Firefighter, nurse, doctor, pilot, police officer, teacher, astronaut — all of these are among the most popular career choices children name when asked what they want to be when they grow up. As children grow and mature, rarely do these options remain constant — unless the child is Dr. Meredith Howe ’09 & ’11.

“I’ve wanted to be a veterinarian since I could talk,” Howe said.

A native of Plano, Howe participated in the 4-H Club and National FFA Organization, and she eventually worked at equine centers where she taught horseback riding and cared for the horses. She said she was obsessed with the veterinarians who came to the equine center and thought of them as celebrities.

“I would follow them around and offer to help while asking questions about treatments,” Howe said. “One vet taught me how to clean and flush the wounds caused by a certain bacterial infection, and then I would show up early to work because I wanted to be sure I was the one who gave the treatments.”

During high school, Howe worked at veterinary clinics, ultimately becoming a licensed veterinary technician when she was 18. Now a doctor of veterinary medicine and chief of staff for two Banfield Pet Hospitals located in the Dallas metroplex, it seems Howe can finally count herself among the veterinary luminaries she once revered.

Howe received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in agriculture from SFA, during which time she established meaningful relationships with professors with whom she still stays in contact. She counts Dr. Tim Cherry, former SFA professor of agriculture and doctor of veterinary medicine, as one of her key advocates.

Despite excelling academically during her first year at SFA, Howe said she still harbored doubt that she would be able to surmount the strenuous admission requirements for veterinary school. There are approximately 30 accredited Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges in the United States, each accepting only about 100 students annually. Cherry wasted no time in assuring Howe she had the intellect and ambition to gain admittance.

“Sometimes people come through your life, and you just know they’re going somewhere,” Cherry said. “I spotted that in Meredith and knew she was going to be a success — she just needed someone to guide her.”

During one advising session, Howe said Cherry directed her to follow him to the office of Dr. Dale Perritt, who is now professor emeritus of agriculture.

“He walked me to Dr. Perritt’s office and said, ‘You’ve got to meet Meredith. She’s going to be our next veterinary student,’” Howe recalled. “Any time I doubted myself, he would assure me I had what it took to be a vet.”

After leaving SFA, Howe enrolled at Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, where she graduated in 2015.

In her relatively short career as an agriculture researcher and doctor of veterinary medicine, she has received a number of professional accolades. While presenting at the American Society of Animal Sciences and American Dairy Science Association Joint Annual Meeting as an SFA graduate student, Howe’s research caught the eye of internationally renowned animal scientist, inventor and advocate Dr. Temple Grandin.

Howe’s research, facilitated by Dr. Erin Brown, SFA associate professor of agriculture, investigated the ways in which different weaning strategies affected the overall well-being and health of beef cattle calves. Through her work, Howe determined that the use of suckling devices that accelerate the weaning process while allowing the calf to remain alongside its mother in pasture not only reduced levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, but also resulted in increased weight gain and fewer instances of illness.

“She [Grandin] came up and asked so many questions about the study,” Howe said. “Meeting her was slightly overwhelming, but she was genuinely interested in the research, so it was very exciting.”

In 2017 and 2018, Howe was recognized at the Banfield National Field Leadership Conference for her outreach and dedication to the veterinary profession. Since joining the clinic, she has trained four newly graduated veterinarians and currently manages six other veterinarians and associated staff members. In addition to her administrative roles and consistent appointments for routine and emergency pet care, Howe volunteers with Dallas Animal Service’s feral cat vaccination and spay/neuter program, as well as Operation Kindness, the largest no-kill animal shelter in North Texas.

“Banfield has a student job program where vet students interested in the company work in our office over the summer,” Howe said. “During that time, we organize a volunteer day with Operation Kindness, allowing us to give back to the community. We provide whatever veterinary services the shelter needs that day.”

As one might expect, Howe’s profession extends far beyond the technical aspects of veterinary medicine. She develops genuine relationships with both the human clients and four-legged patients that enter her office.

Howe fought back tears as she recalled one of her most memorable patients — a Yorkshire terrier that overcame heart, liver and gallbladder disease to live to the ripe old age of 15.

“She had the greatest owner who wanted to talk to me about everything,” Howe said. “I loved that dog.”

However, accompanying the moments of sadness or frustration that are inevitable in the field of medicine are moments of sheer joy. Just last year, Howe’s office partnered with the Make-a-Wish Foundation to grant the wish of a child with leukemia to have a dog of his own.

“We treated the child like a celebrity,” Howe said, “We literally rolled out a red carpet and will provide free medical treatment for the life of his pet.”

Now in remission, the boy and his puppy regularly visit Howe for the dog’s preventive care.

“It was a special moment in our hospital to see the power of the human-animal bond and the incredible difference it can make in a person’s well-being,” Howe said.

Although Howe has advanced far beyond her time as a student employee at SFA’s Walter C. Todd Agricultural Research Center, her eyes still light up as she recalls the mornings she would saddle her horse and round up the SFA beef cattle herd.

“We learned everything out there at that farm,” Howe said. “If anyone is interested in being a veterinarian or working in the agriculture field, they should consider SFA. My time there was the best of my life.”