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  1. Animal Health Literacy

Ask a CVM Expert

What do you do at the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM)?

I’m a veterinarian at the center. I used to review drugs for food-producing animals, like cows, pigs, and chickens. I’d read through tons of information about an animal drug before the drug company could sell it, to make sure the drug was effective (that it did what it was supposed to do) and safe for both the animal and the people who eat food made from that animal.

Dr. McLean and her daughter playing in dog crates

Dr. Melanie McLean and her daughter Meridith get a dog's-eye view of the world.

Now, I work on the center’s Education & Outreach Staff. I write about what the Center for Veterinary Medicine does to protect the health of animals and people. It’s a great way to combine my veterinary knowledge with my writing skills.

Did you have an interest in animals when you were a kid?

Most definitely. My family is a bunch of animal lovers. Growing up, we always had at least two cats (sometimes up to four cats at one time) and one big dog, a Newfoundland first and then a white German shepherd. We also had an assortment of gerbils, hamsters, and fish. For five years, my older brother had a pet Garter snake named Snakiepoo. We never found out if Snakiepoo was a girl or a boy, but we always referred to the snake as a she. He brought her home from school in his lunchbox one day, to my mother’s dismay. Snakiepoo was a pretty nice snake, but the one time I was brave enough to hold her, she pooped on me. Maybe that’s why I like snakes in the wild but don’t want another one as a pet!

My grandparents lived on a small farm in East Tennessee and had horses. I spent many weeks there every year and learned to ride on my granny’s crotchety grey pony, Look-out. Whenever we went on trail rides, Look-out always had to be first.

I was always interested in wild animals too. During summers in high school, I volunteered at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., first at the Bird House and then at the Small Mammal House. I was able to visit the Zoo’s campus in Front Royal, Va., and got the chance to see an endangered clouded leopard. The Front Royal campus does a lot of work with the conservation and breeding of endangered species. In college, I had the awesome experience of studying wildlife management in Kenya, Africa for a semester. I was able to see a lot of the animals that I saw at the National Zoo in their natural environment. The lion prides were my favorite.

Did you know that you wanted to become a veterinarian at an early age?

Yes. From the time I could talk, whenever someone asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I always answered, “Animal doctor.” The word “veterinarian” is hard to say for a little kid. It’s hard to say even for adults!

Do you have any advice for young, aspiring veterinarians?

It takes more than a love of animals to be a veterinarian. You have to learn good people skills too, because a person is always attached to the dog’s leash or the cat’s carrier. It’s hard when the pet is sick or hurt because, naturally, the owner is upset. It’s even harder when the owner can’t afford to treat the pet. Medical insurance for pets is not widespread yet, so the money for veterinary bills has to come out of the owner’s pocket. Especially in hard economic times, some owners can’t spend the money no matter how much they love their pet.

Do you have any pets?

I have 1 dog and 2 cats. My family and I adopted our dog, Boomer, from the Hawaiian Humane Society. He’s a mutt, and in Hawaii, mutts are called “poi dogs.” Boomer is a little odd-looking but cute to us!

We also adopted our cats, Clever and Treasure, in Hawaii. They’re sisters and sweet as can be. Treasure has a few birth defects, like a very crooked tail (it looks like a lightning bolt), some leg issues, and a slightly malformed jaw, but that doesn’t slow her down any! We adore them both.