The path from a polydactyl cat to the AAFP presidency

Published on November 14, 2018
Dr. Steele
Dr. Apryl Steele

Even though her family could not afford to go to a veterinarian, Dr. Apryl Steele decided at a very young age that she wanted to be one. Growing up, her best friend was her polydactyl cat named Thumbs.

At age 9, she started watching surgeries at a veterinary practice. In 2019, she will become president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners.

After graduating from high school in 1989, Dr. Steele started her undergraduate studies at Colorado State University. After a year, a friend convinced her to enlist in the Army. Dr. Steele served in the Army Veterinary Corps during Operation Desert Storm. She went on to earn her veterinary degree from Colorado State University in 1997.

Dr. Steele joined what had been a solo practice. After a couple of years, she purchased a 1 1/2-doctor practice in Denver from a retiring veterinarian. She renamed it Tender Touch Animal Hospital, and the hospital grew into a five-doctor practice. The hospital had been a feline-only practice emphasizing alternative medicine, but Dr. Steele opened up the practice to traditional medicine and dogs. Even so, cats accounted for 60 percent of patients when she sold the practice in 2015.

Along with becoming president of the AAFP, Dr. Steele has been president of the Denver-Area Veterinary Medical Society and Colorado VMA as well as the Animal Assistance Foundation, a Colorado animal welfare organization. As CVMA president, she got to know the Dumb Friends League out of Denver. The CVMA and Dumb Friends League collaborate on efforts to improve animal health.

In 2015, Dr. Steele joined the Dumb Friends League to become the successor to Bob Rohde, who had led the league for decades. She became president and CEO in February. She said, "It took me a while to really even envision myself doing anything other than practicing medicine, but once I started thinking broader about the number of animals I could impact, I took on this challenge and this opportunity."

Dr. Steele said the value of involvement in organized veterinary medicine is being able to understand what the profession is facing and being part of the conversation. She said, "When you're in practice doing everything you can every day to do the best for your patients, you aren't able to lift your head up and look around and see what's going to impact you in five or 10 years, in either a positive or a negative way, either to support it or head it off."

Dr. Steele said the AAFP wants to become the go-to resource for veterinarians, veterinary teams, and pet owners to make cats' lives the best they can be. Beyond the association's Cat Friendly Practice program, the AAFP is reaching out directly to pet owners to provide education about the need for routine check-ups, the value of cats, and creating cat-friendly homes. The association also is focusing on its strategic planning goals to create new resources, education, and opportunities for veterinary professionals and cat caregivers.

"Cats are becoming more valued in our society," Dr. Steele said, and the AAFP has been growing alongside.

Dr. St. Denis
Dr. Kelly St. Denis
Dr. Monroe-Aldridge
Dr. Paula Monroe-Aldridge

Joining Dr. Steele as AAFP officers are Drs. Kelly St. Denis, Brantford, Ontario, president-elect; Paula Monroe-Aldridge, Tulsa, Oklahoma, immediate past president; and Roy B. Smith, Round Rock, Texas, treasurer.

Related JAVMA content:

AAFP grows in service to cats, profession (Dec. 1, 2018)