Vital Signs: February 2015 Vol. 4, Issue 2

A message from Dean Cyril Clarke

Alumni Crucial to Our Success

Dear friends and colleagues,

At Virginia-Maryland, we pride ourselves on our alumni and their accomplishments. They are keeping our pets healthy through both small and large animal practice. They are providing world-class healthcare to equine communities and the agricultural industry. And they are working in the public and corporate sector, protecting public health, conducting research, promoting food safety, and much more.

Our alumni are important to our continued success. Many refer cases to the Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Blacksburg, the Equine Medical Center in Leesburg, or the Roanoke Satellite Clinic, thus enabling the college to further educate students in clinical practices. Others are recruiting and mentoring prospective college applicants or mentoring existing students. Still others are donating funds through the Alumni Challenge and other philanthropic programs or referring prospective donors to the college.

We maintain relationships with our alums through several channels: our alumni and college Facebook pages, Twitter, TRACKS magazine, our Alumni Society, and Alumni Council. With an active board of directors, the Alumni Society is an important conduit between the college and our alumni. It also promotes networking events and other alumni activities. Meanwhile, the Alumni Council connects the college with representatives from each graduating class. Both of these groups are critical to our efforts to encourage and coordinate engagement with the college.

This year, we are introducing the Lifetime Achievement Alumni Award to recognize distinguished alumni who have made sustained contributions to the veterinary profession. This award will recognize those who graduated more than 10 years ago and embody both the Veterinarian’s Oath and Virginia Tech’s Ut Prosim motto. Nominations are open through Feb. 27 and I encourage your submissions. It will complement our established Outstanding Recent Alumni Award for those who have graduated within the past 10 years.

It is our hope that more alumni will return to visit the college, where they can learn about our new programs, view our renovated facilities, and see the initial phases of a new project to display class pictures and historical milestones. We hold each of our alumni in high regard and are always looking for ways to further our connections with them.

Since the college’s charter class graduated in 1984, we have graduated 2,527 doctors of veterinary medicine. This does not include the 456 students who have completed master’s or doctorate degrees at the veterinary college. Without their support, we would not be where we are today.

Dr. Cyril Clarke, Dean

Featured Stories

The symposium will include a presentation from Lt. Col. Kent Vince, who was part of the care team that performed surgery on Layka, a U.S. military combat dog featured on the June 2014 cover of National Geographic.

College to host Human-Animal Bond Symposium, March 6

The special connections between humans and animals will be explored at a Virginia Tech conference next month. The Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine is sponsoring the one-day symposium, “The Animal-Human Experience: Exploring the Bond,” from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on March 6 at The Inn at Virginia Tech and Skelton Conference Center.

The event will bring together experts from multidisciplinary fields to explore the benefits and challenges of human-animal interactions, services, and therapies.

Dr. Marie Suthers, professor of anthrozoology at Carroll College in Helena, Montana, will be the keynote speaker. Suthers served as the founding director of the veterinary college’s Center for Human-Animal Relationships between 1999 and 2006.

“Dr. Suthers has more than 25 years of experience in veterinary practice, academic and community education, and the study of human-animal interaction,” said Dr. Bess Peirce, the current director of the Center for Human-Animal Relationships and symposium organizer. “She is a well-known national and international speaker on the relationship between people and animals, including the impact of human-animal interaction on specific human populations and the well-being of animals employed in therapeutic interventions for humans.”

Read more about the upcoming Human-Animal Bond Symposium.

Casino Night attracted about 500 faculty, staff, students, and their guests in support of the Compassionate Care Fund.

Students raise almost $13,000 for hospital’s Compassionate Care Fund

Veterinary students dealt a winning hand to animals in need at the third annual Casino Night fundraiser. The charity event brought in $12,800 for the Veterinary Teaching Hospital’s Compassionate Care Fund.

Sponsored by veterinary student organizations Alpha Psi, Omega Tau Sigma, and the Student Chapter of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Jan. 31 event will help provide financial support when an animal’s owners are either unknown or cannot meet the financial needs of treatment. The support is also limited to hospital cases where a successful outcome and good quality of life are likely.

Since 2013, Casino Night has attracted more participants and raised more money each year. Last year, students raised $9,000 for the Compassionate Care Fund, more than triple the first year’s total. The additional funds raised not only increase the number of patients benefitting from the Compassionate Care Fund, but also give more students valuable learning opportunities at the teaching hospital.

Read more about the successful Casino Night fundraiser.

Members of the college’s Lambda Chapter of the Omega Tau Sigma veterinary service fraternity were awarded the 2014 Dr. Robert Vesper Service Award for the second year running.

Veterinary service fraternity personifies “Ut Prosim,” recognized with national award

A veterinary service fraternity at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine embodies the Virginia Tech motto of Ut Prosim (That I May Serve). Their efforts have earned them national recognition for the second year in a row.

Members of the Lambda Chapter of Omega Tau Sigma (OTS) have been offering service, fundraising, and social activities at the veterinary college since 1985. They recently received the national chapter’s Dr. Robert Vesper Service Award.

“With about 45 members, we are one of the smallest OTS chapters in the U.S. and Canada,” explained Jessica Walters of Powhatan, Virginia, a third-year veterinary student. “Even though we are one of the smallest chapters, we are also one of the most active and operate as the primary student service group at the veterinary college.”

Read more about Omega Tau Sigma’s national recognition.

Christopher Overend, postdoctoral associate, hopes to develop a vaccine against a pig virus responsible for reproductive failure in sows and respiratory diseases in piglets.

Veterinary researcher to develop new vaccine against swine disease

A researcher in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology has received a two-year, $150,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to develop a vaccine engineered to overcome weaknesses of current vaccines against an economically important swine disease. Christopher Overend, postdoctoral associate, hopes to develop a candidate vaccine against porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus.

The virus causes severe pneumonia or respiratory problems in newborn piglets and young pigs, resulting in a 20 to 80 percent mortality rate, and reproductive failure in sows. This leads to annual losses of approximately $664 million in the U.S. alone.

“Although there are current vaccines licensed for use around the world, they are problematic for two reasons,” Overend said. “First, the virus is genetically diverse and the vaccine only prevents infection from certain strains of the virus. Second, current vaccines are not very good at stimulating the protective immune response.”

Overend and his mentor Dr. X.J. Meng, University Distinguished Professor of Molecular Virology, said that they are working to create a vaccine that is more visible to the immune system with technology Meng’s lab has previously used.

Read more about the swine vaccine research.

Dr. Elsa Ludwig, large animal surgery resident, greets Ginger during a follow-up visit.

Ginger, the mini-horse, has a new lease on life

When Janet Lewis and Tony Benvenuto brought their 2-year-old miniature horse, Ginger, to the Veterinary Teaching Hospital last summer, they were unsure about her future. Ginger had a dislocated hip and could not use her left leg. To make matters worse, she had a locked stifle joint — a secondary injury — and was in pain.

Ginger’s owners knew that euthanasia was a good possibility because “gimping around a pasture” was not an option they would consider for her. But after a surgical procedure rarely performed on horses, Ginger was able to walk again and return to her home in Central Virginia within a week.

Lewis and Benvenuto, who own Standing Ovation Miniatures in Concord, Virginia, did not expect such surprising results.

“She’s a once in a lifetime horse for us,” said Lewis, who explained that Ginger has a unique appearance and beautiful disposition. “We got lucky. We were in the right place at the right time.”

Read the full story in the inaugural issue of the college’s new magazine, TRACKS.

The Student Chapter of the American Veterinary Medical Association hosts the Open House each spring with assistance from several other student organizations at the college.

Annual Open House set for April 11

The Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech will open its doors to the public during an Annual Open House on Saturday, April 11, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Visitors will have a chance to learn about veterinary medicine and the college through tours, demonstrations, and lectures.

The Open House will take place on the veterinary college’s Blacksburg campus, located at 245 Duck Pond Drive, and will feature guided tours of its 270,000-square-foot complex, which includes the Veterinary Teaching Hospital and the Veterinary Medicine Instruction Addition. Doctor of Veterinary Medicine students will lead hour-long tours beginning at 11 a.m., 11:15 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 11:45 a.m., noon, 12:30 p.m., 1 p.m., 1:30 p.m., 2 p.m. and 2:30 p.m.

The family-friendly event will also feature activities designed expressly for children such as face painting, a wildlife exhibit, an anatomy lesson with a painted horse, and a demonstration on how to safely approach and interact with dogs. Veterinary students will offer special tours for elementary-age children starting at 11:15 a.m. and 1 p.m. Third-year students will also help “surgically repair” any stuffed animals that children bring to the Open House during a Teddy Bear Repair Clinic, open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Dean Cyril Clarke signs a memorandum of understanding establishing the Potomac Regional Veterinary Conference Scholarships.

Veterinary Medical Associations fund Potomac Regional Veterinary Conference Scholarships

Veterinary medical associations in Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, and Washington, D.C. have joined forces to support students at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine.

In a memorandum of understanding, the four associations agreed to fund four Doctor of Veterinary Medicine student scholarships at a minimum of $500 each. The agreement was finalized during the November Potomac Regional Veterinary Conference held in Baltimore.

Learn more about the new Potomac Regional Veterinary Conference Scholarships.

Alumni Corner

Dr. Michaela Fry listens to digestive sounds in a dairy cow’s rumen.

Central Pennsylvania veterinarian Michaela Fry (DVM ’08) is in high demand

When a farmer calls Michaela Fry, the situation at the farm is almost always a serious one.

It’s those calls in the middle of the night, when a farmer is struggling to get a breeched calf to emerge, that they call Fry, the “lady veterinarian,” who shows up on a regular basis for routine checks on those same animals.

Fry, a small and large animal veterinarian from East Waterford, Juniata County, Pennsylvania, splits her time between the veterinary clinics in Juniata and Mifflin counties and the farms in the area.

Fry graduated from Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine in 2008. She is part of a mixed animal practice and is the only large animal veterinarian in the Pleasant View Vet Clinic in Mifflintown, Pennsylvania, and Lewistown, Pennsylvania.

Fry said she had always wanted to work with animals, but did not get involved with livestock until her freshman year at Wilson College. She did, however, have a background in horses and racing those horses during her childhood.

Read the full profile on Dr. Michaela Fry.

Around the College

Veterinary students visit Baltimore’s National Aquarium

Members of the Maryland Veterinary Medical Association Student Chapter visited the National Aquarium in Baltimore in January. During the trip, the 15 veterinary students learned how the aquarium cares for more than 17,000 fish, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and marine mammals with five full-time veterinarians. The trip gave students a first-hand look into the daily life of an aquarium veterinarian, a behind-the-scenes tour of live collections and on-site veterinary facilities, and insight into exotic/aquatic veterinary medicine.

A therapy cat with a backstory: The origin of Sir Thunderbuns

Back in 2010, Sir Thunderbuns was a big black cat named “Bear” and he had reached the end of his time at a high-kill shelter in Senatobia, Mississippi. A veterinary technician (who had seen this beautiful boy repeatedly passed over for kittens) knew there was something special about him. She found him a home with Elizabeth Hiebert (far left in above photo), a first-year vet student at Mississippi State (a 2.5 hour drive from the shelter).

Dr. Hiebert, now an intern in our Small Animal Hospital, recounts that “Bear” came to her with a peculiar habit of 2 a.m. zoomies that took him down a long hallway and into the kitchen where he would rebound off of the metal dishwasher, making a thunderous sound, hence the name “Thunderbuns.” Her other cat, “Prince Shadow,” could not be outranked in the royal kitty hierarchy, so Thunderbuns was granted the title of “Sir.”

Hiebert learned of the VT Helping PAWS therapy program through her colleague Dr. Virginia Corrigan (who participates in the program with her sweet golden retriever, Yogi) and felt that Sir Thunderbuns’ extraordinarily laid-back personality would be perfect for pet therapy service. And as the photo shows, it is indeed.

College sends admission notices to Class of 2019

Earlier this month, about 120 prospective students found some exciting news in their email inboxes. The college sent offers to the DVM Class of 2019 following a competitive application period that gave the veterinary college the second largest application pool in North America. Pictured here are Joyce Bohr Massie (right), admissions coordinator, and Dr. Jacque Pelzer, director of admissions and student services, after hitting the send button on offer letters with assistance from Yogi, a college therapy dog. The college looks forward to welcoming the latest cohort of students this fall.

“Biggest Loser” for pets: Challenge helps animals maintain, not gain over holidays

A recent study showed that up to 50 percent of American pets are overweight or obese. To help fight the battle of the bulge, some veterinary students have enrolled their pets in an Overweight Management Challenge (similar to the TV show “Biggest Loser,” but for cats and dogs). Earlier this month, they brought their furry friends for a weigh-in as part of a “Maintain, Not Gain” mini-challenge. The students are happy to report that more than half of the 11 participants maintained or lost weight over the holidays. Sponsored by Purina, the challenge began in October and will conclude later this spring.

Beef Cattle Health Conference sees record attendance

More than 300 cattle producers set a new attendance record when they flocked to Blacksburg on Saturday, Jan. 31, for the day-long Beef Cattle Health Conference. Co-sponsored by the veterinary college and Virginia Cooperative Extension, the conference offered morning lectures at the veterinary college complex and afternoon labs at Virginia Tech’s Alphin-Stuart Livestock Arena. Faculty presentations covered a wide range of topics, from “What can we afford to do with the current price of calves and feed?” to “Tweaking your handling facilities” to “Water-related cattle disease.” For producers in the Virginia Beef Quality Assurance program, attendance met the requirement for recertification. View a photo gallery on Facebook from the conference.

Calling all Scotties: College enrolls Scottish terriers in clinical trial

During a recent visit to the Veterinary Teaching Hospital to participate in a clinical trial, these five Scottish terriers had time for a quick photo shoot in front of the Veterinary Medicine Instruction Addition. Kiki, Fancy Nancy, Miss La-di-da, Ava Darling, and Cindy Lou Hoo came to the hospital to have blood drawn for a study on atypical Cushing’s disease in Scotties. Scotties from anywhere in the country (or even Scotland!) can participate. Learn more about the clinical trial.

Awards & Activities

College seeks nominations for alumni awards

The veterinary college is seeking nominations for two awards to recognize exceptional alumni: an Outstanding Recent Alumni Award and a Lifetime Achievement Alumni Award.

The Outstanding Recent Alumni Award recognizes a deserving individual who graduated from the DVM program within the last 10 years. It consists of a plaque from the Virginia Tech Alumni Association and has traditionally included recognition at the college commencement ceremony. New this year, the Lifetime Achievement Alumni Award recognizes distinguished alumni for sustained contributions to the veterinary medical profession resulting in demonstrable positive impact. It also comes with a plaque and recognition at a notable college event.

The deadline for both nominations is Friday, Feb. 27. A nomination committee consisting of the director of alumni relations, two Alumni Society Board members, and an alumni faculty member will select the top five nominees who will then be narrowed down by the college Scholarship and Awards Committee. A final recommendation will be forwarded to the dean for approval.

Read more about the award descriptions, criteria, and nomination process.

Newly renovated commons earns first-place design award

The college’s commons area has received a first-place award from design professionals in Virginia and West Virginia. The Virginia chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers and the Virginia/West Virginia chapter of the International Interior Design Association presented the veterinary college with a first-place award in the educational/institutional category.

According to the award description, “This entry for a school of veterinary medicine created a state-of-the-art presence while maintaining a rural flavor. A fusion of contemporary and rustic finishes creates a sleek, yet comfortable environment. The judges commented on the concept, planning, and details that tie together and result in a very cohesive and attractive space.”

The space was designed by Natalie Long and Teresa Ko with Teresa Ko – Commercial Interiors, LLC, with architecture by Colley Architects, PC.

Amy Winemiller with Dean Cyril Clarke

Amy Winemiller named February Staff Member of the Month

Amy Winemiller, administrative assistant for alumni and referring practitioner relations, filled a new administrative position when she joined the college in April 2013. She quickly made her mark working a split appointment between alumni relations and referring practitioner relations. Her nominator noted, “Amy demonstrates outstanding organizational skills and is able to prioritize without oversight. She has a pleasant personality and a can-do attitude. If given a task, no follow-up is necessary.”

Winemiller strives to continually better herself by taking classes to develop office management skills. “She has suggested new ideas to assist with planning and organization for both continuing education and alumni events,” wrote her nominator. “As a result of her actions, tremendous gains have been made in both areas and have benefitted the college as a whole.”

Read more about the Staff Members of the Month.

More Awards & Accolades

In December 2014, the college’s Center for Animal-Human Relationships became one of only 12 North American organizations to be accepted as a full member of the International Association of Human-Animal Interaction Organizations.

Marion Ehrich, professor of pharmacology and toxicology in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, chaired the committee that resulted in the publication of an 80-page “Review of California’s Risk-Assessment Process for Pesticides” by the National Academies Press. The National Research Council released the publication on Jan. 22, 2015.

Ashley Francis, a Master of Public Health student, was appointed to the search committee for Virginia Tech’s next executive vice president and provost. Francis also serves as the graduate student representative on the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors.

Dr. Valerie Ragan, director of the Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine, and Dr. Bess Pierce, associate professor, traveled to Armenia to meet with the Armenian Minister of Agriculture and other Armenian officials, as well as USDA and U.S. embassy officials to continue working on enhancing the Armenian national animal health program and veterinary infrastructure. They also conducted a two-day workshop with an Armenian task force on brucellosis. The minister requested that the center conduct a full program assessment of the Armenian brucellosis eradication program. Ragan and Pierce will return to Armenia in March to conduct that national program assessment.

Dr. Valerie Ragan has been invited to be a speaker at a course aimed at providing training for Caribbean Veterinary Services on Disease Recognition and Response in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad. Ragan has been asked to address brucellosis and tuberculosis, both of which have been identified as priority diseases to be addressed in the training course. Ragan has also been invited to be a speaker on “Other Options for Employment for Veterinarians” at the Tennessee Valley Veterinary Conference in Florence, Alabama. The conference is attended by veterinarians from Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, and Tennessee.

Zhi Sheng, assistant professor in both the college’s Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology and the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, was named a Virginia Tech Scholar of the Week by the Office of the Vice President for Research. Read more about Sheng’s research to develop new therapies for glioblastoma, a lethal and incurable form of brain cancer.


Deena Khan, Rujuan Dai, S. Ansar Ahmed. “Sex differences and estrogent regulation of miRNAs in lupus, a prototypical autoimmune disease.” Cellular Immunology. 2015.

Wen, Ke; Liu, Fangning; Li, Guohua; Bai, Muqun; Kocher, Jacob; Yang, Xingdong; Wang, Haifeng; Clark-Deener, Sherrie; Yuan, Lijuan. “Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG dosage affects the adjuvanticity and protection against rotavirus diarrhea in gnotobiotic pigs.” Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition. Jan. 5, 2015.

Yongping Ma, Xiaobo Wen, Yasutaka Hoshino, and Lijuan Yuan. “Cloning and nucleotide sequence analyses of 11 genome segments of two American and one British equine rotavirus strains.” Veterinary Microbiology. 2015. 176:172-178.

Upcoming Events

February 28 — Alumni Board Meeting
The Hotel Roanoke — Roanoke, VA
March 6Human-Animal Bond Symposium
The Inn at Virginia Tech — Blacksburg, VA
March 7Community Dog Wash
Va-Md Vet Med Main Campus, Rear of Building— Blacksburg, VA
March 10Equine Medical Center Tuesday Talk: "Equine Behavior"
Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center — Leesburg, VA
March 1926th Annual Research Symposium
Va-Md Vet Med Main Campus — Blacksburg, VA
April 3 — 2015 DVM Program Spring Awards Luncheon
The Inn at Virginia Tech — Blacksburg, VA
April 11Va-Md Vet Med Open House
Va-Md Vet Med Main Campus — Blacksburg, VA
April 25Annual Bob Duncan Memorial 5K
Virginia Tech Cross Country Course — Blacksburg, VA
May 15Spring 2015 Commencement Ceremonies
Virginia Tech Campus — Blacksburg, VA


Vital Signs is published throughout the year by the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine.

  • Dean: Dr. Cyril R. Clarke
  • Produced By: Office of Public Relations and Communications
  • Director: Sherrie Whaley
  • Content Editor: Michael Sutphin
  • Web Editors: Alison Elward, Jesse Janowiak
  • Contributors: Alison Elward, Tabitha Goodling, Michael Sutphin, Sherrie Whaley
  • Photography: Alison Elward, Doug Margulies, Michael Sutphin, Sherrie Whaley

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