Displaced by Katrina, veterinarian finds new role
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Dr. Amy Grayson’s veterinarian career veered sharply into unexpected realms.
As the junior partner in an upscale New Orleans veterinary practice – where money was no object to clients seeking the best care for their pets – Grayson found herself after Katrina working at a low-funded outpatient animal clinic. Her plans to retire from a lucrative practice had been washed away with 10 feet of water that destroyed her senior partner’s business and prompted him to shut down, taking early retirement and leaving her without a job.
It wasn’t long before Grayson got involved with then-Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s Animal Welfare Commission, aiding its efforts to rescue and control the feral cat and dog populations of the city.
While her work remained in New Orleans, Grayson herself faced a long daily commute from her camp on Bayou Manchac in Prairieville. She had evacuated there after the storm.
Her new job and its environs were a transition, to say the least, from that “joie de vivre” spirit of New Orleans Grayson was used to. It was the city’s heady culture that had first drawn the Alabama native to live in Louisiana.
“After my first Jazz Fest, I basically never went back to Auburn, and I haven’t missed a Jazz Fest since,” Grayson said with a laugh.
But now, Grayson was initiated into more troubling experiences from a vet’s point of view: the world of animal cruelty, of pit bull and cock fights. Her work with the commission involved the passage of a cockfighting ban several years ago. The commission also had to contend with New Orleans’ feral dog population.
Recently, Grayson was appointed an official member of the Animal Welfare Commission under Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration. This appointment comes on the heels of her decision to open her own veterinary practice – Dutchtown Animal Hospital – with partner Jonathan Heinz in Prairieville. Starting in the spring, she and Heinz will treat small domestic and exotic animals.
“There are a lot of good quality vets in our area, but there’s room for another,” Grayson said. “We’ll be a full-service business, offering boarding, medicine, vaccination, and surgery. I’m looking forward to owning my own practice and focusing more on the simple aspects of animal care again.”
Her work since Katrina has been anything but simple, but it has achieved results.
“Under Gov. Blanco, we implemented a successful statewide pet registry system that microchips pets. It’s actually been a great model for other states to follow,” Grayson said. “That was the positive result of Katrina. More people are getting their pets microchipped now.”
The commission was also instrumental after Katrina in rescuing and shipping New Orleans’ domestic animals to out-of-state homes and shelters.
“Most of the animals were shipped out of state. Katrina actually shed light on the fact that there were a lot of strays in New Orleans. It also spotlighted the huge disparity in the funding and quality of management at animal shelters,” Grayson said.
Now, Grayson and other commission members are working with the Office of Public Health to establish regulations for shelter management. “We’re going into each shelter to get everybody to the same standard of care, with euthanasia, for example,” she said.
Grayson’s primary expertise on the commission is the feral cat population.
“I’d like to see all the shelters adopt similar policies for it. The funding is definitely there. It’s just a matter of having more spay-neuter days, of finding the vets and technicians to get out there, and getting out more information to the public about shelters,” she said.
Another objective of the commission is to pass more laws to prosecute animal cruelty, Grayson said. “Pit bull rings can’t be broken up entirely, and it’s hard to eliminate cockfighting in areas where it’s become something of a cultural ritual, because there are still legal loopholes to protect these rituals,” she added.
Her appointment by Jindal to the Animal Welfare Commission is a three-year stint of hard work, soon to be augmented by the demands of Grayson’s new business venture. It may be hard work, but Grayson believes she was “born to do it.”
“As a kid, I used to hang out at my Uncle Richard’s home in Mississippi a lot, because he was a vet. But for most vets, it’s not a matter of being led into this. You’re just born to be a vet, and you’re lucky to do what you love to do.”
The Weekly Citizen (Gonzales, La.)