LEGENDS: Dr. Josephine Deubler

Best in Show
Published on October 16, 2013
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Breeder and veterinarian cherished for building important connections

Dr. Josephine Deubler (Courtesy of School of Veterinary Medicine/University of Pennsylvania)
When Dr. Joan C. Hendricks, dean of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, walks into the lobby of the veterinary school each day, she sees a portrait of the late Dr. Josephine Deubler, a member of the Penn Vet faculty for more than 50 years.
“She’s got the 3-by-5-foot portrait in the lobby; there are plaques (for her) all over the place,” Dr. Hendricks said. “She’s just one of ours.”
In addition to being a household name at Penn Vet, Dr. Deubler, who died in 2009, was a renowned dog breeder and dog show enthusiast. She chaired shows for both the Bucks County and Montgomery County kennel clubs for more than 25 years and judged Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in 1998.

“She’s looked to still today,” said Helma Weeks, former director of communications at Penn Vet and a former colleague of Dr. Deubler. “She’s always mentioned in terms of how to put on a really good dog show and recognize talented people to judge. She had a good eye for a dog.”

Dr. Deubler remained active in the dog breeding world until her death. Dr. Hendricks recalled being with her at Westminster in 2007 on her 90th birthday and how special it was to see so many people paying homage and showing respect to Dr. Deubler.

Appreciation of her was not limited to that spring day in Westminster six years ago. The Penn Vet faculty and dog breeders alike continue today to remember what Dr. Deubler accomplished, even when it seemed the odds were stacked against her.

Breaking new ground

Born in 1917 in Allentown, Pa., into a family of veterinarians, including her father and brother, Dr. Deubler became the first female graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine in 1938. But her entry into veterinary school was far from welcome by the male-dominated veterinary profession of the time.

“She said the only reason she survived vet school is because she couldn’t hear what the guys were saying,” Weeks said, referring to her congenital hearing impairment. “They were very mean and nasty. There was some lady before her, but she was driven out.”

Later in life, Dr. Deubler received a hearing aid, but while she was confronting the challenges of veterinary school, the technology was not yet available. According to “A Legacy and A Promise,” which details Penn Vet’s first 100 years, fewer than 40 women graduated from U.S. veterinary colleges in the 1930s. Dr. Deubler, even with her hearing impairment­—which she said actually made her more interested in animals because of their body language—managed to be part of that elite group.

Following her graduation, Penn graduated two women from its veterinary school in 1939, one in 1940, and a total of 103 from 1940-1972. Weeks said she thought Dr. Deubler’s presence was noteworthy for changing the gender dynamic in veterinary medicine by just “showing it could be done.”

Dr. Deubler continued to set an example by receiving her doctorate from the veterinary school in 1944. Over the following decades, while part of the veterinary faculty, she created the school’s annual Canine Symposium and Feline Symposium that were held for many years and built connections between the dog breeding world and the school. Dr. Hendricks said the ongoing outreach Dr. Deubler began with the dog breeding world greatly benefited the veterinary school.

“It connected us to the dog breed clubs in the region and nationally,” Dr. Hendricks said. “Dog breeders have sort of a complex relationship with veterinarians, because they know a lot and you have to respect what they know. So she was great at connecting people to the dog shows and doing introductions and making sure that the breeders respected our expertise.”

Dr. Hendricks said that the school received additional funding from new donors, mainly because of the connections Dr. Deubler built, her accomplishments, and her respected name in dog breeding and the dog show world.

Dr. Urs Giger, director of the Josephine Deubler Genetic Disease Testing Laboratory at Penn Vet, said it was important that Dr. Deubler be the person to make these connections with the dog breeding world because of her expertise.

“She really allowed breeders and show people to find a trust in the veterinary profession to get them to the right person,” Dr. Giger said. “She really was one of the first advocates for healthy dogs. Being a judge and a breeder, I think it was very important that it was a person like her that made that kind of move to assure that the dogs were healthy as they were being shown and bred.”

Remembering her impact

While Dr. Deubler was working to build connections with the dog breeding world for Penn’s veterinary school, she was also becoming a decorated dog breeder and exhibitor.

Her ascension in dog breeding and showing started in 1956 when she won Best in Show at Westminster Kennel Club. In 1962, she became a licensed American Kennel Club judge, and she went on to chair the Bucks County Kennel Club show, the largest outdoor show in the U.S., and the Montgomery County Kennel Club show, the world’s largest all-terrier show, which Weeks credits her with building into what it is today. She reached the dog show pinnacle in 1998, judging Best in Show at Westminster.

Not only was she well-recognized through accolades—winning the Gaines Fido Award for Dogdom’s Woman of the Year three times and the American Kennel Club’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003—but also, she was recognized by her peers. Dr. Hendricks noted one particular man years ago who left a large sum of money in his will for Penn Vet because of the respect he had for Dr. Deubler.
Penn Vet recognized her as well, naming Dr. Giger’s laboratory for her, presenting its Alumni Award of Merit to her in 1983, and hanging her portrait in the lobby. She received the university’s Alumni Achievement Award in 1998.

“She was a wonderful person—an extraordinary person—who was very instrumental in getting the connections between veterinarians, breeders, and pet owners established,” Dr. Giger said. “She was probably the first one to recognize that, and I think she did an excellent job.”


Joe Kaiser is a third-year journalism major at Marquette University and was a 2013 summer intern with JAVMA News.