AAFP president connects with cats in practices, shelters

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Dr. Donna Stephens Manley has worked in feline medicine as a small animal practitioner, as a feline-exclusive practitioner, and now as a staff veterinarian at an animal shelter.

In 2012, she also will be taking on the leadership of the American Association of Feline Practitioners as the association's president. The AAFP has about 2,000 members, with more than half of them in small animal practice rather than feline-exclusive practice.

The future AAFP president studied chemical engineering as an undergraduate student before deciding to follow her dream of becoming a veterinarian. She earned her veterinary degree from Auburn University in 1992.

Dr. Stephens Manley
Dr. Donna Stephens Manley (Courtesy of Kari Linfors)

Dr. Manley, who always felt a connection with cats, went on to work at small animal practices and feline-exclusive practices. In 2004, she started performing spay and neuter operations on a part-time basis at a county shelter operated by the Animal Protection Society of Durham in Durham, N.C. In 2006, she devoted herself to shelter medicine as the county shelter's first full-time staff veterinarian.

"What's most rewarding about it is the ability to help those animals that need a second chance in life," Dr. Manley said.

She also volunteers her surgical services for Operation Catnip, a trap-neuter-release program for feral cats in Raleigh, N.C.

Dr. Manley's first involvement with the AAFP was as a recipient of the AAFP award for fourth-year veterinary students with outstanding interest and ability in feline medicine and surgery. A few years after graduation, she began attending AAFP conferences. She joined the AAFP Guidelines Committee in 2005, and she became a board member in 2008. She is currently AAFP president-elect.

As president, Dr. Manley's primary focus will be the AAFP initiative to promote the concept of cat-friendly practices to small animal practitioners.

"If we can show them ways by which to make their practice more receptive to the client and to the cat, then that's going to increase the number of visits that the cat is going to have in its lifetime," Dr. Manley said.

Increasing feline veterinary visits benefits feline health and represents a growth opportunity for clinics, she said.

Dr. Manley said she hears concerns from private practitioners about shelters providing veterinary services such as surgery and vaccinations. She would like to pursue methods of improving communications between shelters, private practitioners, and cat adopters—if time allows during her tenure as president.

"What the rescue groups and shelters do is just the beginning of that cat's life of needing health care," Dr. Manley said. "We do have situations where adopters don't get that communication, and they receive this new kitten or cat from the group, and they don't know that they still need to go to the veterinarian and continue to receive preventative health care."

Among Dr. Manley's other goals as AAFP president are looking at various feline welfare issues and continuing to provide informational resources on feline medicine.

"It's very important that what I do as president is not about me or for me, but it's for helping cats wherever they are located," Dr. Manley said.