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Friday, February 7, 2014

Dr. Andrea Dennis-LaVigne to Become President of the Connecticut Veterinary Medical Association

By Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
Posted February 7, 2014
Recognizing Women's Leadership in Veterinary Medicine and Honoring Black History Month

An expanded version of this story was posted in Feb 10th at

      "It's a great conversation piece," Dr. Andrea Dennis-LaVigne says of President Obama's personal note and signature on a poster in the Bloomfield Animal Hospital, the hospital she began 20 years ago just north of Hartford, Connecticut.

During a visit to the White House, Dr. Dennis-LaVigne
received an autograph and personal greeting from 

President Obama and Bo
Photo provided by Dr. Dennis-LaVigne.
      Dr. Dennis-LaVigne grew up in Connecticut, the oldest of three girls, raised by a single mother who taught her to be industrious and self-sufficient. At the age of 17 she went off to Cornell, but the racial tension she found there in the early 1970s proved too much for this young African-American woman, and after one year she transferred to the University of Connecticut where she continued to pursue her undergraduate degree.
      Andrea had wanted to be veterinarian since childhood, but her advisor at UCONN told her, “You’ll never be a veterinarian.” Undaunted, she switched advisors, applied as a junior and started veterinary college in 1978. She almost didn’t accept the offer from Tuskegee ―“George Wallace was governor, I can’t go there,” she said―but her advisor encouraged her, telling her to just go and she’d be fine in Alabama. He insisted that she would fulfill her dream of becoming a veterinarian and, by matriculating as a junior, would even save a year of college and tuition. “One person believed in me,” Dr. Dennis recalls sentimentally. “One person believed in me.”
     She had a wonderful time in Tuskegee. “It was a small school and the Dean, Dr. Walter Bowie was great, and everyone was a mentor. Everyone had my back.” 
      After graduation, Dr. Dennis completed an internship in large animal medicine and surgery at the University of California, Davis, then taught for a year at the newly-opened Ross School of Veterinary Medicine. Ross was still located on the island of Dominica when she started, and she actually experienced the move to the island of St. Kitts.
      But after the year, she decided to go into practice back in the Northeast and, for the next eight years, worked in two small animal practices. While she learned a great deal observing how these owners ran their practices, she yearned to start her own business.

      So in 1992, she started out on her own. Using a house that she co-owned with her mother as collateral, she borrowed $100,000 from the bank and acquired a wonderful array of used equipment given to her by the the local hospital to complement new equipment purchases. Even in her first year, the business at her Bloomfield Animal Hospital business was above expectations and she has never looked back. In 1997, she was joined by Dr. Eva Ceranowicz and together they have built a thriving practice with a diverse and supportive clientele.

Dr. Andrea Dennis-LaVigne and her associate, Dr. Eva Ceranowicz
Photo provided by Dr. Dennis LaVigne

      Dr. Dennis-LaVigne is passionate about giving back and supporting her community. She has held many leadership positions at her undergraduate alma mater, the University of Connecticut, and currently serves on it Board of Trustees. In 2011, she gave the commencement address for the university in front of some 8,000 graduates, family members and friends.

      A firm believer in organized veterinary medicine, Dr. Dennis-LaVigne will become the sixth woman president since 2000, of the Connecticut Veterinary Medical Association. Just as she was the first African American veterinarian in Connecticut, she will also carry that distinction to the presidency. 

I thank Ms. Julie Kumble, Interim CEO, Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts, Easthampton, MA 01027, for arranging an interview for the two of us with Dr. Dennis-LaVigne on January 28, 2014. The information in this blog is based upon that interview to support our ongoing research in women's leadership in veterinary medicine.