Message from the Dean
Friends and Colleagues,
With Christmas upon us, I wanted to take a moment to extend my warmest personal
greetings and best wishes to all of you for a wonderful holiday season. Like
many of you, I find it hard to believe that another year has already slipped
by. And yet, looking back, we can see where it has been a good year for
veterinary medicine and for our college, and I hope, for each and every one of
I have just returned from a week at Baton Rouge, where I participated in an
AVMA Council on Education accreditation review for the LSU College of
Veterinary Medicine. While there, Dean Mike Groves shared stories about the
dramatic response our profession and our colleges of veterinary medicine
mounted in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. I was reminded again
of the special nature of our helping profession and of how seriously
veterinarians address the covenants of the "Veterinarian's Oath." We have all
learned a great deal from this past hurricane season, and as you will read
below, we are working with other organizations to better prepare for the
unexpected events that lie ahead.
We are all pleased by the bold statement Governor Warner made on December 7
regarding the role of research in the future of Virginia. This move will
immediately and materially affect the development of our own research
initiatives; but perhaps more important, I view this move as a somewhat
historic expression of support for the connection between university research,
discovery, and innovation and the future economic well-being of Virginia and
the United States.
We are saddened by the loss of Dr. Luis Melendez from our own college
community, and also the passing of Dr. Jerry Beller, who played a large role in
the history of the profession in Virginia. Perhaps events like these should
remind us all again to take stock of all that is good in our lives, and of the
family and the friends that bring joy and happiness throughout the year.
Enjoy this Holiday Season, and much good luck, health and happiness to you all
in the year ahead.
Gerhardt G. Schurig
|In This Issue...
Announces Research and Development Initiative
other State Orgs, Developing Animal Disaster Preparedness Program
Electronic Stallion Service Auction Benefits Equine Reproductive Research
VMRCVM Virology Professor Luis Melendez Dies
Help with Katrina Animal Rescue
Helps Create VMRCVM Animal Reproduction Center
Joy Can Present Some Animal Health Hazards
Reflects on Satisfying Career
Governor Mark Warner's recently announced research and development initiative
contains $4 million to help support construction of the VMRCVM's new Infectious
Warner Announces Research and Development Initiative
College officials and faculty are in the process of preparing a $4 million
National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant to match the state funding.
The proposed 16,000 square-foot, $8 million project would be constructed on the
north-western side of the veterinary medical complex at Virginia Tech, adjacent
to the Veterinary Teaching Hospital.
Preliminary architectural work for the proposed facility is being done by
Louviere, Stratton & Yokel of Greenbelt, Maryland, a planning and design firm
that specializes in laboratory facilities. The college plans to submit the NIH
grant some time between March and June, 2006, according to Research Initiatives
Director Dr. Tom Caruso, and NIH program managers will likely require nine
months to evaluate the proposal.
"The Governor's proposal is exceptionally good news for our building plans,"
said VMRCVM Dean Gerhardt Schurig. "We urgently need to create more research
space to support our developing initiatives in the life sciences and infectious
diseases. This funding guarantees the match that is required for the NIH grant
for new facilities we are preparing."
Governor Warner announced plans on December 7 for state investment of up to
$255 million in several university based research initiatives. Including the
required institutional matching funds, the program could boost overall research
and development funding at Virginia colleges and universities by $554 million.
"We are very pleased to see this commitment to research. The governor has
stepped up to the plate realizing that it takes large investments to really
make a difference," said President Charles Steger. If approved by the General
Assembly, this will be the largest single investment in academic research in
is a historic investment in Virginia's future, one that can help save lives and
generate economic growth," said Gov. Warner. "Our state dollars will leverage
federal and private funds to help attract the best and brightest scientists and
students to our universities. Several of our universities have started to
recruit world-class researchers to Virginia. This funding will further our
advances in biomedical research and help lead to potential breakthroughs in
treating cancer, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and other serious diseases."
Gov. Warner noted in his comments that Virginia lags behind the neighboring
states of Maryland and North Carolina in academic research and said, "What
better place to make an investment than in research and development based
around our colleges and universities across the commonwealth? There we find
tomorrow's products and cures."
The investments of "one-time" monies will fund $67 million in faculty
recruitment and startup costs, $68 million for new research facilities directed
to specific schools, $27 million for equipment, $10 million for competitive
research and commercialization grants, and a $50 million pool of funds for
research facilities. Additionally, the governor proposes $34 million in ongoing
support ($23 million after current biennium) for research and instructional
programs and for graduate support.
back to contents
College officials are continuing to meet with a multi-agency coordinating group
designed to develop animal evacuation and management protocols in the event of
a natural or deliberate disaster.
VMRCVM, Other State Organizations, Developing Animal Disaster Preparedness
The devastating hurricanes of the 2005 season that demolished vast coastal
regions of the southern coast of the United States and caused a major national
emergency focused the need and the urgency of refining emergency companion and
agricultural animal management and evacuation plans.
The Virginia Disaster Animal Care and Control Committee has been meeting for
just over two years. Chaired by Peggy Allen of the Virginia
Federation of Humane Societies, the group includes representatives from
the Virginia Department of Health, the Virginia Department of Emergency
Management, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the
Virginia Association of Licensed Veterinary Technicians, the Virginia
Veterinary Medical Association, the Virginia Department of Environmental
Quality, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and other
The VMRCVM is represented on the committee by
Dr. Bill Pierson, professor, Department of Large Animal Clinical
Sciences and VMRCVM Biosecurity Director, and Jeff Douglas, director of public
The group has been meeting regularly in Richmond since it was formed in the
summer of 2003. One of the first tasks was to update and refine
Functional Annex N: Animal Care and Control of the Virginia Emergency
Operations Plan. That codifies policies and procedures such as evacuations,
temporary sheltering facilities, owner reunification protocols and other areas.
In April 2004, the group heard a presentation on the
National State Animal Response Team (SART) model. Participating
organizations were asked to pool resources designed to win a matching grant
offered by PetSmart Charities, Inc., which would have supported the development
of a fully detailed Virginia SART program.
The Virginia effort was not awarded one of the PetSmart matching grants,
however, efforts continue to develop a Virginia plan continue. The group is now
applying to the Association of Societies for the
Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) for matching funds. If
successful, a Virginia SART program/workshop similar to what was originally
proposed through the PetSmart program will be mounted, according to Dr.
During the recent November 30 meeting, the group discussed the national SART
conference, the Virginia response to the Hurricane Katrina and Rita disasters,
and a discussion of lessons learned as a result of the Gulf Coast hurricane
back to contents
over EBAY. an equine veterinarian in the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of
Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech has created an internet-based stallion
service auction to benefit equine reproductive research in the college.
VMRCVM's Electronic Stallion Service Auction Benefits Equine Reproductive
The electronic auction is the brain-child of
Dr. John Dascanio, an associate professor in the
Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences and a board certified
equine reproductive specialist (theriogenologist). Dascanio says he got the
idea to create the project after learning that four other colleges of
veterinary medicine had launched similar electronic auctions in other areas of
After conferring with members of the administration and VMRCVM Director of
Development Dr. Frank Pearsall, Dascanio began working in earnest with Alison
Elward, the college's web developer and her colleague Rebecca Neumann, on the
development of the data-base driven site. The site that has been developed
supports a completely automated bidding process, contains information about
equine reproductive research and links to other relevant sites.
"We need to identify more research funding, I'm kind of a computer geek, and
this seemed like a good way for everyone to benefit and feel like they are part
of our program," said Dascanio.
The equine breeding season generally runs from the middle of February until the
middle of June, Dascanio says, so the auction will begin in mid-December and
conclude around mid-February. Horse owners who wish to donate stallion
services, which will probably cost between $500 and $2000 for the horses
registered on the site, simply register information about their stallion on the
Auction participants then bid up the services for a particular stallion until
the winning bid is announced at the end of the auction. The entire bid then
goes to support the college's equine reproductive research program.
The mares' owners agree to pay all related costs associated with the breeding,
including the collection, storage and shipment of semen, pregnancy and
ultrasound examinations and other costs. With the exception of thoroughbreds
that are bred through natural cover per regulations established by The Jockey
Club, most horses have the opportunity to be bred through artificial
insemination, Dascanio said.
"Hopefully, all parties will benefit," said Dascanio. "The stallion owners will
get a tax credit, the mare owners may receive a stud fee below the stallion's
normal cost, and money will be raised to support equine reproductive research
at the college."
Dascanio estimates that the stallion auction might raise between $12,000 and
$40,000 dollars a year in funds to support equine reproductive research. "We're
going to grow this year by year," he said.
While Dascanio realistically admits the auction will probably never field the
caliber of stallions that demand six-figure stud fees (the most expensive stud
standing is a thoroughbred that requires a $500,000 fee for a standing foal),
he is hopeful that the site and the quality of stallions will grow considerably
in the years ahead.
One of the reasons Dascanio was motivated to create the program is because of
the relative shortage of funds to support equine reproduction. Many
organizations fund colic, lameness, laminitis and other disorders, but few
specifically support equine reproductive work.
Dascanio and colleagues are already working on a number of promising programs.
For example, pregnancy loss or abortion remains a significant problem with some
mares. In one program, the researchers are looking at gene expression in the
uterus of the horse to determine how an over or under-expression of some genes
might contribute to the onset of post-mating endometritis- which can complicate
and terminate a pregnancy.
More information about the program can be found at
back to contents
college community mourns the passing of Dr. Luis Melendez, a professor of
virology who served on faculty from July 1984 through his retirement in May of
Former VMRCVM Virology Professor Luis Melendez Dies
A native of Santiago, Chile and naturalized U.S. citizen, Dr. Melendez was an
internationally renowned virologist who held academic appointments and
positions at a number of prestigious universities, national and international
government agencies and health organizations throughout a career that spanned
almost five decades.
"Dr. Melendez brought global credentials in veterinary virology to our
developing college in the 1980's," said Dean Gerhardt Schurig. "He was a good
friend, and he made lasting contributions to our college and the world of
science and medicine."
After earning his D.V.M. degree from the University of Chile in 1950, Melendez
spent the next 12 years in scientific and management positions working as a
virologist with the Instituto Bacteriologico de Chile in Santiago. During this
period of time, he was awarded two Rockefeller Foundation Fellowships to
continue his research.
After immigrating to America and spending two years with the University of
Wisconsin College of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Melendez moved to Boston, where
he began his 12 year affiliation with the Harvard Medical School and the New
England Regional Primate Research Center, where he chaired the Division of
Microbiology. At Harvard, Dr. Melendez served on the Faculty of Medicine and
lectured on virology, molecular genetics, and microbiology.
In 1974, Dr. Melendez became Regional Advisor in Veterinary Medicine for the
Pan American Health Organization in Washington, D.C. and from 1976
through 1981, he served as director of the
Pan American Zoonoses Center of the Pan American Health Organization in
Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Prior to joining the VMRCVM, he served from 1981 through 1984 as Chief,
Technical Department, of the International Office of Epizootics in Paris,
According to the second edition of "Who's Who in Veterinary Science in
Medicine," Melendez is listed as the researcher/discover of Leukemogenic
Herpesviruses of primates: Herpesvirus Samarai and Herpesvirus Ateles.
Melendez published more than 100 articles in scientific journals, including
work done in collaboration with the late VMRCVM Founding Dean Richard B. Talbot
that was associated with the establishment of the "Inter-American Compendium of
Registered Veterinary Products."
Melendez, Talbot and others did extensive work with a number of central and
South American nations designed to develop a standardized nomenclature and
classification system associated with veterinary biologics and pharmaceuticals
used in the Americas.
Melendez was a member of a number of scientific associations, including the
American Society of Tropical Veterinary Medicine, the United States Animal
Health Association, the American Academy of Microbiology, the American
Veterinary Medical Association, the American Association for the Advancement of
Science, and others.
In Blacksburg, Dr. Melendez was a member of St. Mary's Catholic Church and
back to contents
Students Help with Katrina Animal Rescue
As Ted Mashima,
a zoo and wildlife veterinarian on the faculty of the university's branch of
the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine (VMRCVM), watched
the TV footage of the animal victims of Hurricane Katrina, he said "I was
feeling lousy. I wanted to help, but I couldn't go down there."
So Mashima did "something even better," he says. He arranged for students to go
instead. As associate director of the
Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine at Maryland's Avrum
Gedulsky Center, Mashima works with student veterinarians who rotate through as
part of their advanced training.
When Mashima learned that some alumni of VMRCVM were gathering a team to go to
New Orleans to help with the thousands of pets stranded and separated from
their owners by Katrina, he asked if they would take the three students who had
just arrived in College Park. The answer was an enthusiastic "yes."
Within a few days, senior veterinary students Chris Imrich, Amanda Norman and
Jean Richards were repacking to board a plane to New Orleans. They spent long
hours of the next three days in a makeshift animal shelter in St. Bernard
Parish, helping to diagnose, perform surgery on, medicate and comfort an ark's
variety of pets.
Amid the devastating flood damage to the area, the students arrived to find a
large, well organized tent shelter, where hundreds of animals were being well
cared for by lots of volunteers, but only a few vets.
"I didn't think we would be as needed as we were," said Chris Imrich, who has
done other rescue work and research with marine mammals. "Some people were
saying our presence wasn't necessary, but when we got there we found they
needed people with medical expertise."
There were dogs, cats, birds, a pet pot-belly pig, a large sow -- not a pet --
a tarantula, domestic geese, ducks and at least one alligator that somehow
wandered in from the wild.
"We saw a lot of bite wounds," said Amanda Norman. "Abandoned dogs gather in
packs and fight. The wounds get infected from dirty water."
Their experience has them thinking about exactly what their Maryland rotation
is all about -- veterinary public policy.
should add pet areas," said Jean Richards, as one idea for disaster planning.
"Some animals can't stay with their owners if they have to evacuate. In some
cases, people don't leave when they should if they can't take their animals. We
should start working on some options, some contingency plans."
"My goal is to expose students to real world situations, which includes
experiencing uncertainty and bureaucratic challenges," said Mashima. "We can
only teach so much through our books and lectures.
"Although there was an immediate need for their medical training, each student
recognized that their skills could have been used to a far greater level, had
well-informed policies been in place before Katrina hit."
All three students said the experience reinforced their desire to plan for and
help with emergency animal situations in their careers. And it left them with
some lifelong memories of the strength of the animal-human bond.
"The one I remember the most is the black lab who was too frightened to let us
near him," said Norman. "He had become very aggressive, which can happen when
dogs are left alone.
"On the third day, we tried to hold him, but he was still too vicious. He was
just shaking all over. Then all of a sudden, he totally changed. He calmed
down, stopped shaking and started wagging his tail. I looked over and there was
his owner, who had just found him."
back to contents
With the help of a generous donor, the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of
Veterinary Medicine has opened a new Companion Animal Reproduction and
Endocrinology Studies (CARES) center which will initially focus on the effect
that hypothyroidism, the most commonly diagnosed endocrine disorder in dogs,
has on canine reproduction.
Donor Helps Create VMRCVM Animal Reproduction Center
Dr. Joanne O'Brien, a Washington D.C. based veterinarian and long-time
supporter of the college has provided substantial funding toward a $210,000
facilities renovation that has created one of the few laboratory facilities in
the nation devoted exclusively to canine and feline reproduction.
Hypothyroidism is an endocrine disorder that involves the under-production of
thyroid hormones. It causes clinical problems that include obesity,
abnormalities with the hair coat, neurological disorders, immune system
problems which can lead to severe skin infections and reproductive problems,
Dr. David Panciera, a professor in the Department of Small Animal
With research support from the Virginia Veterinary Medical Association
(VVMA) /VMRCVM Veterinary
Memorial Fund and the American
College of Veterinary Internal Medicine Foundation, Panciera is
launching a series of investigations designed to learn more about the various
disease problems caused by the disorder. Chief among these will be a detailed
study that seeks to evaluate the role that hypothyroidism plays in canine
That is a special interest for Dr. O'Brien, who earned her DVM degree from the
University of Minnesota as one of only two female members of the Class of 1952.
Dr. O'Brien also operates Linn Chow Kennel and is one of the most respected
Chow Chow breeders in the nation.
As a veterinarian and as an animal breeder, Dr. O'Brien had long been intrigued
by the role hypothyroidism plays in canine reproduction. While thyroid levels
in an animal might be within normal ranges, O'Brien speculated that levels on
the lower side of the "normal" ranges might be insufficient to promote maximum
Her curiosity began to bear fruit when she met Dr. Beverly Purswell, Head,
Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences, and a board certified
theriogenologist through a clinical consultation with the college's Veterinary
Dr. O'Brien was impressed with the assistance provided by Dr. Purswell on her
animal breeding problem; but moreover, as one of the female pioneers in a once
male dominated profession, she was also impressed that Dr. Purswell was serving
as the first president of the Virginia Veterinary Medical Association to ever
hail from the VMRCVM faculty.
That association soon blossomed into an investment in the college that helped
support the creation of the CARES center and provided laboratory and research
facilities to support the work of one of the country's leading experts in
canine thyroid function.
"Hypothyroidism has been suggested to be a cause of infertility in the female
dog, resulting in the failure to conceive, abortion, stillbirth and abnormal
cycling," said Dr. Panciera, who is board certified by the American College of
Veterinary Internal Medicine.
"While hypothyroidism has adverse affects on reproduction in humans and some
experimental animal species, no clinical or experimental study has been
performed in dogs," he continued.
Working with a purpose-bred colony of breeding animals, Panciera and colleagues
are underway with their investigations, where they hope to learn enough to
support more refined recommendations about optimal levels of thyroid hormone
during animal breeding and gestation periods. They are also examining the
disorder's affect on immune, neurological and kidney function.
Other research projects expected to get underway in the future will focus on
improved control of the estrous cycle, practical prediction of ovulation and
whelping. Early diagnosis of pregnancy, cardiology of pregnancy and pediatrics,
improved fertility via frozen semen, pediatric medicine and neonatal behavior
Specially designed to support the needs of pregnant animals and their young,
the CARES Center includes 18 runs, four whelping runs and a treatment room. An
additional benefit is that it will provide veterinary students with an
opportunity to gain hands-on experience with canine and feline reproduction.
The center will operate in coordination with the college's
CREATE (Center for Reproductive Excellence using Advanced Technology
and Endocrinology) Lab and the Veterinary Teaching Hospital's Clinical
Theriogenology Service, thus providing a wide range of faculty experts,
technical staff, facilities and specialized equipment.
back to contents
decorations and holiday treats may help make the season bright, but they can
also cause problems for household pets, say experts in the Virginia-Maryland
Regional College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech. A few precautions can
help make sure a family's Holiday spirit isn't dampened by the untimely--and
preventable--illness or injury of a beloved dog or cat.
Christmas Joy Can Present Some Animal Health Hazards
Many problems occur when curious pets ingest foreign objects or toxic
substances, says Dr. Kent Roberts, project leader-veterinary extension
Puppies have been known to chew on ornaments, which can shatter into jagged
shards of glass and cut the mouth. Similarly, pet-owners should avoid giving
pets "presents" such as bones and toys which can break and be swallowed,
obstructing the esophagus, stomach or intestines.
Puppies and kittens are sometimes tempted to chew on Christmas tree light
cords, which can cause mouth burns or fatal shock. Even brief electric shocks
can trigger an irregular heartbeat, which can cause fluid to gather in the
lungs, leading to serious complications or death.
Cats are frequently attracted to tinsel, but if a cat swallows a piece, it can
stimulate an accordion-like folding of the intestines--a life-threatening
Ornaments and tinsel should be kept out of a pet's reach, when possible, and
pet-owners should watch their animals closely, Roberts says.
A number of Holiday plants and treats also pose danger for animals, says
Dr. Dennis Blodgett, a veterinary toxicologist.
Chocolate, for example, contains a caffeine-like substance that is very
dangerous for dogs. Two squares of baking chocolate, or just over a pound of
milk chocolate, can kill a twenty-pound dog, according to Dr. Blodgett.
Some common Christmas plants are also dangerous. Ingesting mistletoe can cause
symptoms ranging from an upset stomach to death, depending upon the amount
consumed and the size of the animal. Other dangerous plants include Holly
berries and Jerusalem cherries. Poinsettias usually only produce mild clinical
signs and should generally be considered non-toxic.
Dogs and cats should be kept away from the water in Christmas-tree stands, says
Blodgett, since it contains turpentine-like compounds that are dangerous for
both dogs and cats, but particularly lethal for cats.
Placing a physical barrier such as a screen or tree skirt is the best
preventive measure that can be taken.
The cold weather associated with the Holiday season can also pose problems.
Automobile-owners changing their own antifreeze should always make sure the
toxic substance is kept away from pets.
While dogs and cats are attracted to the substance because of its sweet smell
and taste, its active ingredient, ethylene glycol, can cause massive kidney
damage and death if ingested.
Since a few minutes can often mean the difference between life and death with
regard to poisonings, pet-owners should contact their local veterinarian
quickly if they suspect their pet has ingested some of these toxic substances.
back to contents
Editor's Note: The Virginia veterinary medical community recently lost a
long-time member with the passing of Jerry Beller, a Richmond area practitioner
who succumbed shortly before Thanksgiving. Dr. Beller earned his DVM almost 60
years ago from a college of veterinary medicine that closed in the mid-20th
century. The following account of his career, first published three years ago,
chronicles some of the changes he saw in Virginia Veterinary Medicine.
One of Virginia's "Elder Statesmen" of Veterinary Medicine Passes Away
Beller Reflects on Satisfying Career
Dr. Jerry Beller remembers when "quacks" would treat cow's suffering from "wolf
in the tail" by splitting the tail and wrapping it with a greasy dish-rag.
The man who was granted the 375th license to practice veterinary medicine also
remembers the founding of the VMRCVM in a very unique way.
Returning from a social engagement in Atlanta in 1974, he found himself seated
next to the late Dr. Richard B. Talbot, founding dean of the school, on the
plane. Talbot, then dean of the University of Georgia College of Veterinary
Medicine, was on his way to speak to the Virginia General Assembly about
creating a veterinary college in Virginia.
Those are just two of many unique memories the mixed animal practitioner who
earned his DVM from the former Middlesex University in Waltham, Massachusetts
in 1946 can recall.
Just after World War II, he took a job out of Newport News tending to livestock
being shipped to replenish European herds on "Victory" and "Liberty" ships.
After seeing the world through that endeavor, Beller settled back in the
Tidewater area. The Courtland, Virginia Chamber of Commerce was searching for a
veterinarian, and Beller took the job.
What began as something he thought he would try for a while turned into a 12
year commitment where he practiced about 80% large animal and 20% small animal.
But social unrest as well as economic conditions soon prompted another move.
"Tidewater at that time, if the Navy was in, everything was prosperous,"
recalled Beller. "If the Navy was out there was gloom. So we decided to come to
the Richmond area."
After working briefly at the Animal Medical Center in New York City and doing
infectious disease testing for the state of Virginia, Beller established the
Stratford Hills Veterinary Center in 1960, a practice he operated until he sold
it in 2000.
"The area was just developing and I came there at the right time," said Beller.
"I consider that the 'Golden Age' of veterinary medicine. If you did your work
the way you were supposed to, you could make out very well."
Now happily retired in a beautiful home overlooking a scenic lake in
Chesterfield County, Beller looks back with satisfaction at a career that has
since veterinary medicine move visibly from an art to a science.
Beller has been active in organized veterinary medicine throughout his career,
including a term as president of the Central Virginia Veterinary Medical
Association and service on the statewide board of directors. He still attends
many VVMA events.
Similarly, Beller has always been a strong supporter of the veterinary college.
He recalls attending the college groundbreaking ceremonies on April 16, 1979.
In fact, he can be seen standing over the shoulder of the late Virginia
Governor John Dalton in a famous photograph that depicts Founding Dean Talbot,
Dalton, and former Virginia Tech President William Lavery guiding a plow pulled
by a mighty Belgian during ceremonies.
"I thought that was a historic time for Virginia Veterinary Medicine," he
recalled. "I think the college has elevated the quality of veterinary medicine
available for the people of Virginia."
back to contents