University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine faculty member Natalie Isaza has been named the 2016 American Humane Hero Veterinarian.
The American Humane Association, the country’s first national humane organization, bestowed the honor at the sixth annual American Humane Hero Dog Awards on Sept. 11 at a ceremony in Beverly Hills, California. The ceremony will be broadcast nationally on Hallmark Channel on Oct. 28.
Zoetis, a leading animal health company, presented the award, which featured hundreds of nominees and tens of thousands of votes from the American public.
“I was very humbled to be chosen as a finalist by a panel of veterinary professionals and animal advocates selected by American Humane Association,” said Isaza, a 1994 graduate of the UF College of Veterinary Medicine who was hired in 2003 to start UF’s shelter medicine program.
“When they notified me I had been selected as the overall winner, I was completely floored,” said Isaza, who admits to letting her family – including two dogs, three cats and a boa constrictor – in on the secret.
The American Humane Hero Veterinarian Award was born out of the idea that behind almost every hero pet, and millions more animals, is a hero veterinarian.
This idea is exemplified by Isaza, the Grevior Shelter Medicine Community Outreach Clinical Associate Professor who leads the UF Veterinary Community Outreach Program.
The program has helped countless animals that may have been otherwise euthanized at rural shelters in north Florida, as well as pets from low-income owners. It works with local animal rescue groups and shelters, providing spay/neuter surgical services, heartworm treatments, general wellness care, and more specialized veterinary care for animals in need.
In addition to her work with homeless animals, Isaza has helped many animals stay in their homes. She is a co-founder of St. Francis Pet Care, a free veterinary clinic for pets of low-income members in Alachua County.
Through the clinic, experienced local veterinarians and UF faculty are assisted by junior and senior veterinary students who are taking the elective veterinary community outreach rotation at UF. The program provides exams, consultations, vaccinations and treatment for ailments and injury to the pets of nearly 400 local residents. Many UF veterinary medical students are so motivated by their work at the free clinic that they return as volunteers when their rotations are over.
Isaza’s dedication has inspired many veterinarians she has trained to become public servants and strong advocates for animal welfare. She frequently travels with her students to animal shelters in rural counties surrounding Gainesville, providing veterinary care and transferring animals from these shelters to rescue groups so they can be adopted.