Inside AAHA March 2023

AAHA President Margot K. Vahrenwald, DVM, CVJ, digs into the stresses and opportunities of tough behavior cases, and the AAHA Community tackles the question of whether practices should share AAHA’s mandatory standards with clients.

View from the Board

Oh, Behave

Do you have favorite and least favorite appointment types? I love or at least really like most appointments but over the past year plus have started to truly dread canine appointments that contain the words anxiety, separation anxiety, fearful, wants medication for all those things, etc., in dogs between the ages of two and three years of age.

These are the pandemic puppies who joined households during the COVID-19 shutdown and now are struggling in a world where their humans are no longer staying home most of the time to snuggle and take them for walks. I feel for both these pups and their owners and am always trying to add resources to attempt to help, but my associates and I are doctors, not certified trainers or veterinary behaviorists.

But we all know how critical behavior is in keeping a pet in a household and not relinquished to a shelter or abandoned. It can feel a little overwhelming to have these conversations. First, you have to let the owner know that there’s no easy fix with a magic elixir. Then, you have to try and leave your personal feelings outside the exam room. In my case, I am biased about what all dogs need to know, from walking on a soft leash without pulling to the seven essential commands (sit, stay, down, come, off, heel, and no).

Some of the angst around this topic stems from limited behavior training in our veterinary school curriculum. The rest is frustration with pet owners for not taking the time to train and socialize their dogs during a very critical window of puppyhood and not being accountable for the resulting bad behavior that their dog exhibits when the time was not spent. And it’s not from ignoring behavior needs when the puppy first came into us—we have a puppy folder with lots of resources about training that are verbally discussed during visits and referrals to some wonderful local trainers.

We just recently developed a socialization checklist to add to the folder that is not only focused on training, fear prevention, and socialization but also sound-proofing to urban (sirens, car backfire, trash trucks, fireworks, etc.) and natural (barking dogs, Colorado thunderstorms, etc.) noises.

Like all specialists in our area, the local boarded veterinary behaviorists are super busy and not always financially feasible for a dog owner, nor are they available for more than an abbreviated reply to an emailed question. So, I rely on the 2015 AAHA Canine and Feline Behavior Management Guidelines and keep trying to build a better behavior consult for our owners and pups. My goal for 2023 is to create a better process or program for my team to use telehealth appointments for some behavior management appointments—as soon as I unlock the secret to creating more minutes and hours in a workday.

My favorite resource for puppy owners is the digital version of Perfect Puppy in Seven Days by Sophia Yin, DVM. Peruse this issue’s article on behavior and telehealth for more tips and tools. Share yours in the AAHA Community ( so we can add to resources for future AAHA behavior management guidelines.

Margot K. Vahrenwald, DVM, CVJ, is president of the AAHA Board of Directors. She is the owner of Park Hill Veterinary Medical Center in Denver.

This month in AAHA’s Publicity Toolbox . . .

Here are the downloadable social media images available for AAHA-accredited members at this month:pub-tlbx-march.jpg

  • Pet Poison Prevention Awareness Month
  • March 12: Daylight Saving Time: Spring forward!
  • March 13: K-9 Veterans Day
  • March 17: St. Patrick’s Day

3-Mar-DST-FB.jpg  3-Mar-st-patricks-day-FB.jpg


Q: I had a potential client call wanting to know my 50 AAHA mandatory standards of care and explain to her what they are and why AAHA is better. Would you call this client back?
Anthony Merkle,
Director of Accreditation at American Animal Hospital Association:

I have run into this question a lot in the field as a consultant and have oftentimes told practices they should feel confident about sharing the mandatory standards, as this is a reflection of the minimum gold standard of care they can expect from an AAHA-accredited hospital.

Our standards are copyrighted, so I usually say that if they want to paraphrase for a client that is fine, as long as they keep the intent of the standard clear. You could also send them to for more information.

Now the tricky part of a question like this from a client is the ultimate motivation of why they are asking—and so approaching this should be done with sensitivity to first uncover the motivation to ensure you are not walking yourself into a situation where a client is holding you to a mandatory standard or creating confusion on the general public’s interpretation of a standard versus how AAHA and the veterinary community interpret the standard. I hope this helps!

AAHA members: Log in to see the full discussion at For help, email [email protected].

Leading by example: AAHA’s 2022 Veterinary Technician of the Year

By Tasha Mcnerney, BS, CVT, CVPP, VTS

As a tech for more than 17 years, I can tell you being a part of a team that values technician input has been the secret to my career longevity. Most veterinary technicians stay in this field for only five to seven years!

I had two main mentors very early on: a veterinarian, Mark Fox, DVM, and a veterinary technician specialist, Vickie Byard, CVT, VTS (Dentistry), CVJ. They showed me that technicians are more than just animal holders and cage cleaners.

As veterinary technicians we play many important roles—from husbandry and diagnostics to client communication and critical nursing care. Being a part of a team where my mentors cared about my future, asked questions, and helped flourish my love of anesthesia made me into the technician I am today.

I am proud to be a veterinary technician, and, like this year’s AAHA Veterinary Technician of the Year nominees, I hope to inspire the next generation of amazing techs to go above and beyond to create even more opportunities for our profession.

I am proud to introduce the first ever AAHA Vet Tech of the Year and the amazing finalists below. Thank you to all my colleagues in the profession for all that you do!

2022 VTOY winner.jpg

2022 Winner: Nicole Jameson-Fritz, RVT, VTS (ECC)

Nicole Jameson-Fritz believes in leading by example to model a healthy culture. As a technician supervisor responsible for more than 50 other veterinary professionals, it’s her responsibility to set culture expectations and actively maintain them, which, she says, begins with a smile and genuine connection.

“I believe in leading by example, ensuring that I smile and say hello to those I see, showing genuine gratitude for assistance and the work that people perform, as well as being patient, kind, and supportive,” she wrote in her application. “I check in with my coworkers to see how they are managing, help where I can, and strive to demonstrate genuine care and concern for their well-being. I endeavor to be available for the team, to be a good listener for their professional needs and difficulties, and even for their personal challenges at times too.”

Nicole has been an RVT for more than 25 years, which she attributes to the resiliency and coping skills gained through her work in emergency and critical care medicine. However, she writes, “I do have to continually remind myself of the importance of ‘putting my oxygen mask on before assisting others,’ to be sure that I am able to perform at my best. There is significant value in being able to demonstrate and express the importance of self-care, as I believe self-care is something many caregivers, by nature, struggle with.”

She gives career presentations, helps facilitate summer internships, and runs the practicum rotations for veterinary technician students and recent graduates at her practice, giving them an “opportunity to experience specialty and emergency veterinary medicine in a supported and mentored program.”

Visit for more information on the nomination process and prizes.

2022 finalists

Congratulations to the other three finalists who are equally deserving of appreciation and acknowledgement. The finalists are listed alphabetically by last name, and the order does not indicate any rank or placement in the contest.

Michelle Frank-epi.pngMichelle Frank, CVT

For Michelle Frank, CVT, one of the things that has created her long lasting love of veterinary medicine is her ability to be introspective and ask the right questions.

“I often stop to think, “Why did that co-worker do something that way?” Or maybe, “Why did they not do it that way?” It helps me better understand myself and my co-workers. I feel that it’s important for us all to remember that we are all human, capable of making mistakes, and capable of growth. Therefore, we need to look out for each other, support each other, find ways to build each other up rather than break each other down.

Michelle works for Caring Pathways, a mobile veterinary hospice provider. As the first technician hired by Caring Pathways for their hospice program, she feels lucky to have the freedom and trust to build and grow the position.

In her own words: “I have transitioned from working solely in emergency and specialized medicine (that has a large focus on technical knowledge and skills), to working in hospice, which requires a lot of emotional social skills. I have had to take all that I have learned from my previous jobs on what we medically can do and then focus on ‘what is best for this pet.’ I must take a step back and really listen to what the client and pet is trying to show me. I get to see the pet in its own home where it may act differently than in the clinic.”

Ultimately, Michelle keeps her mission of being a patient advocate at the heart of everything she does. “I am first, and always, an advocate for the patient,” she states. “When I see obvious suffering, I express this and work to help guide the client in a direction that feels right for them and the pet. I have worked really hard to get my mind around the concept of finding a balance between what is best for the pet, what is within the client’s capability, and incorporating the most safe, appropriate and up-to-date medical interventions in the home.”

Andrea Lombardi-epi.pngAndrea Lombardi, CVT

For Andrea Lombardi, CVT, veterinary medicine is a mission of love and compassion. Not only does Andrea provide excellent patient care but working for MSPCA Angell at Nashoba gives her the opportunity to give back to her community.

As she states: “Knowing that we may be the last resort for some clients, we are able to offer high-quality care at a reduced rate to help our clients and their furry family members. I contribute to the surrounding community by providing a welcoming, nonjudgmental environment for people who are less fortunate to bring their pet(s) to receive care at our facility. By doing so, their pets can remain with their families instead of being surrendered or euthanized due to financial constraints. This in turn provides emotional and physical support to their families and contributes to the owner’s overall well-being. Given that our clients are stressed due to their own financial limitations, I help ease their worries and assure them that we will provide exceptional care to help them and their pet(s).”

Andrea finds continuous joy in veterinary medicine by contributing to every aspect of the practice, whether it be keeping a clean environment, talking to clients in difficult situations, managing a high-risk patient under anesthesia, mentoring her co-workers to help them succeed and learn new skills, managing the inventory, or providing reviews and constructive feedback to the team. Through all of this, she says, “I try to set the tone to have a positive work environment that everyone enjoys being a part of.”

Andrea never loses sight of the importance of her role in pets’ and clients’ lives. When remembering a recent client who could not afford care for his dog at any other type of facility, she writes, “He also shared that he is having to live out of his truck with his dog and the uncertainty of being able to just afford gas. He was so grateful for us and so happy that we could help!”

Lisa Shoebridge-epi.pngLisa Shoebridge, RVT

For Lisa Shoebridge working clinically has been a lifetime achievement. For the past 17 years, Lisa has been a veterinary technician at Burnhamthorpe Animal Hospital in Mississauga, Ontario, where she was hired immediately upon graduation. Over her years there, she says her philosophy has evolved and is now more all-encompassing, to include not only the patients but also the clients.

She writes: “Clients are our most valuable partner when it comes to caring for their pets. As a pet owner, I know how stressful it can be entrusting your pet to someone else’s care. I treat all my patients as though they are my fur babies for the day and their owners as if they were my family.”

After 17 years in the profession, Lisa envisions a future where more employers will recognize the importance and benefits of credentialed veterinary technicians, including how to best use their abilities and skill sets.

“We need to encourage and retain veterinary technicians in the profession through respect and meaningful mentorship.” That mentorship came for her in the form of Tracey Bourdeau, who Lisa calls “the most influential mentor in my life. She provided me with mass amounts of insight and knowledge into how to perform my duties, and taught me almost everything I know to this day.”

Lisa recalls a particularly memorable case with an Australian Shepherd named Darby.

Darby’s owner was adamant that something was seriously wrong with her boy, and she was right. This case was a solid reminder that, as Lisa says, “I truly believe the human-animal bond is incredibly strong and intuitive and we should always take the time to listen to owners and respect their observations. Never dismiss their concerns as they know their pets best. Darby went to surgery for a splenic mass and made a full recovery. Fortunately, the histopathology of the mass came back as benign.”

Lisa believes being an RVT is being an advocate for all animals and acting as their voice and guardian within and outside our practice walls. “Being an RVT is an honorable profession where we can make the difference in so many lives,” she said. “So we should.”

About the AAHA Veterinary Technician of the Year (VTOY) award

Veterinary technicians are at the heart of any veterinary practice and deserve to be recognized and celebrated. This award recognizes the outstanding achievements of credentialed veterinary technicians and their key role in patient care. Learn more at This award is possible thanks to the generous support of Zoetis.



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