Vital Signs
December 2005

Message from the Dean

Dr. Gerhardt G. SchurigDear 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 you.  

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...
 Warner Announces Research and Development Initiative
 VMRCVM, other State Orgs, Developing Animal Disaster Preparedness Program
 VMRCVM's Electronic Stallion Service Auction Benefits Equine Reproductive Research
 Former VMRCVM Virology Professor Luis Melendez Dies
 Students Help with Katrina Animal Rescue
 Donor Helps Create VMRCVM Animal Reproduction Center
 Christmas Joy Can Present Some Animal Health Hazards
 Beller Reflects on Satisfying Career

Warner Announces Research and Development Initiative

Gov. Mark Warner Governor Mark Warner's recently announced research and development initiative contains $4 million to help support construction of the VMRCVM's new Infectious Disease Laboratory.
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 state history.
Gov. Mark Warner"This 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.
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VMRCVM, Other State Organizations, Developing Animal Disaster Preparedness Program

Disaster Preparedness Program 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.
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 organizations.
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 relations.
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. Pierson.
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 disasters.

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VMRCVM's Electronic Stallion Service Auction Benefits Equine Reproductive Research

Stallion Service AuctionMove 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.
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 the country.
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 site.
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
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Former VMRCVM Virology Professor Luis Melendez Dies

Dr. Louis MelendezOur 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 1995.
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, France.
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 Rotary International.
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Students Help with Katrina Animal Rescue

Students Help with Katrina Animal RescueBy Ellen Ternes/UMCP
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.
Students Help with Katrina Animal Rescue"Shelters 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."
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Donor Helps Create VMRCVM Animal Reproduction Center

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.
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, according to Dr. David Panciera, a professor in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences.
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 reproductive disorders.
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 fertility.
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 Teaching Hospital.
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 and socialization.
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.
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Christmas Joy Can Present Some Animal Health Hazards

Christmas CatChristmas 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.
Many problems occur when curious pets ingest foreign objects or toxic substances, says Dr. Kent Roberts, project leader-veterinary extension emeritus.
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 condition.
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.
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One of Virginia's "Elder Statesmen" of Veterinary Medicine Passes Away

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. 

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."
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