CVM Alumna Honored for Disaster Response Efforts

Published 9/19/2022

The MU College of Veterinary Medicine held its annual Alumni Reunion Weekend Sept. 16-17, 2022, highlighted by the presentation of the Alumnus of the Year Award during the Friday evening banquet.

MU College of Veterinary Medicine CVM Alumna of the Year Mary Whitlock, DVM, accepts her award from CVM Dean Carolyn Henry.
MU College of Veterinary Medicine CVM Alumna of the Year Mary Whitlock, DVM, accepts her award from CVM Dean Carolyn Henry.

Whitlock was raised in Monett, Missouri, where her grandfather, who graduated in the last class of the Kansas City Veterinary College in 1918, was a veterinarian. As a little girl who loved cats, she aspired to be just like her grandaddy.

She graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in biology from what is now Truman State University. At the CVM, she was a member of Phi Zeta Honor Society, served as the VM-1 SAVMA representative, and was the third-year class president. She also received the Frank Wells Scholarship awarded to a third-year student.

Whitlock began her professional career in a mixed animal practice in Omaha, Nebraska, and spent several months as a relief veterinarian in Missouri and Arkansas. She relocated to Eugene, Oregon, where she temporarily ran a solo practice for another veterinarian. She then purchased a one-doctor practice in Junction City, Oregon, a town of about 4,000 people, where she practiced for 27 years. She sold her practice in 2013 but continues to provide relief work for friends.

Whitlock said she learned the importance of giving back to one’s community from her parents. Throughout her career she has given back, focusing on preparing for and providing help during disasters.

Since 2008, she has worked with Lane County Animals in Disaster Response Team and the Oregon Veterinary Emergency Response Team. Her efforts have included coordinating fundraising and purchasing an emergency response trailer equipped with generators, lights, walkie-talkies, and large animal supplies. The trailer has been deployed to wildfire and flooding events and used during joint training between Lane County Animals in Disaster and Red Cross volunteers.

She also participated in annual disaster response training with the Oregon Veterinary Emergency Response Team and Oregon Department of Agriculture.

The countless hours spent preparing for an emergency have been put into service on numerous occasions, notably in 2018 when she joined a group of volunteers in Butte County, California, caring for more than 500 animals injured and displaced by one of the most devastating wildfires in California history.

The 2020 Holiday Farm Fire in Lane County, Oregon, burned more than 173,000 acres and 500 homes and offices from Sept. 7-30. Hundreds of residents were evacuated. Whitlock worked with Greenhill Humane Society, Lane County Animal Services and Lane County Emergency Management putting into place the county emergency response. She and another veterinarian set up a veterinary triage center to evaluate and treat animals emerging from the burn zone. She contacted colleagues to staff the triage center and assisted in ensuring Lane County Animal Services had large animal veterinary coverage available at another shelter. For three weeks she volunteered between 12 and 15 hours per day to help the animals and families affected by the fire.

In recent weeks, wildfires have again scorched her state, forcing evacuations, including a Level 3 evacuation of Oakridge, Oregon. Level 3 means “leave immediately.” Whitlock, along with the humane society disaster group volunteers, set up an animal shelter at the fairgrounds, co-sheltering next to the Red Cross shelter for people. During the first night of the evacuation, they checked in animals all night long as residents left their mountain homes.

“We had over a hundred people in our Red Cross shelter that had come down from Oakridge, a town of 3,500 people,” she said. The fire came within a mile of Oakridge, Oregon.”

“All night long these people came and they had nothing. They had the clothes on their back and their dogs and cats. And it’s the first time we’ve ever had a co-shelter, which means the Red Cross was right next to us, and we had 100-plus dogs and cats next door to them for five days. And thank God the wind shifted because otherwise Oakridge would have burned to the ground.”

Building on her experiences, Whitlock has authored papers and offered presentations to educate the public, veterinarians, vet students and techs to be ready for the next disaster. She encouraged her veterinary colleagues at the reunion to take a lead role in disaster response planning.

“This is a job veterinarians need to be doing in our communities. … This is a role in disaster response, in disaster animal response, that we, as veterinarians, need to realize, that is our job.”

Other Alumni Reunion Weekend activities included a tailgate brunch prior to the Mizzou Tigers football game versus Abilene Christian, tours of the Veterinary Health Center, rides with the CVM Mule Team and a 50-year reunion dinner for the CVM Class of 1972.