Board members at the Lawrence Humane Society think it must have been the luck o' the Irish that brought veterinarian Jenny O'Driscoll to our city.
Scarlett, the half-coonhound/half-German wire-haired pointer O'Driscoll adopted from us, is pretty sure she was the real reason.
Actually, O'Driscoll says, Lawrence is just a place she'd wanted to live in for a long time because of some connections she has here.
We won't argue with that reasoning. We're just grateful that as soon as she hit Lawrence about a year ago, this go-getter offered us her volunteer services to help out with the animals, and starting about two weeks ago, O'Driscoll came on board as the shelter's part-time onsite veterinarian.
"She's awesome," shelter director Midge Grinstead says, grinning and - yeah - giggling.
O'Driscoll's background hasn't followed the usual pattern for general practice veterinarians. After earning her bachelor's degree in biology, she worked through a master's degree in animals and public policy and later secured her veterinary degree from Boston's Tufts University. Her area of interest was on the neurology side, working with brain and spinal cord injuries.
In between all that book-learnin', she paid her dues to the field of animal studies by applying her knowledge in a variety of positions. She spent one year at a pig farm in Ireland as an employee for that country's version of our USDA. She spent time working for a zoo in Rhode Island, and for a while she ran an herbarium, overseeing the USDA's national fungus collection. She even did a stint as a researcher and writer for some animal organizations. Most recently she was employed as an emergency vet at the Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Center in Overland Park, filling in during the five-month absence of an employee there.
Although neurology was O'Driscoll's area of interest, and she took a lot of satisfaction during her residency from seeing how her expertise could help some paralyzed animals walk again, she says she realized that she was only helping the few pets whose owners could afford such services rather than advancing the broader cause of animal welfare.
At the Lawrence Humane Society, she found the challenge she sought.
"I'm very, very excited to be here," O'Driscoll said. "I love projects, and this is a big project. There are going to be a lot of challenges. It's just going to take some time."
First on her "to do" list is coming up with protocols for when and how medications will be used for the animals in our care.
Although the shelter staff has done the best it could, O'Driscoll said, the facility just has "too many animals for the amount of money available and the number of staff to work with them. There's a limit to resources."
The main problem she sees right now is with the infectious viral upper respiratory diseases that the animals commonly pick up when they first come in. Cats in particular are susceptible, because many of them have in their systems a naturally occurring herpes virus - not transferrable to humans - that lies dormant until the animal is stressed. It then comes to life inside the animal's weakened immune system.
And because it's a virus, there are no antibiotics to cure a sick animal. If the cat has not been previously vaccinated, the virus just keeps passing itself on to the new animals who are brought to the shelter.
O'Driscoll has an ever-growing list of ideas that will help both the animals and the staff members. Although currently she is set to work 24 hours each week on a MondayWednesdayFriday schedule, she has been in every day since she was hired.
"I see a lot of things we can do differently that can also make the staff members' jobs easier," she said. "I just don't know how Midge and her staff hold up under the work load with the number of animals this shelter holds."
It looks as if some good changes will be in store for the Lawrence Humane Society, and these changes will happen under O'Driscoll's capable direction.
"I'm happy being at the shelter," she said. "I think I can really make a difference."