Profile: Sharon Grace
Dr. Sharon Grace says she's had an "abiding affection" for cats since childhood. But anyone who knows Grace can see that her love of cats and other animals goes well beyond the typical feline fancy.
The clinical professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine's clinical sciences department has gone above and beyond to serve animals and their owners in many unexpected ways.
After earning M.S. and D.V.M. degrees from Mississippi State and completing a rotating internship in small animal medicine and surgery at Texas A&M University, Grace returned to MSU in 1988 for a three-year internal medicine residency. In 1992, she established a small animal referral practice in Franklin, Tenn., where she became involved with several animal-related issues, including the issue of animal cruelty. She had the unfortunate opportunity to treat some abused animals — and testify in court against the perpetrators.
Grace said when the Humane Society of the United States launched their first national public awareness campaign against animal cruelty, she learned of the correlation between animal cruelty and interpersonal violence.
"Animal cruelty is the most significant indicator of the potential for escalating violence," Grace said. She explained that in the setting of domestic violence, the animal is often the first victim. If a woman facing domestic violence decides to leave, an animal that is left behind often faces a dangerous situation, she explained.
Grace learned that when abused women go into a domestic violence shelter, they cannot take their pets. "What happens is that the women either leave the pets behind or they don't leave at all," she said.
After realizing the great need for help, Grace initiated a Pet SafeHaven program for pets of women entering a local shelter in Tennessee and provided care for these animals at no charge to the owner.
In 1999, Grace returned to MSU — this time as a faculty member. Here, she has earned several honors and distinctions, including CVM Alumna of the Year, the Dean's Award for Teaching and the Dean's Award for Service. She said she was most honored in 2011 when the graduating class voted her the Pfizer Distinguished Veterinary Professor, the most prestigious teaching award given each year.
But in addition to her primary work, Grace felt the call to serve animals and their owners who are trying to escape domestic violence, so again she established a Pet SafeHaven program, which is modeled upon the program previously offered through her Tennessee clinic. She deliberately chose to partner with a domestic violence shelter some distance from the university. The program aims to help women and children get to safety by providing a safe place for their pets. While in the program's care, animals receive needed treatments, such as heartworm medication, spay or neuter surgeries, and vaccinations.
"This also is a way to teach students about this issue and get them to consider starting these programs on their own once they graduate," Grace said. Students help care for animals housed in the program.
Grace explained that through many experiences, she has felt a calling to help animals who have been abused. She said while she will never be able to save every animal, she knows that for each one that is saved, she has an opportunity to make a world of difference.Writer: Allison Matthews | Photo: Megan Bean
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