September 24, 2012

Furry Celebrities in DC

By Dana Koch

Who doesn’t love to have his or her picture taken with a celebrity?  Personally, I think the best celebrities are four-legged and furry.  On Thursday night, I had the opportunity to attend Animal Health Institute’s (AHI) Pet Night on Capitol Hill.  This event occurs once a year and welcomes members of Congress, staff and other invited guests to enjoy delicious food while socializing with celebrity pets and each other.  AHI’s main mission is “to improve the health and well-being of animals and, in doing so, protect and improve the health and well-being of people.”  The company develops animal medications and supports continuing research efforts to improve animal health. AHI is also behind the educational campaign – “Healthy People. Healthy Animals. Health Planet.”  This program is important because it promotes public awareness for the potential of zoonotic diseases.  At the event, I was able to have my picture taken with the two celebrity guests, a very well-behaved Jack Russell Terrier named Uggie, who has starred in the movie “The Artist” and a less cooperative, but friendly cat named Tennessee who had the role of “Buttercup” in “The Hunger Games” movie.  I always wondered how these animal actors get paid.  In dog or cat treats?   There was quite a food selection, complete with dog and cat shaped sugar cookies, which I thoroughly enjoyed and happily took home in my goody bag.   Overall, I’m glad I could attend such a fun event and talk with several veterinarians, staff members of different representatives and various other interesting people that work in the DC area.

Uggie in his tuxedo shirt

On Friday, I had the privilege of visiting the National Institute of Health (NIH).  NIH is the leading research agency in the country and invests around 30 billion dollars in medical advancements and studies each year.   Dr. Patricia Brown, the director of the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW), managed to take time out of her busy schedule to set-up a full day visit for me and was even kind enough to pick me up from the metro station in the morning.  I was able to talk with her and several other veterinarians in the OLAW office.  I must admit each and every person was extremely enthusiastic and seemed to truly enjoy their jobs.   All of them were adamant that the field of laboratory animal medicine is a wonderful career path to choose because it offers a variety of diversified job opportunities and challenging, but rewarding work.  Additionally, it was fascinating to hear about Dr. Brown’s and her colleague’s public health work following the devastation surrounding Hurricane Katrina.  Veterinarians were in high demand during the aftermath of the national disaster and were instrumental in helping to transport thousands of animals to safety.  Dr. Brown also set-up meetings for me with Dr. Terri Clark, who is the Director of the Office of Animal Care and Use, as well as the Chief Veterinary Officer of United States Public Health Service (USPHS) and Dr. Stephen Denny, Deputy Director of the Office of Animal Care and Use.  Dr. Clark spoke to me about her experiences in the armed forces and the training opportunities she received in laboratory animal medicine, as well as her work in the public health service.  I found myself wishing I could accomplish so much in my career and still be as humble as Dr. Clark presented herself.

I have worked in several animal facilities throughout the years, but it was exciting for me to have a personally guided tour of a NIH laboratory animal facility by Dr. Denny.  He spent a great deal of time showing me the numerous animal holding rooms, procedure rooms, surgical suites, and diagnostic equipment, in addition to the variety of research animals.  My favorite part was hearing about all the amazing research occurring at NIH that contributes to ground-breaking medical advancements and the exemplary care each and every animal receives.  The general public many times views animal research in a negative manner because of publicity by animal rights activists, but the truth of the matter is that without animal research there would not be nearly the level of medical advancements and scientific breakthroughs that the world has today.  The protocols and research models are carefully chosen and must go through an intensive approval process before even being considered for funding.  I left the day feeling very thankful for the chance to be further inspired by those that dedicate their lives to finding cures for diseases, as well as improvements to medical therapies for both the human and animal population.