Veterinary college receives competitive grant for small animal reproduction residency

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A $100,000 grant from the American Kennel Club, the AKC Canine Health Foundation, and the Theriogenology Foundation will bring a new theriogenology resident to the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine.

The Small Animal Theriogenology Residency Program grants funding for a full-time resident to study theriogenology, the physiology of animal reproductive systems and reproductive health.

The grant is highly competitive: seven colleges have received the grant since it was established in 2016, and the college is one of only four to receive it multiple times. The college last won the Small Animal Theriogenology Residency grant in 2018.

Julie Cecere, clinical associate professor of theriogenology and coordinator for the residency, said that winning the grant twice points to the strength of the program.

“[Winning again] is significant to me because these organizations feel that we have fulfilled our mission. The continued support, financially and publicly, gives us the confidence to keep doing what we’re doing.”

“I am very proud that VMCVM was chosen to receive this prestigious grant for the second time. Having a successful program with AKC/AKCCHF/TF sponsorship will help distinguish our college and our theriogenology program as one of the national and international leaders in small animal clinical theriogenology and research,” said Orsolya Balogh, JoAnne S. O’Brien Professor of Theriogenology.

Over three years, the incoming resident will earn a masters in biomedical and veterinary sciences, write a grant, conduct a research project, and study for board certification through the American College of Theriogenologists.

Nicole Sugai was selected as this year’s resident. Growing up, Sugai and her family showed standard poodles in the conformation ring, and when she was a teenager, she grew more interested in the breeding side of the purebred dog world.

After earning her bachelor’s in biology and evolutionary anthropology from the University of Michigan, Sugai entered veterinary school at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. There, she worked with theriogenologists Fabio Lima and the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine’s own Jaime Stewart, assistant professor of production management medicine. Sugai’s experience in veterinary school cemented her passion for theriogenology.

Sugai spent two years working in private practice before entering the small animal theriogenology residency. She still loves showing standard poodles and is an AKC Breeder of Merit.

The college stood out to her because of its canine focus and its variety in caseload.

“You do so much work with such a range. It’s a lot of conformation AKC dogs, hunting dogs, multiple lines — not just one type of dog,” Sugai said.

Sugai will join the Veterinary Teaching Hospital’s team of board-certified theriogenologists, who provide routine and emergency reproductive services to breeders and producers of small and large animals.

“Nicole stood out as one who wants to get specialty training in small animal medicine to be able to go back to private practice and take that special training to serve the greater good in the purebred community. She has that zest to continue to do research,” said Cecere.

For Sugai, theriogenology centers on the responsibility to create a better future.

“We need to think with puppies, kittens, anything we bring into the world: Are we doing a service to the community? To the world as a whole? We want to make sure we are making the healthiest possible choices.”

Thanks to the grant from the AKC, AKC Canine Health Foundation, and the Theriogenology Foundation, Sugai will gain the training and expertise to make future puppies healthier.

“I am looking forward to the new knowledge and experiences she brings to us, and to see her establishing connections with our breeders. It will be great to watch her grow through the years and become an accomplished theriogenologist by the end of the program,” said Balogh.

Story by Sarah Boudreau ’21. Boudreau is a writer with the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine.


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