A vision for veterinary medicine
Photos by Monica Moriak December 02, 2022
Animal science major Stephanie Bayron plans career in veterinary shelter medicine in Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico has a major problem with stray animals. An estimated 500,000 dogs and 1 million cats roam the streets waiting to receive proper care. University of Delaware student and proud Puerto Rican Stephanie Bayron paints a picture of unwanted animals that is not for the faint of heart.
“ ‘Dead Dog Beach’ got its name from being a dumping ground for unwanted animals and home to dozens of strays,” said Bayron, a UD Class of 2023 animal science major. “This beach may have one of the largest concentrations of homeless animals, but stray dogs and cats can be found in almost every corner of my island.”
While she rescued her own puppy Maya from that fate, Bayron is wholly focused on changing this reality for many more of these animals. After graduating from UD, she plans to head to veterinary school where she will specialize in shelter medicine. For the inadequate number of shelters that do exist in Puerto Rico, overcrowding is a fact of life. Most shelters hire external veterinarians to assess and treat the animals. With her pioneering spirit, Bayron wants to work directly for a shelter, which is much more common in Delaware than it is at home.
“Reducing the number of stray animals reduces disease outbreaks; addressing overbreeding and overpopulation is so critical,” Bayron said. “In Puerto Rico, we don’t have proper educational campaigns. You need people that work with and in underdeveloped communities. We must educate people on how important this is.”
Bayron’s cultural identity is a pillar of her personal and academic success; she wants that identity represented in the veterinary field. The lack of Hispanic veterinary practitioners, who comprise a mere 5% of the field, is a driving force for the UD senior, who is working hard to become an example for younger students.
“Diversity and inclusion are important to me when forming professional relationships because it allows me to connect with people from different backgrounds,” said Bayron. “This diversity of knowledge and experience is what allows science to advance. In the case of veterinary medicine, it allows us to serve a greater portion of the population, therefore advancing public and animal health.”
But Bayron is not waiting for her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree to make a difference. She volunteers for shelters and related organizations that provide care to underserved communities. Bayron is eager to help with vaccination events and spay and neuter clinics.
As a high school student, Bayron said, she knew nothing about UD nor its vaunted Department of Animal and Food Sciences. She looked into the University on the advice of a college counselor.
“I took a tour of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) with a UD ag ambassador. The hands-on experiences made me apply,” said Bayron, who attended Dorado Academy. “The facilities and the campus sold me. I chose UD over larger schools. I felt like I could make a home here.”
UD’s coursework hasn’t let her down. Right away as a first-year student, Bayron dove into the ever-popular class called “Animal and Food Science Laboratory (ANFS 111),” learning from Prof. Lesa Griffiths, Laboratory Manager Laura Hougentogler and the CANR farm staff.
“The theme of the ANFS 111 laboratory course is One Health and the hands-on lab activities are designed to introduce students to the notion that the health of people is closely connected to the health of animals and our shared environment,” Griffiths said.
“That was my favorite course because of the hands-on experiences,” said Bayron, who is also working toward minors in animal nutrition and wildlife ecology and conservation. “I had never worked with horses, cattle or chickens. ANFS 111 introduced me to that world.”
Bayron is now a teaching assistant for the course.
As a junior, she relished a class called, “Clinical Pre-Veterinary Experience (ANFS 255)” with Stephanie DeMarco, who is a veterinarian.
“I had never worked with animals in a clinical setting,” Bayron said. “I got to experience what veterinary technicians do.”
The course led to a veterinary externship with Loving Touch Animal Clinic in Newark. As externs, students apply the skills and coursework knowledge, getting their chance to put their hands on and care for animals.
In addition to the coursework, UD is known for its ability to propel Blue Hens to veterinary school success. The number of Blue Hens admitted to veterinary colleges is twice the national average. UD faculty members intentionally design the undergraduate program to give students as much hands-on and clinical experience as possible — something which veterinary schools crave from their applicants.
Her professors speak very highly of Bayron and have no doubt of her future veterinary success.
“Stephanie commented to me that while she has learned to work with many animal species during her time at UD, she has also learned to work with people and how important it is to recognize that people are struggling and often just need support — and many times that support can be in the form of an animal,” Griffiths said. “Stephanie is an excellent role model. She works and studies with focus and motivation. I have no doubt that she will be a caring and compassionate veterinarian.”