A two-time graduate of the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, Lauren Dodd has a world of experience.

The Sugar Land, Texas, native has volunteered at a spay/neuter clinic in Nicaragua, traveled door-to-door in Malawi to vaccinate animals against rabies, studied food security in South Africa, and improved goat health in Haiti.

Back in Virginia at the veterinary college, Dodd was a resident in clinical nutrition whose master of public health capstone project — popularly known as the “Fat Cat Study” — was picked up by media outlets nationwide in 2019.

And this past summer, after several years on the Blacksburg campus, she departed to begin training as a captain in the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps.

Dodd first worked in the veterinary college's Veterinary Teaching Hospital during her third year in the doctor of veterinary medicine program at the Tuskegee University College of Veterinary Medicine. She completed an external rotation with Megan Shepherd (B.S.’02, D.V.M. ’06, Ph.D. ’12), clinical assistant professor of clinical nutrition in the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences.

After earning her veterinary medicine doctorate in 2014, Dodd held a small animal medicine rotating internship in Albuquerque, New Mexico, but was drawn back to Virginia Tech in 2016 to pursue a rare opportunity. She joined the veterinary college as a resident in clinical nutrition and began studies toward a Ph.D.

Once enrolled, however, Dodd soon changed course, inspired by classes taught by Ozzie Abaye (Ph.D. ’92), professor of agronomy in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ School of Plant and Environmental Sciences, and encouraged by Kathy Hosig (B.S. ’85), associate professor and director of the Center for Public Health Practice and Research in the veterinary college’s Department of Population Health Sciences.

Dodd transitioned into the Public Health Program and began work toward both an M.P.H. and an M.S. in biomedical and veterinary sciences, a move that influenced her trajectory significantly.

“The coursework and experiences that students have in an M.P.H. program enable them to apply their discipline in a much broader and productive way,” said Hosig, who served as Dodd’s faculty advisor. “Being able to approach problems through a public health lens ensures that the root causes of public health problems are addressed rather than treating the symptoms.”

Loading player for https://video.vt.edu/media/1_2ljx2eej...

Degree candidates in the M.P.H. program culminate their studies with a capstone project that focuses on a public health problem and approximates professional health practices to demonstrate their competence in the program’s transdisciplinary One Health approach.

Dodd’s capstone project, “Weight Loss: A One Health Perspective,” was inspired by her cat, Mia, who needed to shed some pounds. Working alongside Shepherd in the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, Dodd constructed and completed a study on how perceived quality of life for obese cats changes over the course of a weight-loss regimen.

“Overweight animals and obesity are prevalent in veterinary medicine, and those are some of my favorite consultations, especially when we have great clients and animals who are able to come in,” Dodd said. “You can really see the progress and the clients being excited about their pet’s progress. One of the clients actually started her own weight-loss program with her cat. She was losing weight, her cat was losing weight, and everyone was happy.”

Pursuing dual degrees at the veterinary college also strengthened Dodd’s interest in global health. While in the D.V.M. program at Tuskegee, Dodd had traveled to Nicaragua to work in a spay/neuter clinic, and later trips abroad further stoked her interest in One Health and international outreach.

Through her engagement with the International Veterinary Student Association, Dodd became involved with Mission Rabies, a charity that organizes trips to epidemic areas to vaccinate animals against rabies. In 2017, she traveled to Malawi, where she helped vaccinate thousands of cats, dogs, and even a pet monkey.

“Lauren’s enthusiasm for public health and outreach is an inspiration to her fellow students and to me,” Hosig said. “Lauren traveled with me to Haiti [in 2018] on a trip that was a follow-up to address needs that were expressed by community members during my initial visit the previous year.”

With the help of a translator, Dodd interviewed Haitian farmers and livestock owners to determine how goat health could be improved.

“Her contributions were invaluable, and she demonstrated independence, creativity, critical-thinking skills, and flexibility,” Hosig said. “We discovered that the livestock owners did not give water to their goats because the owners did not believe that the goats needed water or could even drink water. Based on Lauren’s recommendations, the local pastors planned to encourage community members to provide water to their goats.”

Dodd readily acknowledges the influence of both the M.P.H. program and her global work on her career plans. “Working toward my M.P.H. got the ball rolling in a lot of other aspects. My practicum in Haiti with Dr. Hosig was part of my M.P.H., and that’s when my thought process started shifting away from industry and towards food security,” Dodd said. “These nutrition classes rekindled my interest in food security.”

That interest led to a 2019 study abroad course in South Africa with Abaye. For two weeks, the Virginia Tech group talked with locals and explored the country with an eye toward agriculture and food security. Dodd said that the trip was foundational to her understanding of food security.

Along with her international efforts, Dodd leveraged her involvement in two degree programs at the veterinary college by holding a variety of leadership positions. She served as president of the Biomedical and Veterinary Sciences Graduate Student Association, alumni chair of the Public Health Association at Virginia Tech (PHA@VT), and student liaison to the American Public Health Association.

Upon completion of her coursework in 2019, Dodd received the Ryan C. Aday Memorial Award, an honor given to graduating M.P.H. students who have “demonstrated excellence in academics and public health service.”

She then accepted a postdoctoral position in the lab of Charlotte Baker, assistant professor of epidemiology in the Department of Population Health Sciences. As the COVID-19 crisis began to take hold, she joined the Veterinary Teaching Hospital’s Infection Control Team — and continued planning for her next step.

On Feb. 20, Dodd was commissioned as a captain in the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps, whose officers, the only veterinarians within the Department of Defense, provide animal care to government-owned animals and privately owned animals of service members, and engage in military medical research, disease control, food safety and defense, and training for all branches of the military and multiple federal agencies worldwide. “Veterinarians not only do clinical work; they do public health, and they do research and development,” Dodd noted.

“Lauren took advantage of every opportunity that was offered during her program and was able to apply what she learned during her clinical nutrition veterinary residency,” said Hosig. “The M.P.H. program was a perfect fit for her interest in working in global health and the military. I believe that it gave her an advantage in her quest for a military appointment.”

Dodd’s commissioning ceremony, which was conducted by Maj. Megan Reglin of the U.S. Army Nurse Corps, was hosted by the veterinary college, a celebration of a beloved member of the veterinary community.

“I was surprised by how many people were there. It actually made me kind of nervous — all the attention was on me,” Dodd said. “But it was nice that everyone could take time out of their day to come by and support me.”

Through commissioning, Dodd is carrying on a family legacy of military service: Her maternal grandfather was a medic in World War II, her father progressed from ROTC to the U.S. Army Reserve, and her great-uncle also served.

This past summer, Dodd left Blacksburg for training at Fort Still, Oklahoma, and at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, after which she’ll be stationed at Fort Knox, Kentucky, for three years.

Although she’s many miles from Blacksburg, the veterinary college still remains an immediate presence in her military life. Capt. John Resch (D.V.M. ’19), whom she taught during her residency at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, is a member of her Veterinary Corps training class.

Now deep into training, Dodd hopes to continue her work in global outreach in developing areas. “Coming to the veterinary college, doing my residency, doing my M.P.H., helped set me on a good path,” Dodd said. “I’m looking forward to exploring new avenues in the military.”

Written by Sarah Boudreau, a student in the M.F.A. program in creative writing