January 15, 2008


 AAFP president finds cats to be her calling

Leadership, partnerships, and membership develop along with the association

Posted Jan. 1, 2008

Dr. Valerie CreightonDr. Valerie Creighton grew up around some very uncommon pets—which are now generally unlawful—including otters, a gibbon ape, and a skunk. Yet, she has devoted her veterinary practice to the unique medical needs of the common house cat.

The incoming president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners hopes to advance the cause of cats by building strategic partnerships between the 36-year-old AAFP and other organizations. Together, the groups can mount initiatives to improve feline health, such as public awareness campaigns.  

The cat doctor

Dr. Creighton's path to the AAFP presidency was a winding one. 

She grew up on the West Coast and the East Coast because of her father's career, partly with the Defense Department. Her mother was the animal person. Dr. Creighton's interest in veterinary medicine developed on trips with their unusual pets to the office of an exotic animal veterinarian—where she saw patients such as tiger cubs and an antelope with a broken leg.

Dr. Creighton began her studies at the University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine with the aim of becoming a zoo veterinarian and helping protect endangered species. She said the high-technology diagnostics emerging at the time in small animal medicine were what initially seduced her into taking another direction.

Following her graduation in 1984, Dr. Creighton interned in small animal medicine and surgery before going into small animal practice in Southern California. After a while, she realized that new clients were arriving with their cats and saying they had heard she focused on cats. She isn't sure why they thought so, but she decided to consider the idea.

In 1995, Dr. Creighton founded her feline practice, The Cat Doctor, in Thousand Oaks, Calif. She sees benefits in concentrating on the lifestyle and diseases of cats.

"I always enjoyed my feline patients, and I found that being able to focus on cats was truly rewarding for me," she said.

Dr. Creighton joined the AAFP even before opening her feline practice because she wanted to learn more about feline medicine. She respected how the AAFP pursued its mission of promoting feline wellness, particularly how the association promulgated practice guidelines. After becoming active in the association, Dr. Creighton served as treasurer for a number of years before becoming AAFP president-elect.

"The AAFP is just in a wonderful place right now in its growth and evolution," Dr. Creighton said. "I'd characterize our membership as growing steadily but modestly."

She said AAFP leaders would love to see membership grow by leaps and bounds, but the association's mission is feline wellness. Dr. Creighton said association leaders try to meet the needs of 2,000-plus members who work in areas that include feline practice, small animal practice, academia, and industry.

In terms of continuing education, Dr. Creighton said she is thrilled to see more offerings specific to cats outside of AAFP conferences. She said the association looks at the missing pieces when designing its CE programs and would like to align its efforts with those of other organizations. The AAFP also has increased the number of issues of the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery from six to 12 a year.  

Other officers

Joining Dr. Creighton as AAFP officers are Drs. Roberta K. Lillich, Abilene, Kan., president-elect; Elizabeth J. Colleran, Chico, Calif., secretary-treasurer; and Margie Scherk, Vancouver, British Columbia, immediate past president

Dr. Gregory S. Hammer, AVMA president, administered the oath of office during the AAFP Fall Conference and shared messages from the AVMA. He encouraged feline practitioners to update their personal information through the AVMA Web site so the AVMA can target the most relevant communications to them.

"It was a great meeting—they're a very, very enthusiastic group—and it was well-attended," Dr. Hammer said after the conference. "I think they're on the verge of really expanding their membership."

Dr. Hammer said the now-monthly feline journal may attract members among practitioners who read the publication for articles about cats. He also complimented AAFP initiatives to increase veterinary visits by cat owners.