Chehalis Native Earns Rare Veterinary Feline Specialization

Paws and Claws: Veterinarian Sara Doggett Talks Hometown, Career and Industry Challenges

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After developing her interest in animals at Lewis County farms and visiting local veterinary clinics at a young age, veterinarian Sara Doggett has become one of about 70 professionals in the world to have earned the Feline Specialty designation.

“I have wanted to be a veterinarian since I was in fourth grade when I realized that I could be anything I wanted,” Doggett said.

Doggett graduated from W.F. West High School in Chehalis in 1997, went on to Washington State University, applied to veterinary school and was accepted.

“Three days after graduation, we moved to Boston and started work three days after we got there,” she said,

Doggett worked at a small animal practice for a year, taking care of all types of animals — dogs, cats, geese, guinea pigs, rabbits and goats — before moving to a feline hospital.

“I had gone to a conference in Florida and they had lectures that were specific to cats and I thought that was really great. I loved cats already. I decided that I should probably follow that passion, so I quit my job and started working in the cat hospital,” Doggett said.

After building her foundation working with cats, she wanted to get more experience and perform more specialized procedures, so she took an internship in Australia that focused on cats.

“It was at a 24-hour hospital — there were surgeries, blood transfusions, kidney transplants — they did everything,” Doggett said. “I got a lot of practice and a lot of exposure to more advanced surgeries. It was just a different world.”

When she got back to Boston after a year in Australia, she applied for a leadership position and became the chief of staff at a feline practice for the next decade. For the last year, she was managing two different practices.

“I became very tired. So I recently stepped away from that intensive hospital management role so I can have a little bit more time at home,” Doggett said. “I just started my new business — a relief service. So now I can travel around to various cat hospitals in the area and fill in for a day or two here and there in the Boston area.”

Her new business gives her more control over her career as well as a better work-life balance. She is also using some of her newfound free time to pursue an MBA with the goal of eventually moving into veterinary industry leadership roles.

“I’m making a little bit of a career pivot into something that might be fulfilling in a different way, but I can still always practice as a vet,” Doggett said.

Doggett sat for a two-day exam to get her feline specialty designation, which was only given to vets who complete a residency or have six years of clinical experience, to become certified by the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners. She officially got her certification this past fall, making her one of about 70 in the world.

“It’s the next level, and it’s a challenge to get so I’m pretty proud of that,” she said.

Doggett said one of her favorite aspects of working as a veterinarian is performing surgeries.

“It is an art as much as a science — it requires imagination, creativity, ingenuity, dexterity, solid anatomical understanding, physics, geometry, meticulous planning and logic,” she said.

Doggett explained the challenges of her career not as the work itself but as the standards and practices of the veterinary industry. Employee retention is difficult, she said, and veterinary education has outpaced salaries.

Doggett attributes poor employee retention with the “online bullying of hospitals and staff.” She said that a lot of times clients do not understand what all goes on when vets care for their pets, and if treatment isn’t to their liking, then they take to social media to share criticism.

“If there’s ever an animal story that gets media attention, the media has a lot to say about it, but as the veterinarian, we can’t share information about the case, we can’t explain our side of the story because of privacy rules,” Doggett said. “Veterinarians get a lot of backlash and judgment.”

It’s a difficult problem to solve when so many people turn to online attacks, she said, and she would like to see veterinarians be able to defend themselves in the future.

“I’m interested to see what the future holds for the veterinary profession and I’m hopeful that things will change for the better with some time and some pressure from above. I hope to be part of that pressure to make some good change,” she said.

Doggett credited the schools and teachers in Chehalis with allowing her to explore many different topics in school to help her discover her passions. She thanked several teachers for introducing her to music, language and science. She was also able to shadow Dr. Mark Giffey at his veterinary practice in Chehalis as a teenager.

“Chehalis was an ideal place to grow up. It is such a safe community with fantastic schools,” Doggett said. “I so appreciate the opportunities I had to explore music, sports and all different subjects in school, and I believe that a well-rounded education helped me be more prepared for my career in the veterinary field.”

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