From our first email exchange, Callie Harris, DVM, brimmed with warm friendliness. “What an honor!” she said when asked if she’d like to be featured. “Who recommended me? I would love to know who to thank personally!”
Her upbeat personality seems a perfect match for her unusual career path. A blend of medicine, education and a bit of fun, the ER veterinarian turned nutrition educator at Purina recently added reality show judge on ABC’s Pooch Perfect to her resume.
But how does she manage all these roles? With humor and grace, judging from our recent conversation.
When asked how she got into the veterinary field, she laughed and replied, “Unlike many kids who say they want to be a veterinarian when they grow up, I wanted to be a news anchor or a movie star, maybe a tap dancer.”
Yet, she always loved animals. By the time she attended college at TSU in Nashville, TN, she had enrolled as a biology major to explore science. Her roommate was a long-time friend and recognized the future Dr. Harris’s love of animals.
“She said, ‘You love animals, why don’t you become a veterinarian?’ That was when I was a sophomore,” Dr. Harris shared.
She changed her major from Biology to Agricultural Sciences with a pre-vet concentration and continued her undergraduate studies, and then pursued veterinarian medicine at Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Alabama.
“I attended the Tuskegee University College of Veterinary Medicine—the only HBCU (historically black college and university) out there with a veterinary school. This was one of the only schools that would allow black/brown students to obtain their veterinary training for many years. Now, Tuskegee’s vet school is the most diverse program with students from all backgrounds. I have found that my time at TU helped prepare me for working with all different types of people and pet parents, and it’s something that I am very proud of,” she says.
Always up for trying new things, Dr. Harris briefly considered being a large animal veterinarian. She laughs as she says, “My first year in vet school, I fell in love with large animals. I thought, I’m going to be a horse vet. I found an externship in Kentucky with horses. That summer was so important because, by the end of that summer, I knew 100% that I didn’t want to be a horse vet.”
Instead, she became an emergency veterinarian. “In the vet world, we can go right into practice without the residency side. After realizing I had a special skillset as a problem-solver, I pursued a small animal rotating internship and fell in love with emergency medicine and critical care. As an ER vet, panicked pet parents come in in the middle of the night with their pet. They don’t know what’s wrong, and I get to connect with them and help their pet. I’m a people person too.”
After eight years as an emergency room veterinarian, Dr. Harris had the opportunity to focus more on pet nutrition and work with Purina Pet Care. “I’ve been with Purina five years. As a Purina Vet, I get to communicate and educate about the role of nutrition in our pets’ lives.”
As a Veterinary Communication Manager, she leads workshops for other veterinary professionals and does media work for Purina, such as videos on YouTube, local news segments on pet safety tips and interacts on social media platforms.
She also stays sharp in the ER by serving as an independent contractor relief veterinarian for vet practices when she can. “I love still being in the ‘trenches.’ Maybe they have a shift open or have a veterinarian taking time off. I have more flexibility with my schedule and have the chance to work in different types of practices.”
Dr. Harris says, “When I left my emergency practice, I shared I would love to come back as long as they would have me. So I’ve picked up most of my relief shifts at the hospital where I worked before. The vet world is a small one and now I found out about other shifts available through word of mouth. There are savvier approaches too with various platforms where vets can get on and see what’s available. There are even traveling vets who’ll go to another state to work for a week or so.”
Fast forward to 2020, and Dr. Harris’s childhood interests met her adult pursuits. You could say they came full-circle. As a judge on ABC’s Pooch Perfect, a reality show about creative pet grooming, Dr. Harris was able to pair her love of animals with her enthusiasm for being on camera and interacting with people.
“I love to share information, and I’m not shy. If given a platform, I’m going to share,” she adds.
The creative grooming competition showcased ten groomers and their assistants who demonstrated their skills, artistry and ability to connect with their four-legged subjects. The groomers styled, trimmed and dyed some of the dogs. There were even goats, which made for a fantastic challenge!
Dr. Harris moved to L.A. for a month to tape the show. “I loved walking around the set and visiting with the pets and the groomers. It was the easiest job I’ve had as a veterinarian. I’m used to working nights, weekends, holidays, dealing with trauma cases, tragedies. And here I’m working with healthy animals who were there to be a part of this really cool experience. Everyone was happy and healthy, and grooming is such a great way to encourage the human-animal bond.”
She also enjoyed getting to know the groomers. “I’ve always had a great relationship with my local groomers. It was even more exciting to work with groomers in such a setting. They’re literally creating artwork.”
When asked how she became a judge on the show, she shares, “My colleague saw a casting call for a judge for a veterinarian on the show, and she sent it to me on a whim. At first, we joked about it, but I thought it would be fun the more I thought about it. As a Purina vet, I’ve done quite a bit of media work, such as being in front of the camera, delivering messages to consumers. Not everyone wants to do it. I do informational interviews for them on YouTube. I’ve done a lifestyle series on Yahoo! where you make house calls in NY. I did a commercial for Purina that aired at Westminster Dog Show. I’ve also been a ballroom dance instructor. So I sent ABC a smorgasbord of clips. When I got the call that I had the job, I was so excited. Purina was so supportive. They were excited to have one of their own on the show. While on set, I had my own trailer, hair, and makeup every day for three weeks. It was fun.”
Dr. Harris wants to inspire others to go into the veterinary field—especially minorities. “African American veterinarians make up roughly 2% of veterinarians in the United States! This should change as it’s not reflective of pet owners, plus it’s inspiring for kids from minority or marginalized groups to see themselves in careers where they are not typically represented. Diversity of thought is powerful, and animals are the great equalizer for all of us.”
So, what’s next for Dr. Harris?
She laughs and says, “That’s the million-dollar question. Now that I’ve had more exposure to a larger audience, I hope to continue doing what I consider media vet work. I still have important work to do with Purina, and overall I just love being a vet. Though you never know what’s around the bend. You have to keep your eyes open.” +