Leading Lady: Jennifer Muller, VMD

Jennifer Muller, VMD, didn’t take the conventional path into veterinary medicine.

Dr. Jennifer Muller examines Jack, a Labrador retriever, at his home in Wyndmoor, Pa., as the dog’s owner holds on.

Photo by Elizabeth Robertson/Philadelphia Inquirer

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Jennifer Muller, VMD, didn’t take the conventional path into veterinary medicine. Armed with a bachelor’s degree from Brown University, she went to work in the mid-’90s in Washington, D.C., first as a White House intern and later as a policy adviser to Vice President Al Gore. When the 2000 elections swept the Bush administration into power, she changed course, moving to California to start a career in scriptwriting.

Hollywood’s loss turned out to be the veterinary profession’s gain. Dr. Muller’s unconventional career path was excellent preparation for the role she ended up taking on: Helping to create policies that have drastically improved the regulation of, and living conditions at, Pennsylvania’s commercial dog breeders.“That worked out so well, I ended up going to vet school,” she says dryly.

She has served on Pennsylvania’s Dog Law Advisory Board since 2006 and has chaired the state’s nine-member Canine Health Board since 2008. The regulations she has had a hand in are a model for other states trying to improve conditions in their kennel industries, Muller says.

Vet of the Year

The veterinary profession has taken notice, too. Muller, 36, was named Summit VetPharm’s Veterinarian of the Year, receiving the award during the 55th annual Show Dogs of the Year Awards presented by Dogs in Review magazine, a sister publication of Veterinary Practice News. And in January, Muller was named Veterinary Advocate of the Year by the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association.

“There was just an extraordinary combination of skills that she brought to the table,” says Marsha Perelman, the ASPCA’s board chairwoman, who serves with Muller on the Dog Law Advisory Board. It was at Perelman’s husband’s office in Philadelphia that the board’s kennel conditions committee met weekly for the better part of a year while regulations were drafted on sensitive issues such as precise kennel dimensions.

Not only did Muller bring a veterinarian’s understanding of animal behavior and animal science, Perelman says, but she “understood how to craft language, how to bring parties together, how to build strategy, how to implement policy through legislation. … She was just invaluable.”

Foster Mom

Muller appeared destined to be a vet. She loved animals as a child, and though she majored in American studies at Brown, she squeezed in studying wildlife in Africa during one undergraduate semester. When she moved to Los Angeles, she was accompanied by two stray dogs she had rescued from the street while she lived in D.C.

As Muller struggled to write and sell scripts, she took on government consulting work—organizational assessments of departments and agencies—to help pay the bills. On one assignment she learned about the large number of animals being euthanized in the city. Determined to make a difference, she began fostering dogs and finding adoptive homes. That’s when, somewhere around 2002, she had her “aha!” moment.

“There I was, writing scripts at the dog park, surrounded by dogs,” she recalls. “Somewhere along the line I had heard that you should do in life what you do in your spare time. And I remember thinking, ‘OK, this is what I’m doing. I have a passion for dogs. I should pursue that.’ ”

After taking night classes to catch up on prerequisites like organic chemistry, Muller was accepted at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. She graduated in 2007 and took her first job as a veterinarian at a New Jersey clinic.

On the Road Again

By then she was deep into her work with the dog board, having been appointed by Gov. Ed Rendell in 2006 while she was finishing her veterinary degree. After about a year she realized that a clinic wasn’t a good fit, partly because it allowed less time for her board commitments.

So in late 2008 she went out on her own as a mobile vet, making house calls. Now her office is the back of an SUV, which she has decked out with equipment such as a portable blood laboratory.

The setup suits her personally and professionally.

“You can spend a lot more time with clients because you don’t have to rush to the next room for the next appointment,” Muller says. “The animals are more relaxed because they’re in their own environment.”

The arrangement also allows more time for her committee work and activism. She remains passionate about pet overpopulation, an issue that initially led her to veterinary medicine.

It’s the kind of problem she is positioned to help solve.

“When I think about why I went to vet school, it was to treat individual animals,” she says. “But I also wanted to have the ability to affect a lot of animals through policy.”

This article first appeared in the May 2010 issue of Veterinary Practice News.

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