Julie Nettifee says she was just doing her job, but to a dog named Little Bit and her owners, Nettifee will always be a hero.
After Hurricane Harvey devastated a large swath of the southern United States in 2017, Nettifee became friends with a couple who were temporarily living in Chapel Hill after their home had been destroyed.
When she learned that the couple had lost one of their dogs during the move, Nettifee took them back to where the dog had last been seen. After several hours, they found Little Bit. The couple had lost so much, but they now weren’t going to also lose their dog.
“I just considered it part of my volunteer efforts with the outreach veterinary program,” says Nettifee. “Just something I do if anyone is in need, if I have a skill I can offer to support them.”
In her more than 20 years at the NC State College of Veterinary Medicine, Nettifee’s work has been guided by innate compassion. She’s helped rescue dogs like Little Bit and held the hands of owners as they made difficult medical decisions. She’s recruited for groundbreaking epilepsy studies, been there as animals learned to walk again and helped work on vital nutritional plans.
Nettifee’s work is never done until lives are made better.
Now Nettifee is one of just five finalists across the country for the 2020 American Humane Hero Veterinary Nurse Award. Voting is open to the public and runs through August 13. The winners are scheduled to be announced during a ceremony airing during a special on the Hallmark Channel in the fall. American Humane is a nonprofit dedicated to animal welfare and supporting a strong human-animal bond.
“At the end of the day, I value being able to make a difference for the lives of pets and people at many intersections of their stories — from the beginning, supporting healthy growth, to any challenges that they may face,” says Nettifee. “It is such an incredible honor and very humbling to be chosen as a nominee.”
A licensed veterinary nurse and technician with a specialty in neurology, Nettifee has been able to work with a wide array of pets and people at the CVM and the NC State Veterinary Hospital. She’s been on the frontlines of clinical research, supported faculty members and helped educate classes of veterinarians. Currently, she provides research and clinical support for both the neurology service’s companion animal epilepsy research program led by Karen Muñana and the nutrition service led by Korrin Saker.
Muñana, CVM professor of neurology, has worked with Nettifee for more than 20 years. Shortly after Muñana the faculty, Nettifee was hired as the hospital’s first neurology clinical technician.
“Julie is a strong ambassador for the college and the work that we do. She promotes the importance of our work at the CVM as a means to improve the health of both animals and people,” says Muñana. “She exemplifies this behavior professionally and personally. She is a warm-hearted and giving person who strives to help others, whether they are a friend or a stranger.”
Nettifee’s dedication to animals and their owners started early growing up in Fairmont, Minnesota. Her mother was raised on a farm in Iowa; her father was an avid animal lover and nature enthusiast.
As a child, she was drawn to helping with strays and rescues, as well as fostering wild animals, since her father was a reserve police officer and animal control officer. It was her father’s “spirit,” Nettifee says, that guided her when she helped the family find Little Bit, who is a rescue. There is an animal shelter in Fairmont named for her father, the Carl Nettifee Memorial Animal Shelter, that she helped obtain grants to fund.
One of her first jobs was with a local pet groomer. Through a high-school training program, Nettifee worked at a clinic as a veterinary assistant. Inspired after meeting a licensed veterinary nurse, she received her veterinary training at the University of Minnesota, Waseca, and soon explored opportunities that let her work with a range of species, from horses to wildlife.
Her current pets are all rescues: Paradox, a snowshoe cat; Phoenix, a Labrador-terrier mix; Spirit, a golden-Aussie mix; Crystal, a Dutch rabbit. Her son, Jordan, also hopes to work with animals one day through a digital media business he’s developing.
“Julie is a strong ambassador for the college and the work that we do. She is a warm-hearted and giving person who strives to help others, whether they are a friend or a stranger.” — Karen Muñana
Nettifee calls herself a lifelong student and says she learns something new every day as part of the veterinary profession at NC State. She has continued to take courses at NC State and plans to complete a master’s degree in liberal arts in December.
“As a member of the Wolfpack family for more than 20 years, it has been an honor to be a part of the advances and changes at the CVM throughout the years. “As a veterinary nurse, I have had opportunities I might not have been offered otherwise as part of the Wolfpack. I have learned global lessons just by walking in the doors each day.”
Her impact is felt by those who also walk through the CVM’s doors each day. While working with Muñana as a research technician, Nettifee touches lives in lasting ways. She connects with people seamlessly, says Muñana, developing ties with pet owners that are integral to successful research. She creates not just strong working relationships, but friendships.
“Julie is regularly contacted by clients of dogs that have previously participated in one of our studies seeking advice for their pet,” says Muñana. “They know that she will listen and work with them to identify resources to address their concerns.”
That isn’t necessarily part of Nettifee’s job, but she’s always seen it as her duty.
“One of my greatest life lessons has truly become a ‘camper’s creed’ — helping to improve places where you have been with the goal of leaving them better than when you have arrived,” says Nettifee. “As a veterinary nurse, this is my hope and goal, to support the strong foundation for those who follow.”
~Jordan Bartel/NC State Veterinary Medicine