No one can argue that 2020 hasn’t been challenging. If you are like me, you may have found yourself reflecting on your life while hiding in the closet from your children. Sorry, I mean reflecting on your life while taking some “me-time” in the closet. I hit a major milestone this year. Twenty years in practice. Where did the time go? I miss the days of study group, anatomy lab, and brisk fall days spent outside doing rectal exams on cows.

I currently work at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) in New York City and have been here for ten years. The ASPCA is a national non-profit animal welfare organization that supports communities to help vulnerable, at-risk animals and keep pets in safe, loving homes. When I started my path to become a veterinarian, I never expected to live in New York City or work in animal welfare. Never. In. A. Million. Years. Instead, I saw myself in private practice living on a farm strolling through sun-filled fields of wildflowers and tall grass with my dogs on my way to my next housecall. How did I wind up so seemingly far off track yet feeling I am exactly where I am meant to be?

I’m not one of those people who wanted to be a veterinarian since I was a kid. In fact, when I went to college, I wanted to be a lawyer like my dad. Then I decided I wanted to be an organic farmer (I went to a hippie college), then a marine biologist, then a paleontologist, then a (fill in the blank). You get the picture. Not atypical for one with a liberal arts education.

It all changed one day when I found out a guy that lived down the hall from me in my dorm was studying to be a veterinarian. I thought that sounded like fun, even though I was terrified of big dogs and hated math and science. So that’s what I did. I attacked the science requirements and only cried a little (actually a lot) while taking physics. I got over my fear of dogs by volunteering to work with big scary livestock guarding dogs. Applied and miraculously got into vet school. I loved vet school and still consider it to be one of the best times of my life.

It wasn’t all unicorns and rainbows, though; I matched to an internship in New York City (UGHHHHH) when I wanted to go to Colorado. What happened to the sun, farm, and wildflowers? But NYC grew on me, and I stayed for seven years after my internship. I worked as a general practitioner in a fancy Upper East Side practice, where pet owners had resources to provide top-notch care for their animals. 

After a while, I got a little bored or restless, or something that I can’t quite put my finger on; what I was doing no longer felt satisfying to me. I dabbled with the idea of specializing and even applied to residencies. I felt frustrated and lost. I thought maybe a detour to Boston to work as an emergency veterinarian in a 24-hour specialty practice would help. It didn’t. I loved the work and my co-workers but hated staying up all night. 

Just before my move to Boston, I worked at the ASPCA for a short time. My primary responsibility was to support the veterinary internship program, which was new at the time. I was not directly involved in much animal welfare work; however, I had enough exposure to realize that the work was important and necessary. This realization stuck with me during my time in Boston. I came back to the ASPCA a couple of years later to pursue a career in animal welfare. Daily, as an ASPCA forensic veterinarian, I see the horrible things people do to animals. However, daily, I also see the powerful bond that exists between people and animals and the lengths to which pet owners will go to keep their pets safe and healthy. This has been especially true during the pandemic when so many pet owners are struggling to provide for their animals, often sacrificing their own needs to care for their pets. At last I feel satisfied. Through my work, I feel proud knowing that I’m helping to positively impact animals and people, and it feels good.

Veterinary medicine is such a rewarding profession for many reasons, even though we all have days where it does not feel that way. It is unique in that there are always opportunities to do something new. Be brave and take advantage of those opportunities as you never know where they will lead you. Wear a mask, wash your hands, take me-time in the closet, and always know that no matter how you get there, you will always end up exactly where you are meant to be.

We at the ASPCA are hoping to hear about some of your own experiences in the field. If you are employed in veterinary practice in any role (veterinarian, technician, assistant, client services, etc.), would you give us 15-20 minutes of your time by completing this anonymous survey to help us learn about your work and how we can best support your animal welfare efforts?

Laura N. Niestat DVM, MS
Forensic Veterinarian
Policy, Response, and Engagement

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the editorial team.


Dr. Laura Niestat is a forensic veterinarian with the ASPCA in New York City. She received her DVM from Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine and has a Master’s Degree in Veterinary Forensic Science
from the University of Florida. She lives in NYC with her husband, two children, and way too many dogs.