a dog,” he said. The one big difference: “the needle was huge compared to what I use on dogs!” Jeffery said.

HEALTHY AND READY FOR A NEW HOME

Rimmy received the first-ever spinal tap to be performed on a dolphin at SeaWorld San Antonio in early December 2018. © 2019 SeaWorld Parks

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When the procedure was finished, the team took Rimmy off of the ventilator and made sure she could move her larynx to her blowhole to breathe on her own before placing her in a shallow pool. “There were about six people in the pool with her, ready to get her out if there was a problem. I made sure she was all right and swimming around before I left,” he said. All of the tests came back negative for infectious disease, which meant she could mix with the other dolphins at the center and eventually be re-homed. “It was nice to be able to contribute to this because it meant that Rimmy could go live a nice life, which she otherwise wouldn’t have been able to do,” Jeffery said. ■


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PATIENT CARE

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Dr. Nick Jeffery

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Andrea Streicher and Werner in their home (Photo by Case Rhome, Texas A&M Foundation)

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PATIENT CARE

Texas A&M University veterinarians collaborate to successfully operate on a “double doodle” with a rare tumor. Story by CORLEY-ANN PARKER When Andrea Streicher saw the photos of the curly-haired, golden puppies a friend had sent her, it was love at first sight. Her day had started off with a series of unfortunate events—including a flat tire—but there in front of her was the antidote to all her doldrums. Werner, a “double doodle” with Goldendoodle and Labradoodle parents, immediately joined the Streicher household and proved himself to be a happy, social, and active dog. He could often be found running around a dog park in their hometown of Austin, donning silly costumes or funky bandannas that matched his personality. Because of Werner’s excellent demeanor with children, Streicher aspired to train him as a therapy dog. "We dyed his ears blue for his first birthday, and I noticed when his ears were blue that little kids were so drawn to him,” Streicher said. “We now keep his ears blue, so that when he goes to schools to help with readings and stuff, the kids will still be drawn to him.”

A DISHEARTENING DIAGNOSIS At just around 2 years of age, Werner started becoming lethargic and depressed and began having seizures. Concerned, Streicher took him in to her local veterinarian, where they found that Werner had a huge, rapidly growing skull tumor. “When we first started having problems, the tumor was probably the size of my thumbnail. It was like a grape,” Streicher recalled. “Three weeks later, it was almost the size of an egg.” Streicher met with several veterinarians who told her they had never seen such an aggressive tumor in such a young dog and they feared his tumor would be inoperable. Of course, the diagnosis came as a shock for Streicher and her family.

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“When a client comes to an academic institution like the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, they’re typically coming because we offer strengths that other practices may not be able to provide.” - DR. MICHAEL DEVEAU

A 3D print of Werner's skull and tumor before surgery was on display at Exploration Day. (Photo by Fidelis Creative)

Werner's VMTH team discusses the case at Exploration Day.

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“We waited 24 hours until I could talk with the neurologist, and she basically said that it was huge,” she said. “It was super invasive. She said our main objective should be to keep Werner comfortable.” Despite the grim prognosis, Streicher wasn’t about to give up on Werner, so she decided to take him to Texas A&M’s Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital (VMTH). “I thought he wasn’t going to survive, and if I lost him, I wanted his body to go to the veterinary students at Texas A&M so that they could study him and learn from his disease,” Streicher recalled. There, the VMTH team swiftly admitted Werner for a CT scan and confirmed the tumor took up a significant portion of his skull and was compressing his brain. After the veterinary team spent some time analyzing Werner’s case, they gave Streicher some news she didn’t anticipate: They would be able to operate and attempt to remove the tumor. Werner would likely lose an eye and there was no guarantee of a successful surgery, but the doctors were confident they could give Werner’s case a shot. The next step before surgery was to perform a bone biopsy to confirm the specific type of cancer Werner was suspected to have. After about two weeks of waiting, the biopsy results returned and confirmed that Werner's tumor was a multilobular tumor of bone.


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ACADEMICS

Multilobular tumors are rare, and there are no known predispositions to this particular type of cancer. The tumors typically occur on flat bones, and in canines, the skull is the most common area they arise. Surgical removal of these tumors is tricky, and it is often impossible to remove the tumors from the skull with clean margins.

Neurology resident Dr. Maya Krasnow at Exploration Day

HOSPITAL GIVING

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To support further innovations in veterinary medicine, please contact Chastity Carrigan, Assistant Vice President for Development for the CVM, at ccarrigan@txamfoundation.com or 979.845.9043.

RESEARCH

should be able to do things that nobody else can do, and if there isn’t an easily apparent way to do something, then we can pool our resources, put our heads together, and have an outcome that may benefit patients like Werner.” Streicher hopes to have Werner certified as a therapy dog to help comfort children undergoing cancer treatment. “He is just amazing,” Streicher said. “The fact that he’s still here is just a miracle. He is Werner the Wonder Dog.” The Streicher family is extremely grateful for the efforts made by the VMTH team to save Werner’s life. Specifically, Streicher said she credits Texas A&M with “taking the chance.” For that, she says she will always recommend the VMTH for quality veterinary care. “If you need any care that goes above and beyond, just go to Texas A&M. Just do it. You won’t be sorry,” she said. At the end of February, Streicher brought Werner back to College Station, but as a guest of honor instead of a patient. Werner’s story was showcased as one of four exhibits at the Texas A&M Foundation’s Exploration Day, which provided immersive experiences for top university donors from disciplines across campus. Werner appeared on stage as the grand finale of the college’s exhibit and received a standing ovation. As a tribute to the team that saved his life, Werner wore a 12th Man jersey, while his famous blue ears were dyed maroon to honor the Aggies who never gave up on saving his life. ■

PATIENT CARE

On Oct. 10, 2018, when Werner checked in for his surgery, the VMTH neurology and oncology teams had come up with an innovative solution. Because of the amount of skull Werner would lose in the operation, his clinicians would need to find a way to rebuild his skull from scratch. Dr. Michael Deveau, a clinical assistant professor in the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) and holder of the Katherine and Rebecca Rochelle Chair in Oncology, reviewed CT scans of healthy dogs to generate a new skull piece that would replace the excised portion of bone. He collaborated with Dr. Elizabeth Scallan, in the Clinical Skills Laboratory, to make a 3D print of the skull replacement pieces and to engineer a mold that could be used in the operating room. During surgery, Dr. Joseph Mankin, a clinical associate professor in the neurology service, and Dr. Maya Krasnow, a second-year resident in neurology, filled the mold with a material called poly methyl methacrylate (PMMA), a type of shatter-resistant plastic. The PMMA hardened in minutes, and readily created Werner’s new skull. Beside them, Dr. Brandon WustefeldJanssens, one of the VMTH’s veterinary surgical oncologists, removed Werner’s right eye. After his eight-hour surgery, Werner faced a long recovery. “The first night was rough,” Streicher remembered. “I’m not going to lie—I wondered if I did the right thing, if I kept him here for me or if I kept him here because it was the right thing to do.” But after several nights of sleeping by Werner’s side at home, things started to look up. Werner’s original, playful attitude started to shine through again, so much so that he had to return to the VMTH mid-recovery to have more stitches placed around his incision areas for security. “I literally had to hide all the toys, because we wouldn’t throw them to him, so he would throw the toys himself,” Streicher said with a laugh. Werner’s team is equally impressed with his recovery and credit collaboration for the success of his operation. “When a client comes to an academic institution like the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, they’re typically coming because we offer strengths that other practices may not be able to provide,” Deveau said. “We

COLLABORATION

COLLABORATING TO CURE


PATIENT CARE

THE MAGIC BULLET The Small Animal Hospital treats its share of special patients, but when oncologists treated an 8-year-old Australian Labradoodle, they found a pet with its own healing touch. Story by JENNIFER GAUNTT

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Like all Aggies, Bullet’s purpose has always been to live a life of selfless service. When owner Leslie Staven received the now 8-year-old Australian Labradoodle at 8 weeks of age, it was for the purpose of training Bullet to detect for life-threatening peanut allergies. Little did Staven know then that Bullet would go on to save more people in many more ways than anyone could have ever imagined, and then, in turn, would need the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences’ (CVM) Small Animal Hospital (SAH) to be saved.


PATIENT CARE

THE NOSE KNOWS

“We see a lot of therapy dogs and emotional support dogs, and we, as a group, feel very strongly about helping them, especially those who help military veterans and those with PTSD.”

ACADEMICS

- DR. BRANDAN WUSTEFELD-JANSSENS

Staven, Bullet routinely has these encounters with random people who always need his help. Luckily, when Bullet needed help, the SAH was there.

HOSPITAL GIVING

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In April, Staven was giving Bullet a pill when she saw a little bump on the inside of his mouth. She took Bullet to her veterinarian, an Aggie, who determined that the spot was probably a squamous cell carcinoma. Staven had worked at the SAH years before, and knowing some of the clinicians, she decided Texas A&M was “the only place I want to go.” “That's why I came here, because it's the best,” she said. Under the care of Dr. Brandan Wustefeld-Janssens, an assistant professor of surgical oncology, Bullet underwent a procedure to remove pieces of the gum and, because the cancer had grown into the underlying bone, the section of his upper jaw containing his canine and incisor teeth had to be removed, too. “Bullet’s is a type of cancer that we often see in the mouths of dogs and cats. They’re generally locally invasive and with a complete surgical removal, they can have a good, long-term outcome,” Wustefeld-Janssens said. “Cosmetically, he looks slightly different—his nose droops down a little— but that’s the only change you can notice.” While Wustefeld-Janssens said the type of cancer Bullet was treated for is quite common, Bullet, himself, is not. “We see a lot of therapy dogs and emotional support dogs, and we, as a group, feel very strongly about helping them, especially those who help military veterans and those with PTSD,” Wustefeld-Janssens said. “Bullet’s story, though, is very unusual,” he said. “But dogs are way more intelligent than we are, anyway. There are dogs that are trained to pick up on if your blood glucose

RESEARCH

EVEN HEROES NEED SAVING

PATIENT CARE

boy later came to her. On that morning, he had loaded a gun and planned to kill himself,” Staven said. “For some reason, he decided to go to his first class and if anyone noticed or cared about him, he would go to a mental health clinic. If no one did, he would return to his dorm and kill himself. Bullet saved his life. He said he had never felt so much peace.” The stories go on and on. Bullet’s Facebook page (I smell trouble – Allergen Alert Dogs) is littered with photos and stories from interactions. As a service dog who travels with

COLLABORATION

Bullet wasn’t intended to spend his life with Staven. As a specially trained service dog, he had been sent to live with several children afflicted with peanut allergies, but those children weren't “dog people,” so it never worked out. But then Staven noticed something about Bullet. While he had been trained to sniff out foods, he was, instead, sniffing out people in need. She first noticed it when they were around children with autism. Bullet would lead Staven to a child, who would “always assume the same position”—with the child essentially coming nose to nose with Bullet—and they would just stare at each other. “I'd say something to the child to the effect of, ‘Hey, what's your name?’ and invariably an adult would come in and say, ‘he doesn't speak; he has autism,’” Staven said. “I study psychology and have had a lot of experience with people with special needs, so I developed a way to speak through Bullet to the child. What ended up happening was this child who did not speak always answered. “One child, who had never said anything in his life, reached up, touched Bullet, and said ‘fuzzy,’ at which point the family all just bawled,” Staven said. In another encounter, Bullet was attracted to a child who only spoke four or five words, primarily to verbalize his own needs. Staven introduced the child to Bullet and said, “‘Bullet wonders if you have a dog.’ “The boy said, ‘No,’ so I responded, ‘That's cool. Bullet wonders if you have any animals,’” she said. “At this point he said, ‘Yeah, I have a hamster. Its name is Squeak.’ And he went on for 45 minutes, conversing back and forth with the dog. Never looked at me, never looked at the father.” Children aren’t the only ones touched by Bullet. On several occasions, both in classrooms and in public, Bullet has detected someone suffering from a posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)-related flashback. Each time Bullet has approached, the veteran has wrapped his arms around the dog and Bullet has placed his front legs over the veteran’s shoulders, as if offering a hug. Tears usually fall, and then each veteran tells Staven that “Bullet brought me home.” Even more incredibly, one day while Staven was taking classes at a university, Bullet began to venture toward a young man. “The next thing I knew, Bullet was in the boy’s seat, with his legs over the boy’s shoulders and his head on his chest,” Staven said. “I jumped up to apologize, and the boy told me he wanted Bullet to stay. They sat in that position for 20 minutes. “Weeks later, my professor called me in. She told me she shouldn’t divulge what she was about to tell me, but that


PATIENT CARE

Bullet and his owner Leslie Staven

level is low; if you’re diabetic, they’ll tell you to eat. It makes sense that he picks up some kind of emotional distress, but there’s no way to explain it. “He’s obviously very intuitive and picks up cues that we don’t notice, so he is a special dog.”

CHANGES When Bullet has had an emotional encounter with someone in need, he is visibly changed for a period of time afterward. Staven has compared what she witnesses with Bullet to the character in “The Green Mile” who absorbs “all the evil.” “Anytime Bullet's had a highly emotional encounter, he gets exhausted, completely wiped out,” Staven said. “He changes. But so do the people, in a positive way.” While Bullet’s recovery time can range from hours to days, Staven believes Bullet remembers long past his recovery. She recalls when Bullet accompanied her to a gathering of Native American tribes in Montana. Through the crowd, Bullet spotted and approached a very old Native American man in a wheelchair and then suddenly stopped, putting his feet on the arms of the wheelchair. The man began to chant. “Bullet stood, unwavering, and a small group of people

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began to circle around us as the man began to touch Bullet’s face in a pattern,” Staven said. “Nose to nose, the man sat and Bullet stood, and then silence. The only English words the man spoke were ‘And so it goes.’ As soon as he uttered these words, Bullet got down, turned around, returned to my feet, and collapsed.” The man beside Staven told her that the wheelchairbound man had been waiting for his totem so that he could “go now.” It took three days for Bullet to return to being himself, but Staven said, even to this day, when Bullet hears music with Native American-style horns and drums, he will howl. “There isn’t any other music except…,” Staven begins. “OK, we shouldn't say this because we’re at A&M, but ‘The Eyes of Texas’ comes on the radio at noon everyday (at their home in New Braunfels) after the ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ and when TU’s song comes on, Bullet just barks and howls and sings along. I like to say he’s just hoping for the ‘Aggie War Hymn.’ But that's the only other time he sings.” After his experiences at Texas A&M, perhaps that will change. ■


PATIENT CARE

ACADEMICS COLLABORATION PATIENT CARE RESEARCH CLINICAL TRIALS HOSPITAL GIVING

Dr. Brandan Wustefeld-Janssens and Jaci Christensen, lead veterinary technician for Oncology Service, examine Bullet when he returned for a postoperative check up.

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FEELING THE HEAT Dr. Deb Zoran uses her work with Texas A&M Task Force urban search and rescue dogs to study how different breeds have unique temperature ranges and how that impacts their ability to save lives. Story by JENNIFER GAUNTT

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They are, perhaps, among the unsung heroes of the rescue world. The canine members of the Texas A&M Task Force (TX-TF) urban search and rescue (SAR) teams can do many things their human counterparts can’t: their athletic frames and fearlessness allow them to squeeze into tight spaces, their agility allows them to maneuver unstable surfaces, and their exquisitely sensitive, trained noses allow them to sniff out the missing (through microscopic molecules in your breath!) to a precision unthinkable for humans. The impact these dogs make cannot be denied. But the


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work is incredibly dangerous—the nature of the job requires them to work in all environments and around many hazards. “The most successful SAR dogs are very highly driven; they do not make good pets. They are the most intense creatures in the dog world,” said Dr. Deb Zoran, a professor of small animal medicine in the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences’ (CVM) Small Animal Clinical Sciences department (VSCS). “When they and their handlers get deployed into a disaster, the mission is to find, save, or recover missing people, and they often have to go to work on a moment’s

ACADEMICS

Dr. Deb Zoran and search and rescue handler Denise Corliss check Taser’s temperature following an exercise.

notice,” she said. “The first 48 to 72 hours are crucial in a disaster—that’s the critical timeframe you have to work in— and you don’t get to pick the circumstances.” Zoran pulls double duty as a member of the Texas A&M Veterinary Emergency Team (VET) and the team veterinarian for TX-TF 1 & 2. For the past 10 years, her primary objective when training or deploying with either team is to keep these dogs healthy, at peak performance, and mission ready. To her, the relationship between the SAR dogs, their handlers, and the veterinarian is of the utmost importance because while they’re working during a disaster—from wildfires to flooding responses and everything in between— SAR dogs depend on both their handler’s ability to recognize the tiniest differences in behavior or movement that may indicate injury and Zoran to support them before, during, and after a mission. “When they are deployed in our Texas climate, they are at particular risk of hyperthermia, dehydration, and many injuries—muscle strains or trauma to their legs or foot pads—as well as for interactions with snakes/scorpions, fire ants, and other hazards that can happen in the process,” Zoran said. “Despite these hazards, there are two recurring risks for the dogs as they work more or less year-round in the southern U.S., and those are overheating and dehydration,” Zoran said. “Both impact the dogs’ ability to complete the search, which then affects the team’s ability to find that missing human; both also have a profound impact on the canine nose’s scenting function, because dehydration, in particular, reduces the ability for noses to uptake odor, while overheating makes the nose’s internal membranes dry out, also reducing the ability to detect odor.” A challenge each handler must face in the field is knowing how to spot when their dog may be getting too dehydrated or overheated, as SAR dogs work at an intensity that can be detrimental. Most handlers are not trained in animal care, and it is not possible for Zoran, or the VET, to be with each dog as it works in the field. So when Zoran met Dr. Marta LaColla, the veterinary business manager of Allflex USA, and learned about their product SureSense, a microchip that had primarily been used for monitoring dairy cattle and cattle in feedlots, Zoran wondered if the product might be useful for SAR teams. “When Marta approached me and said, ‘We have developed a temperature-sensing microchip; we've been looking at it in shelter animals for the past year and we're ready now to put it out in the field,’ my answer was, ‘Absolutely,’” Zoran said. “They had not yet used the temperature microchip in many dogs, but the concept was immediately interesting.” As Zoran saw it, a temperature-sensing microchip would


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(Top and bottom) Dr. Marta LaColla and Simon Alfaro, from Allflex, provide technical support as Zoran, Corliss, and Taser test the microchip.

Zoran, Texas A&M Task Force 2 search and rescue (SAR) handler Derek Chalky, and Dr. James Bilof check out Scout during TX-TF’s operational readiness exercise in February.

solve a lot of problems. While she has taught handlers how to perform basic health checks on their dogs, taking a rectal temperature—the most common and accurate method to check temperature—in a working dog can be extremely challenging, if not impossible, in the field. Finding new ways for handlers to monitor their SAR dogs’ body temperatures has been one of Zoran’s research interests over the past four years; she previously tried a thermistor capsule the dogs could swallow to measure temperature while they worked. Allflex and Zoran worked out an arrangement to provide free microchips and specially designed microchip readers to the SAR teams, and, in return, Zoran developed a clinical trial protocol to collect temperature data, compare that data between different chip methods, and, over time, compare differences between work/rest cycles in training and deployments, as well as different environmental conditions. It was a win-win situation for everyone involved. “The whole idea behind the temp-sensing microchip and why it was powerful and valuable was because temperature monitoring by handlers essentially did not happen in the field; it was too hard to do,” she said. “With a SureSense

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reader in their pocket, the handlers can easily scan the area where the microchip was inserted and keep track of their dog’s temperature in real time.” For research purposes, the captured data can be viewed through an app, downloaded by the handler, or directly uploaded to the cloud, where it is sent to Zoran and the Allflex team. By tracking temperatures in everything the dogs do, Zoran and Allflex were able to start establishing baseline and working temperatures by breed, sex, coat type, and other key variables. Over time and with experience, Zoran has learned that each dog’s temperature ranges are unique. “Some of these dogs have relatively narrow ranges of temperature excursion; others, like many of our Labradors, really have wide ranges of temperature excursion,” she said. “For example, at rest, some of the Labs will have a resting temperature of 100 degrees, but as soon as they start work, it will jump to 103 degrees, and on hot days, with as little as 20 or 25 minutes of intense search work, they will have a temperature approaching 106 degrees. “Other dogs on the team, with similar fitness levels and body conditions, will top out at 104-105 degrees after that


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“The original goal of this project was to prove that the SureSense microchip enhances our ability to monitor these dogs closely and have a better work plan that still keeps them in the field, but allows us to intervene when we need to.”

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- DR. DEB ZORAN

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dogs closely and have a better work plan that still keeps them in the field, but allows us to intervene when we need to,” Zoran said. “That comes from just getting a lot of data from many different dogs in different working conditions.” To advance that idea, the project is ongoing, and in addition to the TX-TF canines, Zoran has recruited SAR dogs from Texas Parks and Wildlife and the local Search Dog Network to be included in the project. “A certified SAR dog is one of the most valuable members on a search and rescue team for finding a missing person,” Zoran said, adding that whether they are searching to find a living person or working to give a family closure by finding a deceased person, their value cannot be underestimated. “These dogs are pretty amazing animals, and it is a true joy for me to work with both the handlers and dogs and to be a part of keeping these incredible teams on mission.” ■

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same amount of work and need to rest,” Zoran said. “What does that mean? Are there wide temperature excursions in Labradors because of genetics? Muscle mass? Diet?” Understanding the breed differences in working dogs is, ultimately, both a safety issue and a mission-success issue and allows Zoran to give each SAR dog more individualized care to better fit their capabilities. “These readers have become exceedingly valuable,” Zoran said. “The handlers and dogs can be out working during a deployment, but we are still in contact by radio, so they can tell me what's going on with their dogs, and then we can adjust their work cycle based on this information.” So far, data have been collected from more than 40 dogs through three summer seasons, and Zoran will be working to publish a paper on the project soon. “There are things that we don’t understand about heat impacts on working dogs and this information could lead to the next generation of studies,” she said. “I see a lot of different opportunities to learn about these fascinating athletes in the future. “The original goal of this project was to prove that the SureSense microchip enhances our ability to monitor these

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With the SureSense sensor, search-and-rescue canine handlers can check their dog’s temperature through a special microchip.


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TESTING FOR TROUBLE

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As the college's newest Distinguished Professor, Dr. Jörg Steiner has led the Texas A&M Gastrointestinal Laboratory (GI Lab) in making major advancements in veterinary medicine through the development of diagnostic tests. Story by DR. ANN KELLETT

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develop a new diagnostic test for gastritis in dogs. The idea I had, working with my mentor, Dr. David Williams, was that there would be a lipase made in the stomach and if it could be measured in the blood, it would be possible to diagnose gastritis.” Pancreatic lipase is just one of more than a hundred different lipases swirling around in the body, and until Steiner’s breakthrough research, it was not possible to measure what was produced from a single organ. Steiner and Williams began developing a test to identify pancreatic lipase in the blood in 1996 as part of Steiner’s doctoral work at the CVM. They finished in 2000 and the test was licensed in 2003. When it was put on the market two years later, it became the most accurate method of detecting pancreatitis in dogs. “We offered it to veterinarians and probably ran about 50 tests a week,” Steiner said. In 2005, Steiner and Williams, now at the University of Illinois, collaborated with veterinary giant IDEXX, which has more than 8,000 employees in 175 countries, to improve the test and make it more commercially viable. “IDEXX did some studies and bought the license from Texas A&M and developed their own, more advanced version of it,” Steiner said. The result is the accurate and easy-to-read Spec cPL® Test, that lets veterinarians know if a dog with symptoms of

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But that is changing. Now, veterinarians have a quick and accurate test for diagnosing or ruling out pancreatitis. The pancreas aids digestion by producing several important enzymes, including pancreatic lipase, an enzyme that breaks down dietary fat. In cases of pancreatitis, pancreatic lipase is released into the bloodstream. “Our diagnostic test for pancreatitis was an accident, like most good inventions,” Steiner said. “The goal was to

GI Lab employees receive a large volume of samples for testing.

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FOR THE FIRST TIME—A QUICK, ACCURATE DIAGNOSIS

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Pancreatitis—when the pancreas becomes inflamed or undergoes structural damage—is extremely common in both dogs and cats. An estimated 1 out of every 100 dogs and cats are afflicted every year. While a few factors are thought to be associated with pancreatitis, including diet (in the case of dogs but not cats), adverse drug reactions, and even scorpion stings, no one knows exactly what causes it. Most dogs and cats that experience pancreatitis are adults and miniature schnauzers are predisposed, but pancreatitis can happen in any dog and any cat. Diagnosing pancreatitis is difficult, in part because its symptoms, especially in patients with mild disease—poor appetite, weakness, and diarrhea—are vague and found in many other illnesses. Even worse, there is currently no treatment. “That’s true for humans, as well as dogs and cats—there’s no treatment,” said Dr. Jörg Steiner, a professor of small animal clinical sciences, and director of the GI Laboratory at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM). “If you are a human with pancreatitis, the medical profession does almost anything to try to save you,” he said. “Since there’s nothing you can do for dogs and cats except try to keep them alive, pet owners often think the diagnosis is not that important.”


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“But the proudest thing is that I would define myself as a clinician scientist. For years and years we were always sort of standing in this light of, ‘you’re not really researchers; you’re clinicians writing a few papers here and there.’ To get that recognition means that, yes, clinician scientists can play a role in the field.” - DR. JÖRG STEINER pancreatitis actually has the disease within 24 hours. “Partnering with industry has produced many mutually beneficial relationships,” Steiner said. “They have some proprietary knowledge about how to make an assay more stable, how to make it more reproducible, for example. Putting our resources together is what led to a much more robust test.”

ONE-DAY TURNAROUND, WORLD-WIDE Now, the test is available to veterinarians around the world. “I couldn’t distribute the test in South Africa, for example,” Steiner said. “But wherever IDEXX has a lab, they can run the test. It doesn’t matter if a veterinarian is in Tokyo or Sydney or Dallas—they get results in just 24 hours now.” The collaboration benefits IDEXX, as well. “Developing and selling the assay started a really tight collaboration where we can help them,” Steiner said. “We helped them further develop the assay and if they have any issues, we detect them. It’s a close collaboration that has helped jump-start many other projects.” Steiner says what’s happened to date is only “scratching the surface” of what’s possible. More recently, Steiner has been involved in the release of a new drug in Japan—the first direct drug for treating canine pancreatitis. “I’m really proud of that, even though I didn’t do much other than plan some studies,” he said. “It’s exciting that a new drug is on the horizon that’s the first ever that shows promise of treating this disease in any species.” In recognition of this profound contribution to the profession, Steiner was recently named a Distinguished Professor, the highest honor Texas A&M bestows on its faculty. Each year, only five to seven faculty members out of nearly 5,000 at the university receive this award for impact that changes the course of the profession. “What really makes me proud is that I’m the first clinical investigator that’s ever been recognized with this award,” he said. “As far as I know, only one other veterinarian was recognized—Dr. Ian Tizard—and he has retired, so I’m the only veterinarian currently at the CVM to have that distinguished title.

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CROSSING BOUNDARIES FOR GREATER IMPACT

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But Steiner’s impact does not end there. “I love projects that cross boundaries,” he said. “Often they come about completely by accident.” In 2015, Steiner attended a lecture in Gothenburg, Sweden, about a new proposed treatment for a disease in humans, called Wilson’s disease, a genetic condition that causes copper to build up in the liver. Complications can cause liver failure and kidney problems. “Dogs get this disease, as well, but it has another name,” he said. “I believe the lecturer didn’t know about that. We started talking, and it turns out that the new drug they developed was found to work phenomenally well in rats, but

you can’t just give it to humans because you need a step in between. Dogs were a fantastic model for him to use.” In rats, the drug was found to remove every molecule of copper from the liver within seven days. If it is similarly successful in dogs, it could, perhaps, change the way humans with the disease are treated. Steiner is confident that the college will continue to pave the way in discovery and innovation for animal and human health. “I have been at the CVM for 22 years and every time I visit another university, all I can say is, ‘Texas A&M is the golden land,’” he said. “The stars are aligned. We have the best dean and department chair and associate department chairs that we’ve ever had. We have the freedom to be innovative. “We have the facilities. Think about it—which veterinary school has a $126 million building for teaching?” he said, also referring to the renovations his GI Lab recently underwent. “We do! I don’t know any other university that has added so many faculty positions in the last 10 years. It’s very fertile ground—and a lot of fun!” ■

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“But the proudest thing is that I would define myself as a clinician scientist. For years and years we were always sort of standing in this light of, ‘you’re not really researchers; you’re clinicians writing a few papers here and there.’ To get that recognition means that, yes, clinician scientists can play a role in the field.”

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(Above and on page 54) Not only are the diagnostic tests Steiner has developed used around the world, but his field-leading GI Lab keeps staff members busy as they serve veterinarians and clients globally.


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GUT INSTINCTS Dr. Jan Suchodolski never intended to spend his career at Texas A&M, but while continuing his education at the CVM, he was introduced to a new and exciting discovery that changed the course of his career, placing him on the cutting-edge of microbiome research. Story by CORLEY-ANN PARKER The research that Dr. Jan Suchodolski conducts at Texas A&M may be confirming the age-old trope that all of our pets are special—or at least their digestive systems are. Suchodolski, an associate professor of gastroenterology in the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), and his associates are working to understand the microbiome of companion animals, or the collection of bacteria living in the digestive systems of cats and dogs. While the microbiome has been thoroughly identified, there is still a lot of room for discovery. “It's a very complex field; we're still at the beginning of characterizing all of the different bacterial types, and we still don't have the best methods available,” Suchodolski said. “There are a trillion bacteria that are living in our gut; simply describing not only who they are but what they are doing, we are still trying to understand that.”

Thinking of the microbiome as part of our physiology has opened the door to Suchodolski exploring the ways the microbiome is implicated in different disease types beyond the GI tract, just as it has in human medicine. “A big area of research now is the gut-brain axis, because if we manipulate certain populations of gut bacteria we can affect cognition and behavior,” he said. “There is now a commercial probiotic available that reduces anxiety in dogs.” Because of the many connections researchers have made between the microbiome of humans and animals, Suchodolski has also been able to examine procedures that have been successful in humans—such as fecal transplants—for animals. “We have performed different studies, and noticed that the success rate differs for various diseases; we see in some diseases, especially acute or mild disease, a very high success rate, but in a chronic disease, the success is lower,” he said. “And it's not just as simple as changing the gut’s bacteria; we're discovering that it also depends on other things, like metabolic changes.” The next step, Suchodolski said, is building predictive models that will help his team determine which cases will benefit from treatments such as fecal transplants. “To build a predictive model, we have to determine what combinations of bacteria and their metabolites conjure the disease so you can predict better targets,” he said. “What

AN INSIDE LOOK Suchodolski‘s research works to expand this knowledge, including by looking at the effects of nutrition and treatments like antibiotics on this unique system. “We understand the gut microbiota as a missing link; as we discover more and more about the microbiome, we’ve recognized it as part of our physiology,” Suchodolski said. “We have learned over the last few years that we have to see the host and microbiome as one unit. For example, there are some pathways that only microbiota take, and those benefit us. So, you cannot really see the microbiome as an external thing. It's a part of the whole physiology. “Ultimately, feeding and properly maintaining our gut microbiota is crucial; studies have shown that a lot of chronic diseases that we have examined are probably due to not taking care of our microbiota, meaning we don't have the proper nutrition, we don't have enough fiber, usually, in our diets,” he said. “The benefits of antibiotics in saving us from infectious diseases are huge, but we also realize that the side effect of antibiotics is diminishing the microbiota. So, we need to be aware of the importance of gut bacteria.”

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Dr. Jan Suchodolski


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“The benefits of antibiotics in saving us from infectious diseases are huge, but we also realize that the side effect of antibiotics is diminishing the microbiota. So, we need to be aware of the importance of gut bacteria.” - JAN SUCHODOLSKI

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we’ve discovered is that it's not as simple as looking at the bacteria; we also need to look at what they're doing. So, that's our future goal.”

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With so many cutting-edge projects, it seems that Suchodolski was born to do research; however, that wasn’t always his plan. “I always wanted to be a veterinarian,” he said. “My career as a researcher was kind of a coincidence, but I simply love it. Every day there are new opportunities, new ideas, new exposures.” Suchodolski came to Texas from Austria as a veterinary graduate to complete a short-term credit program; he had planned to return to Austria after his two years in Texas, but then he was offered the opportunity to complete a Ph.D. He had begun studying abnormal bacterial populations in canine small intestines, but during his first year of his Ph.D. program, a paper looking at a new, molecular method for

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DEVELOPING A SYMBIOTIC RELATIONSHIP WITH THE CVM

studying the microbiome was published; this discovery, had a significant impact on the field, and wanting to be a part of something new and exciting, he made the switch. “That gave me the opportunity to develop this area because it was, back then, very novel,” Suchodolski said. “I was able to be a part of really building this field and pretty much become an expert in this area.” After completing his doctorate, he decided to join the CVM faculty and hasn’t looked back. He said he is grateful for the opportunities that the CVM has allowed him and his research, which ultimately works to provide better, more individualized care to our pets. “This a place that really has a culture of collaboration, of making things happen,” he said. “It is because of our collaborations that we have earned international recognition; our lab is probably considered the most successful lab of its kind. This might not have been possible in other places but has happened here because A&M’s culture is very supportive.” ■

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Dr. Jan Suchodolski


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“Clinical trials really move the needle forward. Disease progresses faster in animals, so we can see real benefits in a shorter time, which is useful. They also give us access to colleagues in human hospitals. All of this helps us grow as researchers and scientists.” - DR. HEATHER WILSON-ROBLES

Over the past decade, the Small Animal Hospital has worked to increase the number of clinical trials being conducted, including a recently established trials core led by Dr. Heather Wilson-Robles, all with the hopes of improving the lives of animals and their humans. Story by JENNIFER GAUNTT, DR. ANN KELLETT, & ASHLI VILLARREAL

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Dr. Heather Wilson-Robles and veterinary students in the Small Animal Hospital

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therapeutic trial in her new “home” service of oncology and aspired to expand that culture within the SAH. Twelve years later, Wilson-Robles, the Dr. Fred A. and Vola N. Palmer Chair in Comparative Oncology and assistant head of research in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences (VSCS), is working to guide other researchers in the complicated process of preparing, conducting, and maintaining these trials as the leader of the department’s newly created clinical trials core. Through this core, she and oncology colleague Dr. Emma Warry are scheduling trainings for hospital house officers and veterinary technicians, who are crucial to the trials process, on gaining consent, completing documentation, and maintaining Good Clinical Practices standards. They are also working to increase trials communication across services and to help principal investigators write Animal Use

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When Dr. Heather Wilson-Robles came to the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) in 2007, a few services were conducting clinical trials at the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital (VMTH). But the Small Animal Hospital (SAH) did not have the fully immersed trials culture she had experienced during her medical oncology residency at the University of Wisconsin. Studies conducted under controlled conditions using objective methods of gathering and assessing data take many, many years, but the process is worth it for researchers. Trials are critical to the process of developing new drugs, procedures, and other tools used for treating both pets and humans, and many medical breakthroughs have resulted from these studies. When Wilson-Robles brought her clinical trials experience to Texas A&M, she became one of the first to conduct a


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Protocols, the documentation required for any researcher working with animals at Texas A&M. “We're really trying to make these support systems more commonplace so that every researcher doesn’t have to build a program from the ground up,” she said.

THE BENEFITS OF CLINICAL TRIALS Why are clinical trials so important? For Wilson-Robles, the answer is partly personal—her dog Otis, an 11-year-old Catahoula mix, has directly benefited from experimental therapies for his metastatic hemangiosarcoma, a type of cancer that develops from the cells that normally create blood vessels. “Clinical trials give pet owners like me potential access to medications and therapies we could not access anywhere else—cutting-edge treatments that may not even be available to people yet,” she said. “I wouldn’t be part of any trial that I would not be willing to enroll my own dog in.” The answer also is partly professional. “Clinical trials really move the needle forward,” she said. “Disease progresses faster in animals, so we can see real benefits in a shorter time, which is useful. They also give us access to colleagues in human hospitals. All of this helps us grow as researchers and scientists.” Their trials also fulfill the SAH’s mission of innovative teaching; as residents and students learn about the

“Clinical trials give pet owners like me potential access to medications and therapies we could not access anywhere else—cutting-edge treatments that may not even be available to people yet. I wouldn’t be part of any clinical trial that I would not be willing to enroll my own dog in.” - DR. HEATHER WILSON-ROBLES process and its importance, clinicians are not only creating the next generation of researchers, but helping budding veterinarians understand how the drugs they use get approved is “hugely beneficial,” Wilson-Robles said. Furthermore, clinical trials lead to win-win relationships with external partners. When the CVM helps a company conduct a study, both benefit. “During my residency, I saw how my mentors worked with a private company and human cancer researchers to validate a new delivery system for radiation therapy,” Wilson-Robles said. “Though the system was created for human use, the validation occurred in dogs with nasal tumors. This system is now commercially available all over the country at various cancer centers, as well as two veterinary institutions, including Texas A&M, for the treatment of cancer in both humans and animals.”

MEASURING SUCCESS IN CLINICAL TRIALS There’s a reason the process for developing and bringing a drug to market is long and arduous. “Sometimes you can say, ‘I’ve got this great thing that worked well,’ but that is the case only about one time in 100,” Wilson-Robles said. “Success can be as simple as learning the right way to give a drug. Say we determine that a drug needs to be given once a week, intravenously, and at this dose and with these other medications,” she said. “When the trial gets to the point of involving humans, the researchers can do a much better job of designing it to reduce side effects or increase efficacy, which means the study has a better chance of succeeding. It also makes the process more efficient financially, possibly reducing the cost of the drug later.” Success also means saving 100 people from getting the wrong dose, or the wrong supportive medications. Or maybe a drug doesn’t kill cancer cells, but keeps them from spreading—that’s still success.

PUTTING ANIMAL WELFARE FIRST Dr. Kate Creevy, Poet, and Sophie

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Clinical trials benefit sick pets by treating them with the newest and most promising medications that one day might also help heal other animals and, eventually, even humans with the same condition.


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Dr. Sonya Gordon and Daisy-Lu

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Clinical trials technician Jill Jarvis, Dr. Heather Wilson-Robles, and Sir Biscuit

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Participation usually means frequent visits to the SAH, since tests and procedures must be administered in a controlled, laboratory setting in order to ensure consistency, but pet owners typically receive financial incentives for participation. And as always, the animal’s best interests come first throughout the process. An animal may be removed from a clinical trial at any time, by either the pet’s owner or the CVM veterinarian, if it is best for the pet. Furthermore, clinicians follow the strict protocols from the CVM, Texas A&M, and other regulatory organizations. Participants are recruited for clinical trials in two ways— clinicians often ask SAH clients to enroll eligible pets and clinicians also post on the CVM’s Clinical Trials website.

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Owners interested in learning about opportunities to make a difference in the lives of animals and humans, alike, can learn more about ongoing trials at https://vetmed.tamu.edu/clinical-trials/.

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With help from dog owners and scientists across America, Dr. Kate Creevy is using her Dog Aging Project to learn more about how dogs age and what we can do to extend their lifespans. People can generally discern when a dog is old—its fur sometimes whitens, it may have vision or hearing issues, its temperament can change—but veterinarians do not have real benchmarks to characterize how well a dog is aging. A nationwide project led by Dr. Kate Creevy and scientists from the University of Washington, however, will work to define these standards and also attempt to determine whether a drug commonly used to prevent kidney transplant rejections may improve the longevity and health of dogs. Through her Dog Aging Project, Creevy, an associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), and her collaborators will examine the genetic and environmental determinants of aging and define physiologic aging measures with the help of citizen-scientists across the country. The project, which recently received $22 million in funding over five years from the National Institute on Aging, will recruit dogs of all ages, breeds, genders, and sizes for three study cohorts that will use data collected by pet owners. Any dog can be nominated by their owner to participate, and 10,000 of those will be selected for the monitoring steps. Every dog whose owner completes the entire nomination process will become part of the Dog Aging

Dr. Kate Creevy examines Patty

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Project pack; their survey responses will be immediately analyzed as part of the research, and future expansion of the project will enable further participation by those dogs, according to Creevy. All 10,000 enrolled dogs will submit a DNA sample so that Creevy’s team can determine the pet’s genetic makeup, much like 23andMe does for humans. For all enrolled dogs, investigators will ask pet owners to record physical information on their pets through regular surveys and by taking various measurements, such as the dog’s height, leg length, and walk and trot speeds. These measurements are important because in humans, gerontologists—doctors specializing in the care of the elderly—test the physiological age of their patients through mobility, depth perception, arm strength, and hand grip strength benchmarks. However, these benchmarks have not been established for dogs. Creevy hopes to develop benchmarks through the Dog Aging Project by comparing her genetic and physiological findings to determine which genes may lead to a dog under- or over-performing certain tasks. That is, by having benchmarks to measure how healthy dogs are, Creevy can compare the dogs’ genetic differences relative to their physiological performance. Owners of a portion of the enrolled dogs will also submit physiological information in the form of blood, urine, fecal, and fur samples taken by their local veterinarians. Blood samples will be used to analyze the dogs’ genes, genetic expression, and metabolism; urine and fecal samples will give Creevy information about any illnesses the dogs may have, as well as the microbiome (bacteria that live in and on our bodies); and fur samples will provide information about any toxins the dogs have encountered. Together, these samples will help determine the health of the dog, which will allow researchers to evaluate those facets’ impacts on the dog's aging process over time. In humans and dogs, scientists agree that DNA expression changes as we age; while genes program what can happen, there are many steps between your genes and your external


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used to alleviate some of the cellular changes that occur as dogs age, leading to healthier pets. Creevy is proud that the clinical trial follows a doubleblind, placebo-controlled design, which is the gold standard of clinical trials. “What I think is really terrific about the Dog Aging Project is that it does two really important things. It directly and immediately provides information that can improve the health of dogs, which improves the lives of people who love dogs,” Creevy said. “But by the same token, learning more about aging dogs enables us to learn more about aging people. So, we will ultimately provide benefit to people who don't own dogs, not by helping their dogs to have better health in old age, but by helping them have better health in old age. “Translational research like this, with privately owned dogs living in their natural homes, is a really important step forward for veterinary medicine,” she said. “It's what we need to be doing.” ■

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appearance or health, according to Creevy. “Genes, environmental factors, nutrition, and the microbiome affect how an organism ages,” she said. “These other factors may change how the genes are expressed, which is why even identical twins have slight differences.” While this is generally accepted to also be true in dogs, there is not yet extensive scientific evidence of this, Creevy said. Preliminary studies show that there are changes to the genetic code but how these changes physically affect the dog is not clear. In the last part of the project, a small subset of about 5 percent of the 10,000 dogs will be enrolled in a clinical trial for rapamycin, which tests whether the common immunosuppressant can slow the aging process in dogs. By targeting a specific cellular metabolism pathway, rapamycin changes how cells grow and process energy; in mouse, worm, and other models, rapamycin has been shown to increase longevity. Creevy hopes it can similarly be

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Dog Aging Project team members JohnConnor Haverkamp, Dr. Kate Creevy, and Harmony Peraza with Sophie and Patty.


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In addition to leading the clinical trials core, Dr. Heather-Wilson Robles’ trials work to fine tune pharmaceuticals that could eventually be used in human cancers, as well as screening tests that could help veterinarians better diagnose cancers.

“Some of my clinical trials are comparative in that they're meant to help humans, and some are not, in that they're meant to help only animals. Oncology is prime to do those things because it is so translational.” - DR. HEATHER WILSON-ROBLES Of the seven clinical trials currently underway in the Small Animal Hospital’s (SAH) oncology service, associate professor Dr. Heather Wilson-Robles has her hands in “four or five.” The University of Tennessee veterinary graduate whose research focuses on pediatric bone cancer has been

Dr. Heather Wilson-Robles and Sir Biscuit

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personally touched by the devastating disease, in both her family and her pets, and those experiences have informed her work. “Some of my clinical trials are comparative in that they're meant to help humans, and some are not, in that they're meant to help only animals,” she said. “Oncology is prime to do those things because it is so translational.” About half of all dogs and a third of all cats over the age of 10 get cancer. Translationally, and perhaps ironically, while elderly dogs tend to get cancer, they tend to get pediatric cancers. Conversely, cats tend to get geriatric cancers, but their cancers—with the exception of feline tumors in the neck and head—generally aren’t as translatable. That hasn’t stopped Wilson-Robles from being one of the few SAH clinicians to offer a clinical trial for cats, however. In one of two joint lymphoma studies with colleague Dr. Michael Deveau—the only joint veterinary radiation oncologist and medical physicist in the country— Wilson-Robles is investigating the use of low-dose abdominal radiation for the treatment of feline small cell gastrointestinal lymphoma. The project stems from the idea that cats loathe visiting the veterinarian as much as they loathe being medicated using pills. “If we do radiation and that holds them in remission for eight months, they're not having to get pills and they’re not having to go to the vet clinic as often,” she said. “All of a sudden, you have happier owners and happier cats. Even if the cat lives the same amount of time as they would on chemotherapy, it's still a better quality of life, and potentially cost effective.” In the other, the pair is investigating whole lung irradiation for dogs with osteosarcoma, a type of cancer that produces immature bone. “Doctors used to do whole lung irradiation on children before chemotherapy existed for tumors that arise from the bone; they quit because of the long-term damage the radiation would cause to the lungs in these children and then chemotherapy became the best treatment,” she said.


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On the diagnostics side, Wilson-Robles is working to develop a screening test that will help veterinarians better determine if an animal has cancer or inflammation, or neither condition. “First we need to have a general idea of what to look for with each condition, so we’re simply collecting blood from healthy animals, those with cancer, and those with inflammation,” she said. “It’s not the be-all, end-all, but it would help us figure out which way to go when we come to that fork in the road during treatment.” The next step is creating tests for specific cancers. While Wilson-Robles’s clinical trials span different forms of treatment, they all share the same goal. “The biggest thing is that we hope to make things better. We get sick of losing patients, of seeing that 3-year-old dog that we know is probably going to die a year from now from a cancer that has caused so many other deaths,” she said. “We realize there may never be a cure-all for cancer. Maybe instead of completely obliterating cancer, we can turn it into a chronic disease. “If there are things we can do to at least help push cancer research along a little bit so that we all get better at treating it, we'd all like to be a part of that in some way.” ■

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“But our dogs are often geriatric. They're not going to have the long-term side effects that happen many years later. They're still dying of this disease, so we are investigating how well whole lung irradiation, along with chemotherapy, may improve outcomes for these dogs.” In another of her clinical trials, Wilson-Robles is working with the Texas A&M chemistry department to test an older drug previously used in humans for its effect on canine lymphoma. “This drug was used for decades to treat tuberculosis in people, and researchers found that it actually enhances the sensitivity of cancer cells to chemotherapy or radiation therapy,” she said. “We are using it right now in lymphoma. Our hope is to use it in a much broader variety of things, the thought being if we use this drug in conjunction with our standard of care, do we improve outcomes by making them more sensitive to the drugs at hand? “Hopefully, it will lead to a veterinary product and will be translatable,” she said. “Preliminary data from our collaborators showed that it makes breast cancer and prostate cancer cell lines more susceptible to radiation and chemotherapy, so our hope is that by demonstrating this in an actual spontaneous cancer model, things will move forward on the human side, as well.”


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The clinical trials Dr. Sonya Gordon leads are helping to solve some of the biggest issues with the canine heart, while creating tools veterinarians can use to treat patients better—and more cost-effectively. For Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) cardiologist Sonya Gordon, the adage “the greater the risk, the greater the reward” has become something of a philosophy that drives her approach to clinical trials. That’s because as she works to solve some of the biggest issues in canine cardiology, the clinical trials she is involved with often work with some of the sickest patients. But the impact of her work so far has been…well, epic. For example, in the recently completed EPIC trial, Gordon helped identify an effective treatment for canine mitral valve disease (MVD), a condition characterized by the degeneration of the mitral valve. MVD accounts for more than 75 percent of all canine heart disease and ultimately leads to heart failure in many dogs. The EPIC study findings—which have been deemed “revolutionary”—demonstrated that the drug pimobendan effectively delays the onset of clinical signs of MVD and extends overall survival. Gordon and the other two lead investigators are now working on the third and final manuscript for that study. The original and second manuscripts were both recognized with awards for receiving some of the most downloads in the 12 months following online publication, indicating the immediate impact and visibility the work generated, as well as the significant contributions the study made to the advancement of the field. “Perhaps the most important impact of the EPIC study is the change in the revised American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine consensus statement guidelines for the treatment of canine valvular disease,” Gordon said. “The EPIC study results led to the refinement of the staging criteria for the disease and a strong evidence-based recommendation for the initiation of pimobendan when dogs' hearts meet the size criteria used in the EPIC study. “The publication of the new updated consensus statement will continue to impact the incorporation of the EPIC study results into practice around the world, resulting in dogs being well longer.”

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Dr. Sonya Gordon

Building on that momentum, Gordon is involved in two current clinical trials that focus on specific breeds that experience very serious cardiac issues—Doberman Pinschers and Cavalier King Charles spaniels. Her clinical trial with Doberman Pinschers is among the first gene transfer studies for pets. The work Gordon did with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration before the trial even began will build a pathway for other pet gene therapy projects, a contribution in and of itself. Collaborating with Drs. Paul A. Grayburn and Chen Shuyuan, at the Texas A&M College of Medicine and Baylor University Medical Center, Gordon and her resident, Blakeley Janacek, are exploring a minimally invasive way to deliver a gene that potentially has regenerative properties


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echocardiograms, electrocardiograms, and heart sounds, collected with an artificially intelligent stethoscope, from 300 healthy Cavalier King Charles spaniels of all ages that have heart murmurs. The study’s goal is to build a prediction model that will help primary care veterinarians identify when pimobendan should be initiated (like with the EPIC study) when an echocardiogram is not available. Currently an echocardiogram is considered the best test, but it can be expensive and is not always available. While not all of Gordon’s projects are translational, her Doberman project does have potential implications for humans, and Gordon hopes her project offers the first step toward helping both human and veterinary patients. “One goal of managing heart disease in animals is to identify it early and find ways to delay progression, especially in the early preclinical stage, so they can die with heart disease but not from it,” Gordon said. “We really hope to find ways to provide veterinarians out in the field with the tools they need so they can do what they need to do. That's how we raise the bar of veterinary care.” ■

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that may lead to strengthening the heart in Dobermans with dilated cardiomyopathy, a disease that causes the heart muscle to enlarge and become weak. “As many as 60 percent of Dobermans will get this disease in their lifetime; it's that common in the breed,” Gordon said. “And it is a relentlessly progressive disease once they have it. We know a medication (pimobendan) can slow down the progression, but the reality is that when the heart is so tired and sick, what it really needs is, ideally, regeneration.” In piloting this trial, Gordon and Janacek have enrolled three dogs and are actively looking for seven more. Because dilated cardiomyopathy is such a devastating disease, the dogs with which they are working are extremely sick—the literature indicates that the median survival is three weeks once a dog is in heart failure, though Gordon’s experience has been that they may live for up to six months. “We're still in the learning phases of the study, for sure, but we've had some promising short-term results,” she said. In the second clinical trial, Gordon and her CVM cardiology colleagues Dr. Ashley Saunders and Dr. Sonya Wesselowski are examining blood samples, chest radiographs,

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Dr. Sonya Gordon

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BLAZING NEW TRAILS Dr. Lori Teller explores the endless applications of telemedicine in the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital as the first university-based veterinary telehealth expert. Story by DR. ANN KELLETT Dr. Lori Teller says telehealth—connecting veterinarians and clients electronically so that care can be provided without the time and expense of travel—is a game-changer, and Texas A&M once again is at the forefront. As the world’s first university-based veterinary telehealth expert, she should know. Teller gained expertise in telemedicine, in 2015, when she was in private practice and joined the board of directors of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). “Telemedicine has been available in human health care for decades, and the handwriting was on the wall that it was coming to veterinary medicine,” she said. “I suggested that this was something the AVMA should look into and a working group was formed. I was its liaison to the board.” The working group had more than 50 members, including veterinarians, legal and policy experts, and other stakeholders. The AVMA adopted the telemedicine policy they developed in July 2017. “I think what we learned opened a lot of eyes,” she said. In 2018, she enthusiastically accepted the opportunity to focus on veterinary telemedicine at her alma mater. “I still have to pinch myself,” she said about returning as a CVM faculty member. “I walk in the shadows of giants— those who educated me and helped shape my career. I never imagined as a student, or as a private practitioner, that I would be worthy of following in their footsteps.”

FOLLOWING GIANTS WHILE BLAZING A NEW TRAIL “I think we’re going to see a lot more virtual care,” she said. For one thing, accessing a veterinarian from home brings clients peace of mind during potential—or real— emergencies. “Let’s say a dog owner comes home late at night and finds vomit on the floor but her dog is acting fine,” Teller said. “Does she need to go to the emergency clinic or can it wait until morning? Virtual care reduces the stress involved in figuring out what to do.”

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Dr. Lori Teller


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It also is an ideal way to provide care in non-emergency areas such as behavior and nutrition. “Animals often hide their ailments at the hospital,” Teller said. “So once a physical exam is conducted to determine if there is a disease, future visits could be done virtually so the patient is in its own environment and acts naturally.” Virtual care also reduces obstacles for clients who cannot

easily visit a veterinarian because of financial, health, or transportation issues. Telemedicine also benefits practitioners. “Our clinicians can work virtually with general practitioners in remote areas of the state who are dealing with an unusual case or procedure, and if a referral is needed, then the client, the referring DVM, and the specialist at Texas A&M are already prepared for what to expect,” she said. Giving these veterinarians—as well as new practitioners— access to a specialist who will help guide them through a problem can make the veterinarian feel less alone while gaining new knowledge and skills.

WHAT’S NEXT FOR TELEHEALTH In the next few months, the CVM will provide virtual consults to veterinarians around the state to provide just such guidance, from how to treat a complicated canine dermatology case to real-time guidance when performing an ultrasound on a horse. “What’s particularly great about the service we’ll be providing is that a discharge summary and other information, such as client handouts or scientific articles, can be provided at the end of the virtual visit,” Teller said. “Not only that, but the referring DVM can get continuing education credits for the consult. We are very excited about this unique aspect of what we are offering.” Over the next few years, Teller predicts a major increase in the number of practices that incorporate virtual care for recheck visits, triage, and more. “As the technology improves and people get more comfortable using it, the laws and regulations will adapt appropriately,” she said. Remote care monitoring is another area with potential. “This is a big growth area in human health care right now, and it will eventually move into our realm, too” Teller said. For example, remote care monitoring would help veterinary practices that need to hospitalize an animal overnight but don’t have around-the-clock staffing. Animals with heart disease, diabetes, or other chronic diseases also would benefit from continuous monitoring. “As wearable technology improves, the data from wearables can be uploaded in real time and an alert sent to the owner if something is off and requires veterinary attention,” Teller said. Augmented intelligence and virtual reality will also play a bigger role in veterinary care. “It will be possible for one of our surgeons to remotely help a surgeon in another city or even another country—a tremendous benefit for people in underserved areas or developing countries,” Teller said. “The applications are

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Dr. Keith Chaffin and Dr. Lori Teller discuss an equine ultrasound.

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GETTING IT RIGHT AT THE CVM Teller decided to become a veterinarian at age 6 and started working for her family’s veterinarian in Houston at age 12.

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endless. It will be possible, for example, to overlay an MRI image onto the patient to more precisely guide where incisions should be made and where to watch out for nerves or vessels.”

“I fainted on my first day!” she said. “But I was hooked.” Since joining the CVM faculty, she has been impressed by the spirit of innovation and collaboration. “The CVM offers tremendous opportunities to try new things,” she said. “The human health care providers did many things well with telehealth, but also made mistakes. We can learn from them and get it right for our colleagues, clients, and patients.” Teller is confident that animals that do not currently receive veterinary care, or the level of care required, will soon have opportunities to get help through the CVM’s telehealth programs. “Just like anything else worth doing, virtual care is worth doing well, and of course, there is a cost to making this new work happen,” she said. “We are grateful to those who support us. I would tell each of them that no profession is more exhilarating than veterinary medicine!” ■

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“Our clinicians can work virtually with general practitioners in remote areas of the state who are dealing with an unusual case or procedure, and if a referral is needed, then the client, the referring DVM, and the specialist at Texas A&M are already prepared for what to expect.”


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Veterinary technician Dana Whitaker has a busy career in the Small Animal Hospital’s soft tissue surgery service, but she finds joy in the little things, such as getting to work with the animals she loves.

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ALL IN A DAY'S WORK Story by MEGAN MYERS

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Dana Whitaker and Zip

going. From ensuring pets stay comfortable to assisting veterinarians in surgery, veterinary technicians are always ready and willing to help. According to Dana Whitaker, a veterinary technician in the SAH’s soft tissue surgery service, they “grease the wheels” between services to keep everything running smoothly. “We make sure everything remains harmonious and moving along as it should,” Whitaker said. “We do everything from making sure the pets are happy while they're here to doing any of the diagnostic work that needs to be done.” Working in the soft tissue surgery service is more than just preparing for and cleaning up after surgeries; for Whitaker, every day also involves teaching both the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) veterinary students and the veterinary technician students who come from Blinn College and other veterinary technician programs to learn. “The students have been in the classrooms for years,” Whitaker said. “They come to the clinic floor and it's like a brand-new world to them. “We help students adjust and educate them, help them apply all of those things they've read about to real life,” she explained. “You can read about these procedures, but actually doing them is a whole other story.” Along with teaching technical skills, Whitaker focuses on helping students know when they need to consult with another veterinarian, because, according to Whitaker, it is especially important to know when to ask for help in a busy atmosphere like the SAH, where services deal with serious cases every day. In 2018, the soft tissue surgery department had 420 surgery cases, not including wound care, bandage changes, or helping other services. Veterinary technicians have very demanding careers with

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At the Texas A&M Small Animal Hospital (SAH), veterinary technicians work behind the scenes to keep the hospital


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long hours, emotional days, and little downtime at work. However, many people still feel called to this career path because of their love for animals. With a background in retail and customer service, Whitaker never planned on becoming a veterinary technician until she got her first dog, Reilly. “I had her spayed and I could not handle not knowing what was going on with her,” Whitaker said. “That's where my interest in veterinary medicine came in.” After discovering this new passion, she decided to pursue a veterinary technician degree at Bel-Rea Institute of Animal Technology, where she graduated in 2005. She then began working as an anesthesia technician at the SAH, later moving to soft tissue surgery. Sadly, Reilly developed brain cancer when she was 8 years old. SAH veterinary surgeons and oncologists worked together to remove Reilly’s tumor and begin chemotherapy, but Whitaker made the difficult decision to stop treatment when she noticed that the medicine changed Reilly’s personality. Reilly crossed the Rainbow Bridge in June 2009. Though saddened by the loss, Whitaker said she felt comforted by the compassion her SAH coworkers showed throughout the case. She uses the experience to better empathize with clients who are dealing with a similar loss. This ability to comfort others has also helped during her five deployments with the Texas A&M Veterinary Emergency Team (VET) since 2009. As a founding member of the VET,

“We make sure everything remains harmonious and moving along as it should. We do everything from making sure the pets are happy while they're here to doing any of the diagnostic work that needs to be done.” - DANA WHITAKER

(From left) Dana Whitaker, Tara Keaney, and veterinary technician Marina Harrison caring for Max.

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Whitaker has spent countless hours working with Texas Task Force 1 Urban Search and Rescue canines and their handlers, as well as animals impacted by natural or manmade disasters. “For every deployment I have been on, I still remember the pets we saw,” Whitaker said. “I went to Bastrop, our first deployment with the VET. This one cat came in. He was a little bit singed, but he wasn't burned. His whiskers were curled from the heat, but he didn't have any wounds. “This cat had a collar on with a tag, with his name and his phone number, and he only had the singed whiskers. It was a celebration of, ‘Yay! This one is going to find his people!’ Things like that stick with me, when you have that great positive outcome.” A true animal lover, Whitaker said she often recognizes owners by their pets. Being able to bond with her animal patients is part of what makes the veterinary technician job so appealing to her. “I can tell you name after name of pets we've helped; every case sticks with me,” she said. Whitaker, herself, has multiple pets, including a dog named Crockett, who has proven to be a learning experience. “He's cute, but he's so naughty,” Whitaker said with a laugh. “I used to be the technician saying, ‘I can't believe these people have this naughty dog. He's so bad!’ Now I have the same dog, and I get it. I have a little bit more compassion for those clients who are like, ‘I know he's terrible but I just love him.’” Whitaker’s talents as a veterinary technician have been recognized many times, most notably when she was awarded the Texas Veterinary Medical Association’s Veterinary Technician of the Year Award in 2016. Though her job can be demanding and exhausting, she said she still loves working at the SAH. “I'm working full cases, with cutting-edge technology, and with brilliant surgeons, clinicians, and anesthesiologists,” she said. “I don't think it's anything I could ever get anywhere else.” She also said the SAH has a strong sense of family among coworkers, including the students who pass through during their fourth-year clinical rotations. “I really love working with the students because I feel like it keeps me young,” she said. Luckily for her, the SAH will see no shortage of students in the coming years, all excited to learn from experienced and talented veterinary technicians like Whitaker. As new technologies and treatments are developed, veterinary technicians at the SAH will have even more opportunities to provide students with the best education possible and to provide pets with the best care possible. ■


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Story by DR. ANN KELLETT Sometimes, a patient’s situation is so dire that there’s not much choice regarding treatment. That’s when Dr. Christine Rutter comes in. As a clinical assistant professor and head of the intensive care unit (ICU) of the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences’ (CVM) Small Animal Hospital (SAH), she decides what to do in life-or-death situations. “You don’t have the time to ponder your options,” Rutter said. “You have to look at the information you have right now, decide what information you could get in the next 30 seconds, and then make a decision.” The ICU is the heart of the SAH, probably its busiest division and certainly the one that has the most interaction with the other departments. The faculty members keep an eye on all of the patients in the critical care unit and get involved when needed, while also focusing on their own, most-critical patients. “You can’t just rely on the stuff you learn in a book,” she

said. “A lot of it is keeping cool and figuring out what to do when things don’t work out the way they are supposed to. Our job is to turn things around. It either goes great, or we have to be OK knowing there was nothing more we could have done.” She sees her job as communicating “what we know, what we need to find out, and what options we have” in a way the client can understand. “We want to make the best decision for the pet and that looks different to different people,” she said. “Five families with the same situation might have five different answers. You have to have a very open mind and be a good listener, as well as a good explainer. You give them all of the available options in a way that is patient centered.” Making these decisions day after day can result in what she calls “emotional whiplash.” “Every day is different. One minute, we’re helping Mrs. Jones let go of her 13-year-old pet who reminds her of her late husband,” she said. “We take the time and make sure we

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communicate well with that person. And then we go into the next room and switch gears to deal with a coughing puppy and figure out that all she needs is some antibiotics and she’ll be fine.” While others might dislike the pressure, she thrives on it. “You have to have the type of personality that makes a go of it without getting burned out,” Rutter said.

FOCUSING ON CRITICAL CARE Rutter grew up in Biloxi, Mississippi, in a family with health care professionals and public servants. Her mother was a nursing professor for 30 years and her sister is a pediatrician. “I like people well enough, but I like animals a lot more,” she said. “It’s true that they bite and scratch sometimes, but they come from a really pure place.” After earning her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree from Mississippi State University, she went into general practice in South Florida. Before long, she realized that her sickest patients were the ones she liked the most. “My passion was helping people and pets who were in crisis or needed more thorough information or a second opinion,” she said. “I remember to this day the time I had to do a pericardiocentesis on a Doberman Pinscher, where you take a needle and remove a fluid accumulation from around the heart. It was something I had done one time in school, by rare chance, so I had seen it before. “I diagnosed the dog with a pericardial effusion, even though it’s not typical for this breed,” Rutter said. “My boss walked in and said, ‘What are you doing?’ He had never done one before. But the patient went from being pale and dying to looking pretty good, even though he still had a serious disease. “I realized then that this is what I love about medicine,” she said. This realization prompted her to complete an internship in emergency and critical care in Louisville, Kentucky, after which, “by some miracle,” she was accepted into a residency program at Tufts University. She then took a job at a busy, multi-specialty hospital in Western Pennsylvania, but after six years, she decided she wanted to teach and come back to the South. That led her to the CVM.

A COLLEGIAL APPROACH TO CRITICAL CARE Rutter wasn’t planning to take the job at Texas A&M at first, but that soon changed. “I couldn’t believe how much I liked it,” she said. “I got on the plane after my interview wishing I had realized what it would be like sooner because I didn’t do as much preparation for the interview as I could have. My attitude

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“You don’t have the time to ponder your options. You have to look at the information you have right now, decide what information you could get in the next 30 seconds, and then make a decision.” - DR. CHRISTINE RUTTER was, I’ll go see what they have there, but I’m not going to take the job.” She celebrated her third year at the CVM on March 1. “We’ve worked really hard to integrate the Emergency and ICU services into the other services,” she said. What clients see when they bring their pets to the emergency room is an emergency room doctor and their team working to care for or save their animals. But behind the scenes, the doctor is getting opinions from specialists throughout the hospital who give their time and expertise. “That’s something you don’t find everywhere,” she said. “We truly are collegial. The cardiologist, or the neurologist, is willing to come over, but in the more competitive hospitals, where everyone is competing for resources, or promotions are on the line, you don’t have that hand-in-hand service like you do here. At the CVM, we truly are 100 percent about patient care.” That doesn’t mean that the specialists are always in agreement. But Rutter says the bottom line is always this: “If this were my pet, is that the decision I would make?” Rutter spends about 10 to 12 hours a day at the CVM, starting at 7:30 a.m. She admits that it’s often tiring, and she sleeps when she can. She and her residents work 10- to 12hour shifts, back to back. “We’re often here over the weekend or after hours,” she said. “As the director of the ICU, I am often on the phone in the middle of the night with clinicians and specialists to help make the best decision for a pet.” That’s another factor that makes the CVM special. “I’ve never worked anywhere where I could call up so many people at 11 p.m. to talk about a case,” she said. “You just don’t find that at other places.”

A JACK OF ALL TRADES AND MASTER OF NONE? NOT QUITE! Rutter thinks that within the veterinary community, those in emergency care have a reputation of being a “Jack of all trades and master of none.” That’s not true, she says. “We are very good at rapidly identifying things that could be life limiting, determining if an intervention is needed, and preventing catastrophic problems,” Rutter said. “If your pet can’t breathe, or his blood pressure’s low, or he needs blood products, or is facing something life threatening right now, we’re here for you.” ■


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A CUT ABOVE Veterinary residents often endure long, challenging days, but Dr. Whitney Hinson is grateful for the opportunity to hone her surgical skills at Texas A&M—and save lives while doing it. Story by MEGAN MYERS Veterinary residents at the Texas A&M Small Animal Hospital (SAH) spend their days seeing appointments, providing treatments to patients, and communicating with clients. They work long hours and weekends, teaching students while still learning new things every day. According to Dr. Whitney Hinson, a small animal surgery resident at the SAH, the hard work is worth it, especially when she can make a difference and save an animal’s life. Veterinary students have the option to go straight to general practice after graduation, but Hinson recommends they consider a rotating internship, to get more training and experience in the first year out of school. Residencies typically last at least three years and allow veterinarians to focus their time on a specialty, similar to human medicine residencies. “You're really getting more and more exposure to a variety of cases and how to adapt based on individual patient circumstances,” Hinson said. “I feel like that's probably the biggest thing with residency. It's just getting that extra clinical experience, immersing yourself in a specialty, and learning from the experiences of your mentors and peers.” “We learn to manage complicated cases and develop strategies moving forward to give the best care and outcome possible for all of our patients,” she said. “It's a daily learning experience.” As a surgical resident, Hinson’s schedule switches between days receiving patients and days performing surgery. The surgical caseload at the SAH is diverse—including orthopedic, soft tissue, oncologic, and neurosurgery cases—which is ideal for training surgical residents because it provides exposure to a variety of surgical training in the limited amount of time they have in a residency. Residents also spend time on call for cases requiring emergency surgery after hours on weekdays and on weekends. “Exposure to emergency cases and rotating through multiple services in the hospital allows surgery residents to become well-rounded clinicians and not just skilled surgeons,” Hinson said.

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Dr. Whitney Hinson


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Teaching is also a big part of her job as a resident, and Hinson tries to challenge her students to become independent thinkers and problem solvers as soon as possible to prepare for their future. “Knowing that our students become our referring veterinarians, we also try to encourage a sense of collegiality among them in the hopes that they will always feel comfortable referring patients in the future,” Hinson said. As she enters her third clinical year of residency, Hinson is now working toward becoming a board-certified specialist, or diplomate, in small animal surgery. She hopes that her training and experience with advanced surgeries will allow her to be a resource for other veterinarians in the future.

DISCOVERING HER PASSION Hinson first considered a career in medicine when she was a teenager, but she quickly realized that she would prefer to treat animals rather than people. “I wasn't really drawn to human medicine; I was more drawn to working with animals,” Hinson said. “I used to watch ridiculous amounts of Animal Planet and that also kind of sparked my interest, which developed into a passion, for veterinary medicine.” After shadowing some veterinarians in her hometown of Statesboro, Georgia, Hinson decided that a veterinary career was the right path for her.

Dr. Whitney Hinson and Todo

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She graduated from veterinary school at the University of Georgia and immediately moved to College Station to begin her veterinary career, first completing a small animal rotating internship and then beginning a four-year residency in small animal surgery. Her decision to be a surgeon was reaffirmed when she saw a case involving a Husky in need of complicated lung surgery. After considering many different treatment options, Hinson explained to the Husky’s owner that the surgery had several possible complications and that the lung condition could return. Hinson said the Husky’s owner took several hours to think before finally deciding to take the risk with the surgery. “After surgery, the owner was so happy with her decision and that surgery had been an option for her dog,” Hinson said. “She sent me an email and also sent me a card with the dog’s picture in it one year later saying that he was doing better than ever. “It's days like those when I know I made the right choice with what I want to do with my life, and it's such a good feeling,” she said. “Sometimes you lose a patient, but, thankfully, more often, you save someone’s pet and you give the owners months to years longer with their pet than they would have had otherwise.” Hinson has not yet decided where she wants to work when her residency is over, but she said she has loved her time at the SAH, largely because of the people. “Everyone is really welcoming and that's one of the things that I really love about my program and just about the Texas A&M hospital, in general,” Hinson said. “It’s the friendly dynamic, collegiality, progressive mentality, and collaboration for the greater good of our patients that makes the SAH such an amazing place to train. “We're also spoiled,” she said. “We have some of the most state-of-the-art equipment that we get to use to provide the highest level of care to our patients.” While her future practice location is uncertain, Hinson already plans to see orthopedic, soft tissue, and neurosurgery cases following residency; all three, she says, are challenging and rewarding in their own ways. “As I get closer to the end of my residency training, I am comforted by the gratifying feeling that I’ve chosen the right career path for me,” Hinson said. “Despite the challenges of residency life, I can honestly say I’m thankful for every day of my residency and am grateful for the opportunity I’ve been given to do what I love.” ■


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Dr. Whitney Hinson and Todo

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HOSPITAL

“Texas A&M has a long-standing history of focusing on feline issues. Achieving AAFP Gold Standard recognition just builds on our commitment to provide excellent care to cats.” - DR. AUDREY COOK

Mary Schacher and Crouton

THE CAT'S MEOW The Texas A&M Small Animal Hospital has reaffirmed its commitment to our purr-fect pals with its recent Feline Friendly Practice designation. Story by JENNIFER GAUNTT While dogs may have the reputation for being the friendliest of the companion animals, cats actually outnumber dogs in U.S. households. According to the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP), more than 86 million cats, compared to 78 million dogs, reside with families in America, yet dogs seem to receive more consistent and regular veterinary health care than their feline counterparts. To make the Texas A&M Small Animal Hospital (SAH) more comfortable for all of our (sometimes) furriest friends, SAH staff members have worked over the past five years to implement changes to make the hospital more “cat friendly.” For their work, the AAFP was recently recognized the hospital with a gold standard designation as a Cat Friendly Practice. “Whether it’s a routine checkup or special visit, the staff at the Small Animal Hospital is committed to ensuring that cats get the best care. To further its dedication, the hospital recently implemented the Cat Friendly Practice (CFP) program to offer pet owners more at every phase of the cat’s health care process,” said Dr. Jonathan Levine, professor, department head, and Helen McWhorter Chair in Small Animal Clinical Sciences (VSCS). “Through their work, the hospital staff has distinguished themselves as one of

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only a few teaching hospitals in the United States to earn the gold level designation.” The CFP program was pioneered by the AAFP to provide a framework for creating a positive practice environment for cats, including medical care that supports the cat’s unique needs and knowledgeable staff members who understand feline-friendly handling. The Gold Standard status is awarded to practices that have incorporated the optimum level of Cat Friendly Criteria. Practices that aspire to achieve “cat friendly” status create a “cat friendly” environment by completing a CFP checklist outlining required guidelines and submitting an online application for review by the AAFP. The SAH has worked to achieve the designation by creating separate waiting areas for cats and dogs, as well as separate ward areas and cat housing, each of which reduce feline stress. At a CFP-designated clinic, the veterinary staff incorporates cat-friendly features into the physical environment of the practice, including special waiting rooms or waiting accommodations, feline-sensitive examination rooms and ward facilities, and equipment appropriate specifically for cats. Staff members also approach cat care in a different manner. The staff learns how to understand the needs of the cat such as how to interpret a cat’s facial expression and body language. Furthermore, the staff is well-trained in alternate techniques to calm an anxious cat and ensure that exams and procedures do not escalate anxiety. “Texas A&M has a long-standing history of focusing on feline issues,” said Dr. Audrey Cook, associate professor and internist at the SAH. “Achieving AAFP Gold Standard recognition just builds on our commitment to provide excellent care to cats.” ■


HOSPITAL

ACADEMICS

COLLABORATION

PATIENT CARE

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Dr. Audrey Cook examines Crouton.

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Betsy Overholser and Kate 86 | CVM TODAY // FALL 2019


GIVING

ACADEMICS

“I love this place. Not just because of how they’ve cared for Kate but because of the people I met here. This is like coming home for me. I can't wait to get here every time we visit.” - BETSY OVERHOLSER

Story by JENNIFER GAUNTT

A SPECIAL PLACE FOR KATE

HOSPITAL GIVING

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CLINICAL TRIALS

When Overholser got Kate as a 14-week-old puppy, she immediately knew Kate was special. “She's from a litter of eight and has an identical twin; they were born in the same sack,” Overholser said. “She was so gorgeous and had such personality. I thought, she's kind of like the movie star. She had a lot of snap. “Kate is super smart and she's biddable—she's always worked to please me,” she said. “I had a little Cairn Terrier and a terrier’s disposition is, 'You want me to do what? Didn't we do that three weeks ago?' But Kate said, 'How many times do you want me to do it?' Kate and I competed in agility for over 10 years, and she was unstoppable; it was all or nothing when we competed.” In 2012, Overholser learned from her local veterinarian that Kate had fat deposits in her eyes. Ironically, Overholser had lost her Cairn Terrier to an eye issue and decided to bring Kate to Texas A&M. Since then, the hospital has played a critical role in caring for Kate. When she was diagnosed with protein loss enteropathy, an atypical manifestation of diseases that affect the gastrointestinal tract, and inflammatory bowel disease, it was the work of three SAH employees that ultimately saved her life—Dr. Greg Kuhlman, a veterinary specialist who now works in Albuquerque, discovered the disorder; Dr. Kelley Thieman Mankin, as assistant professor of soft tissue surgery, performed the laparoscope adrenal gland removal; and Dr. Amy Savarino, VMTH pharmacist, advised on the medications “that would make this all work.” “Texas A&M saved Kate’s life, and I suspect there are very

RESEARCH

Like the delicious gingersnaps she bakes, Betsy Overholser’s personality has some extra spice to it. The wonderful blend of spicy and sweet is so predominant in Overholser (and her cookies), it inspired the Bryan, Texas, Blackwater Draw Brewing Company to name one of their craft beers after her; since then, the brewery has held several “Betsy’s Brew-ha-has” that bring Overholser’s closest friends to the establishment for an evening of laughter and “Dammit Betsy” chocolate coffee porters. Among those attendees are faculty and staff members from the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) and the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital (VMTH). That’s because Overholser, who lives three hours away, in Arlington, has a warm spot in her heart for the CVM and VMTH. And the feeling is mutual—practically everyone in the Small Animal Hospital (SAH) knows her name and looks forward to her visits, and not just because Overholser’s trips to College Station bring with her little bags of her homemade treats, delivered to her friends all around the VMTH as the doctors examine her pet. The SAH has taken care of Overholser’s Shetland Sheepdog, Kate of Hepburn—named after the enigmatic actress—for the past seven years, and in return, Overholser is now taking care of the SAH and its people through the recent establishment of a scholarship for a veterinary student. “Everyone goes out of their way here,” she said. “Lucy Wendt (a former SAH veterinary technician) made every person who walked into that clinic feel like they're the only person on Earth. It’s awesome.”

PATIENT CARE

For years, Betsy Overholser has been treating VMTH personnel with homemade baked goods; now she’s treating the hospital and the students who learn there through planned gifts.

COLLABORATION

GENEROSITY AND GINGERSNAPS


GIVING

few other colleges in the nation with the same caliber of expertise we found here,” Overholser said. “Kelly Thieman really is one of the best in the nation.” Kate has also been treated for cancer at the SAH—she’s been in remission for two years—and sees Dr. Lucien Vallone, a clinical assistant professor of ophthalmology, for eyesight loss associated with aging. “My dog has better health care than I do,” Overholser joked. Kate’s condition requires her to visit VMTH specialists regularly, so every three months, Overholser and Kate make the drive to the SAH. “I love this place. Not just because of how they’ve cared for Kate but because of the people I met here,” she said. “This is like coming home for me. I can't wait to get here every time we visit.” The gingersnaps she bakes for those who work in the hospital led to the first “Betsy’s Brew-ha-ha.” “I was sitting at Blackwater Draw, waiting for the hospital to call for me to get her—I didn't even like beer—and I said, ‘I think I've got cookies that go with this coffee beer you've got,’” she said. “It's because of that and all those thousands of cookies I made for the kids here. Now, it’s history.”

AN HONORARY AGGIE A signature beer was not the only thing that has come from Overholser’s many trips to College Station. Though now an “honorary” Aggie, Overholser grew up all over the world as the child of a government employee. “We moved 30 times, all over the country. My father’s job allowed us to stay as long as we wanted, wherever we were, so we traveled all over multiple states, and even Japan,” she The Bryan-based Blackwater Draw's Dammit Betsy chocolate coffee porter was named after Overholser

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“Part of the charm of the Small Animal Hospital is getting to know the students. When I come to town, I make a point to take a couple of the fourth-year students out to dinner to get to know them better and thank them for their hard work. Hearing their stories inspired me to start this scholarship and inspires me to do more.” - BETSY OVERHOLSER said. “I went to elementary school in San Antonio, and we went to Alaska from San Antonio.” She attended college at Stephens College in Missouri before completing her degree at the University of Alaska, earned her graduate degree at Texas Christian University, and did post-graduate work at the University of North Texas. She went on to teach second through sixth grade for five years and then at a community college for 40. (It’s worth noting that five students from her first sixth-grade class traveled to Bryan to attend her last Brew-ha-ha in April). But it was the connection to the veterinary students at the SAH that endeared Overholser to Texas A&M. Her loyalty can now be witnessed through the Aggie bandana Kate often dons, much to the chagrin of her TCU alumni friends. “Nobody can believe it. I'm just an Aggie to the core. I see a car with an A&M sticker on it and I start honking and waving,” she said. “A friend said, 'You've got to stop that. They may not know why you're doing that.' But I feel such a strong connection with this place— I can’t help myself. I’m maroon to the core!” Her connection with the students—and with CVM development officers Chastity Carrigan, Dr. Bubba Woytek, and, formerly, Eliana Brown—is the reason she established the Betsy Overholser Endowed Scholarship, which will support a student pursuing a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree and has an interest in small animal orthopedics or cardiology. Overholser also has provisions in her estate to support the CVM after her lifetime. Her wish is to augment the endowed scholarship she created and support the college’s Clinical Skills Laboratory, which better prepares students for their veterinary careers. Overholser views her gifts as a form of repayment for all that the SAH has done to help heal Kate and as a tribute to the bright young people she met over the years. “Part of the charm of the Small Animal Hospital is getting to know the students,” Overholser said. “When I come to town, I make a point to take a couple of the fourth-year students out to dinner to get to know them better and thank them for their hard work. Hearing their stories inspired me to start this scholarship and inspires me to do more.” ■


GIVING

ACADEMICS COLLABORATION PATIENT CARE RESEARCH CLINICAL TRIALS HOSPITAL GIVING

Betsy Overholser visiting the Winnie Carter Wildlife Center

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GIVING

Jetty and her teddy

AN UNBREAKABLE BOND Dr. William McCain and Brenda Bridges are paying tribute to their beloved Jetty—and her teddy—with an endowed residency at the Small Animal Hospital. Story by MONIKA BLACKWELL Jetty Bridges is a legacy. As a frequent visitor of the Texas A&M Small Animal Hospital (SAH), Jetty was known as the sweet black lab who could always be found carrying her beloved and well-worn teddy bear in her mouth. Following Jetty’s death in 2017, her legacy has taken on a different form—the namesake for the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences’ (CVM) first endowed residency, established in her honor by owners Dr. William McCain and Brenda Bridges.

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EVERYONE’S FRIEND Jetty first came to the VMTH when Bridges brought her to participate in a radiography study of the front limbs of healthy Labrador retrievers. For several weeks, Jetty visited the clinic to receive imaging that would one day be part of a published paper, contributing to the body of knowledge about standing radiographs. When Jetty was 5 years old, she returned to the Small Animal Hospital (SAH), this time receiving a diagnosis of Chagas disease, a parasitic disease caused by kissing bugs. It was an alarming diagnosis, as Chagas disease can often be fatal to dogs and people, but Bridges and McCain knew Jetty was in good hands. Over the years, Jetty was seen by nearly every service in the SAH, from cardiology to dermatology to neurology. Throughout her life, she underwent several surgeries, including a partial pinealectomy and several surgeries on her elbow, including a canine unicompartmental elbow replacement in 2013. Thanks to the SAH, Jetty lived for 9 years after her Chagas disease diagnosis. She was almost 14 when she passed away. She was cremated with her beloved bear. Over those years, countless students, interns, and


GIVING

ACADEMICS

residents learned from Jetty and became better prepared for their veterinary careers as a result of treating her. “Through all of her surgeries, Jetty never balked at entering the CVM,” Bridges said. “It was her stage. She loved going there and seeing the doctors and staff. This stoic, small Labrador toughed out whatever fate threw her way.” Following Jetty’s death, clinicians throughout the hospital commented on the loss. “Jetty brightened any room and made everyone smile,” said one of Jetty’s clinicians. “Losing Jetty hurts a bit more than other losses. She was a good friend,” said another. “The good fight is over, but Jetty and teddy will not be forgotten.”

COLLABORATION

The endowment will fund a full-time resident in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences (VSCS). Veterinary residencies provide advanced training in a clinical specialty that leads to specialized certification. These positions typically last for three-year periods and are critical to the hospital, as they allow for increased caseloads and create more opportunities for invaluable research. Residents gain experience in professional veterinary medical education and develop invaluable skills as veterinary teachers. McCain and Bridges hope that future recipients will be proud to earn the title of “Jetty’s Resident.” ■

To support further innovations in veterinary medicine, please contact Chastity Carrigan, Assistant Vice President for Development for the CVM, at ccarrigan@txamfoundation.com or 979.845.9043.

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GIVING

On the white coat worn by each of the future holders of the residency, a teddy bear will be embroidered beside their name.

HOSPITAL

For McCain and Bridges, honoring Jetty with a residency was an important way to pay tribute to their favorite dog.

Dr. William McCain and Jetty

CLINICAL TRIALS

HONORING JETTY

RESEARCH

Outside of the SAH, Jetty was an elite show dog with a much longer title: CH Dewberries Argonaut Atalanta RA SH. She was one of a select number of dogs to receive this combination of titles by excelling in more than one AKC sport—CH is conformation “Champion;” RA is “Rally Advanced;” and SH is “Senior Hunter.” In Greek mythology, Atalanta was a fierce huntress and was always happy; Jetty was both. But to her family, she was simply “Jetty,” a name given to her because a jetty protects a harbor. Bridges spent many years breeding black Labrador retrievers, and there were always dogs at the house. Jetty immediately stood out to her and McCain as a special pup, so they decided to keep her. But it wasn’t until a few years later that McCain knew she was his dog and understood their unbreakable bond. “Jetty had done her conformation championship, and one weekend we had taken her to do her senior hunter test,” McCain said. “During the water test, I was sitting under a tree in a folding chair, and when she finished the trial, she cut a trail directly to me. She was completely sopping wet, but she jumped into my lap and started kissing me in the face. That’s when I knew I’d been selected!” McCain and Jetty grew even closer over the years—he is full of stories about her exceptional abilities. He recalls how she would ride with him in the elevator to his apartment. Each time they’d go up, she’d wait in the corner of the elevator with her teddy. “Just before it got to my floor, she’d deliberately walk over to the door so that when she got to the door, it would open as if on cue,” McCain said. “I wondered, ‘How does she know which floor we live on?’ And then I realized she could count.”

PATIENT CARE

THE HAPPY HUNTRESS


GIVING

Janel Griffey with Dr. Robert Judd '79 and his wife Deborah

A HEART OF GOLD Since making her first contribution to the Small Animal Hospital in honor of an Aggie veterinarian, Janel Griffey has decided to help other pets receive the same quality of care her dogs have received by establishing Emma’s Fund. Story by MONIKA BLACKWELL Janel Griffey is not an Aggie, but Texas A&M has her heart. Her connection to the university hinges upon the love she has for the Aggie veterinarians and veterinarians-in-training who have treated her family of dogs during the last decade and a half. For years, Griffey has been a loyal client of Dr. Robert Judd ’79, her veterinarian in Waco. It was through her interactions with Judd that Griffey saw the power of the Aggie spirit and experienced the true selfless service that Texas A&M has imparted in all its graduates. When Judd referred Griffey to Texas A&M for her dogs, Griffey knew that she had found a unique and trustworthy place for her beloved companions. She was impressed

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with the many students she met and has even tried to recruit a couple to move to Waco and work with Judd after graduation. Because of the connections she has made, Griffey has become one of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences’ (CVM) most generous supporters.

COMFORT FOR ANIMAL LOVERS Griffey’s first gift to the college was a donation of two comfort rooms to the Small Animal Hospital (SAH), which provide hospital clients a home-like environment to reflect on their pet’s medical options and, for those who face the pain of saying goodbye, a quiet, peaceful place to spend their final moments with their beloved pet. Molly’s Room was named for Griffey’s cherished dog, a 5-pound poodle who stole her heart from the beginning. “Molly had over a dozen health problems, but due to Dr. Judd’s medical expertise, she lived almost two years longer than expected,” Griffey said. “I’d lost many pets before Molly. It’s always horrible, but this time there were difficulties.” Griffey knew she needed to honor Molly in a special way to make peace with her death. She also knew there was a need for another comfort room at the SAH; hence, Molly’s Room was born. In addition,


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ACADEMICS

the room honors Judd for his commitment to veterinary excellence and his exemplary care of Griffey’s pets. “While at the SAH discussing Molly’s Room, I decided to make an additional gift of a second comfort room in memory of my great-aunt Emma,” Griffey said. “The Griffey Gang Room is adjacent to Molly’s Room. Its name is a nod to the moniker given to the original eight dogs I had rescued from a local no-kill shelter. When people saw us coming they called us the Griffey Gang, and the name stuck!”

COLLABORATION

EMMA’S FUND

PATIENT CARE

Janel Griffey and Dr. Sharon Kerwin

GIVING

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HOSPITAL

To support further innovations in veterinary medicine, please contact Chastity Carrigan, Assistant Vice President for Development for the CVM, at ccarrigan@txamfoundation.com or 979.845.9043.

CLINICAL TRIALS

CVM. Her gifts will permanently endow Emma’s Fund and provide endowed support for the CVM’s shelter medicine program. She also has ensured that all of her dogs will have a home in the Stevenson Companion Animal Life-Care Center after her lifetime. Griffey credits her father for her ability to make these contributions to support the causes about which she is passionate. “My father was a self-made man. He was born to a dirtpoor tobacco farmer in Tennessee. He had a third-grade education, and by age 13, he held his first job as short-order cook. He died a multi-millionaire,” Griffey said. “I didn’t live with my father, but he blessed me by sharing part of his estate with me. “I didn’t work for this money, so it’s not mine to waste. I want to make sure that when I am no longer here, my dad’s money still benefits others. That’s why my animals will live at the Stevenson Center and my entire estate will be donated to the CVM and the SAH.” ■

RESEARCH

Griffey’s great-aunt became the inspiration for a second gift to the CVM. A year later, she established Emma’s Fund. Emma’s Fund assists pet owners 60 years old or older who are on a fixed income and require additional support within the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital (VMTH) to afford their pet’s life-saving care. To qualify, the treatment must be performed at the VMTH and the pet must have a good prognosis. “My aunt loved all living creatures. She would rescue baby birds or newborn squirrels found in her backyard and valiantly try to save their lives,” Griffey said. “When finishing a meal at a restaurant, she never left an uneaten dinner roll or scrap of food. Instead, she placed the leftovers into a plastic bag kept in her ‘pocketbook’ just for the purpose of carrying little tidbits to the parking lot to be placed on the grass for ‘some poor bird or animal looking for food.’” Griffey recalls Emma’s home, which was never without a few stray cats and dogs tenderly cared for by her aunt. “She is the one from whom I learned that all creatures deserved to be loved, not just the pampered and pretty ones,” Griffey said. Emma’s Fund has also helped with the VMTH’s Meals on Wheels Pets Assisting the Lives of Seniors (PALS) program, which allows veterinary students to make home visits to Meals on Wheels recipients to provide preventative care to their pets. “I love talking with senior citizens,” Griffey said. “Their stories are rich and vibrant, and if you take the time to listen, there’s much you can learn from them! Aunt Emma and I had many long phone conversations. I’m sure one of her pets was on her lap the whole time, being petted. “Often the only companions our senior citizens have is their pet. That pet is their entire world to them,” she said. “It hurts my soul to think some little old lady or man would have to euthanize an animal because they lack funds for medical care. I need only to think of Aunt Emma or my best friend, both on fixed incomes. What would they do? It was a no-brainer for me to establish Emma’s Fund!” To ensure her generosity continues after her lifetime, Griffey has also left provisions in her estate to support the


IN MEMORIAM

Class of 1954 Charles L. Hall, 85, of College Station, Texas, died on Nov. 27, 2018.

Class of 1955

let comrade answer, “Here!”

James E. Cook, 87, of Amarillo, Texas, died on Nov. 21, 2018. Benjamin Burke Ray, 91, of Clovis, New Mexico, died on March 31, 2019.

Class of 1956 Beryl Watson Cline, 86, of Alvin, Texas, died on Feb. 22, 2018.

Class of 1957

Watt Matthews Casey, 97, of Albany, Texas, died on Feb. 24, 2018.

Ray D. Carroll, 90, of Corsicana, Texas, died on June 30, 2018. Aubrey L. Smith, 84, of Nashville, Arkansas, died on April 2, 2018. A. "Doc" Rankin Kennedy Jr., 90, of Hot Springs, Arkansas, died on May 17, 2019.

Class of 1946

Class of 1958

Robert L. Butchofsky, 94, of Ruidoso, New Mexico, died on May 17, 2018. William T. Moseley, 95, of Harlingen, Texas, died on April 29, 2018. Larry Rogers, 94, of Dallas, Texas, died on June 26, 2019. Frank Daniel Yturria, 95, of Brownsville, Texas, died on Nov. 26, 2018.

Donald Anderson Sr., 84, of Denton, Texas, died on Sept. 18, 2018. Harold E. Jackson, 93, of Waco, Texas, died on Nov. 25, 2018. Charles Thomas Schenck, 84, of North Brunswick, New Jersey, died on July 10, 2018.

Class of 1943

Class of 1947 Homer L. Hensler, 91, of Carthage, Texas, died on Dec. 9, 2004. Ben L. Russell, 95, of Clovis, New Mexico, died on March 31, 2018. Walter William Toxey Jr., 92, of Arlington, Texas, died on June 30, 2018.

Class of 1950 Andrew Jackson Cotton Jr., 92, of Kansas City, Missouri, died on May 25, 2019. Joseph Benedict Coulter, 93, of Brownsville, Texas, died on Jan. 2, 2019.

Class of 1951

Class of 1959 John Paul Arnold, 86, of Tyler, Texas, died on March 15, 2019. Billy G. Johnson, 82, of Bowie, Maryland, died on April 7, 2018. Edward Hayes Stephenson, 81, of Tucson, Arizona, died on July 18, 2018. Thomas Ray Thedford, 82, of Stillwater, Oklahoma, died on April 19, 2018. Charles Rogers Wiseman, 83, of San Antonio, Texas, died on Feb. 2, 2019.

Class of 1961 Mark Cook McCullin, 81, of West Monroe, Louisiana, died on Jan. 1, 2019. Ralph A. Vosdingh, 81, of Ponce Inlet, Florida, died on Jan. 28, 2019.

Gibney Kendrick Jr., 93, of Georgetown, Texas, died on Oct. 1, 2018.

Class of 1962

Class of 1952

Class of 1963

David M. Elston, 93, of Lafayette, Louisiana, died on May 7, 2018. Lee Allen Holden Jr., 92, of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, died on Sept. 3, 2018.

William E. Harwood, 80, of San Antonio, Texas, died on Feb. 11, 2019. Johnny Filmore Jones, 83, of Winnfield, Louisiana, died on June 4, 2018.

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James "Doc" Tucker, 86, of Tulia, Texas, died on July 17, 2018.


IN MEMORIAM

Joe Kent Neff, 84, of Big Spring, Texas, died on Jan. 15, 2018.

Class of 1964 Patrick Keith Crouch, 78, of Canadian, Texas, died on Mar. 14, 2019. Kenneth D. Dorris, 85, of Stephenville, Texas, died on Nov. 24, 2018. F. C. "Buddy" Faries Jr., 76, of College Station, Texas, died on Sep. 11, 2018. Jerry Bob Payne, 78, of Fort Worth, Texas, died on Sept. 25, 2018.

Stephen Lynn Stephenson, 66, of Amarillo, Texas, died on Jan. 26, 2018.

Class of 1980 Robin Rose Parker Flowers, 59, of Navasota, Texas, died on Aug. 2, 2018.

Class of 1984

Class of 1965

Jay Anthony Benton, 62, of Houston, Texas, died on April 18, 2018. George Wilson Stork, 66, of Rockport, Texas, died on April 10, 2018. Gregory Jon Wood, 60, of Katy, Texas, died on May 30, 2019.

Robert H. Wolf, 76, of Little Rock, Arkansas, died on April 15, 2018.

Class of 1986 Jessie Ann Buel, 58, of Austin, Texas, died on Oct. 27, 2018.

Class of 1966 H.A. “Bud” Smith, 83, of Brenham, Texas, died Feb. 18, 2019.

Class of 1987

Class of 1967

Dana Johnson-Manley, First African American female to be admitted and graduate from TAMU CVM, 56, of Wiley, Texas, died on April 11, 2018

Royce E. Roberts, 74, of Fredericksburg, Texas, died on Aug. 14, 2018.

Class of 1970 Martin Nolan Brillhart, 70, of Slaton, Texas, died on June 9, 2018. Robert Richard Hase, 73, of New Port Richey, Florida, died on Jan. 7, 2018.

Class of 1972 David Guitar, 72, of Cleveland, Ohio, died on Sept. 19, 2018. Robert P. "Rob" Harle, 70, of Baird, Texas, died on Aug. 17, 2018. William H. Kubecka, 69, of Palacios, Texas, died April 30, 2018. Lawrence August Rothe, 60, of Oakland, California, died on Nov. 26, 2018.

Class of 1973

Class of 1989 Kimberly J. McDole, 61, of Lafayette, Indiana, died on Aug. 27, 2018.

Class of 1990 Kevin K. Kisthardt, 55, of Daytona Beach, Florida, died on Sept. 2, 2018. Neil Richard Seidel, 53, of Giddings, Texas, died on Jan. 7, 2018.

Class of 2012 Bridget Marion Feldhaus, 32, of Eden, Texas, died on July 19, 2018.

Class of 2013 Susan Marie Vajdak, 32, of Snook, Texas, died on May 25, 2019.

Randall Gary Deutsch, 75, of Denton, Texas, died on Sept. 4, 2018. Dennis Marvin Sundbeck, 69, of Round Rock, Texas, died on April 15, 2018.

Class of 1975 Patrick D. Jarrett, 66, of Weatherford, Texas, died on June 6, 2019.

Class of 1976 Kenneth Charles Fletcher Sr., 71, of Pharr, Texas, died on Feb. 2, 2019.

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