Chief veterinarian for Animal Foundation works to save animals

Vegas Voices is a weekly series featuring notable Las Vegans.

It’s not surprising that Dr. Shereen Burton experienced one of those “He followed me home, can I keep him?” scenarios as a kid.

In Burton’s case, the newcomer-turned-eventual-family member was a neighbor’s kitten that she named Sherbert, “orange and white, just like the ice cream,” she recalls.

But the story doesn’t end there. Burton has cared for many more pets over the years, both her own — currently, three dogs — and, as a practicing veterinarian, hundreds, even thousands, of other people’s, too.

After three years in private practice here, Burton, 40, became chief veterinarian for The Animal Foundation. She oversees a staff of five full-time vets who care for thousands of animals each year at the Lied Animal Shelter, which the nonprofit foundation operates.

“I was definitely the kid who brought home animals frequently,” says Burton, who’s originally from San Jose, California. Her first experiences in caring for animals that weren’t her own came when, as a child, she volunteered in a program to train guide dogs for the blind. Later, she spent several years working at a veterinary hospital near her home.

Burton’s decision to become a veterinarian came around fourth grade, prompted not only by her love of animals, but also by “seeing how I could make a positive effect on families,” she says. “You’re not only helping the animal, but being able to help the owners of an animals and the kids who care for them.”

Burton is excited about the foundation’s “Mission: Possible 2020” project. Its objective is to save all healthy and treatable animals that enter the shelter by the end of 2020, and the project includes expanding medical programs at the North Mojave Road campus. Groundbreaking for a new adoption center and community education wing is scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday.

The foundation has raised $32 million to cover construcion of the adoption facility and renovations of the existing Lied Animal Shelter. The foundation is still raising $3 million to fund the continued growth of its lifesaving programs.

Burton and her husband, Jason Dunkle, moved to Las Vegas because of his career in the casino industry, “and I fell in love with the city,” Burton says. “So we’re not going anywhere.”

Review-Journal: How does private practice differ from practicing in an animal shelter?

Burton: In private practice, you see owners who can give us a (medical) history and information. That’s imperative to determine what’s wrong with an animal. It’s unique working at an animal shelter because the majority of the time, animals come in without a history, so we have to do our best investigative work to find out what’s wrong and how we’re going to treat the animal.

What do you miss about private practice?

We don’t have all of the diagnostics that a veterinary hospital in our area may have. But as we go forward with Mission: Possible 2020 and renovation that are going to take place soon, we will have those diagnostics in place — things like X-ray and more opportunities to diagnose what’s going on with the animals. That renovation is going to make the clinic expand and is going to allow us to diagnose and treat more and expand our surgery services.

Your patient base is probably different now, too.

There’s definitely a large variety of animals in a variety of conditions. So we’ll see a lot of sick and injured animals. There are lost animals and animals brought in through animal control. I also do a lot with our foster programs, where sick and injured animals need foster care, and we’ll see them. We’ll examine and recheck them until they’re healthy and can go up for adoption. We also do a lot with spaying and neutering for the public as well as for shelter animals.

You’re also a captain in the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps. What does that involve?

We do training one weekend a month and two weeks a year. We usually do our humanitarian mission, providing veterinary service to, it might be Native Americans or other communities that don’t have veterinary services. We did a mission two years ago in Montana on a Native American reservation. They don’t have (veterinary services) so we were able to provide vaccines, medications, some minor medical care.

Why did you join?

I wanted to make a difference. It’s important to be part of something that’s bigger than yourself.

■ Currently obsessed with …

Running, actually. I’m doing the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon next month. I just started (running) two months ago.

■ Newest Vegas discovery

I recently went to the Neon Museum. I loved it.

■ Ring tone

A bird chirping, and it doesn’t scare the cat.

■ Place you take visitors

The dog adoption area (of the Animal Foundation).

■ Last concert attended

Apocalyptica. It’s cellists from Finland playing Metallica. They did such a good job.

■ Favorite quotation

It’s from Albert Pike: “What we do for ourselves dies with us. What we do for others and the world remains and is immortal.”

■ Pets

I have three amazing dogs: An Australian shepherd, Baxter, a Yorkie, Bella, and a three-legged chihuahua mix named Pixie.

■ Hobby

I play piano. I started about two years ago.

■ Favorite sport

I’m very excited that we have an NHL team, and I’m rooting all the way for the Knights.

■ Favorite movie

“The Shawshank Redemption”

■ I never leave the house without …

ChapStick

■ Where I would live if not Las Vegas

Florida. I love the warmth and humidity.

■ Alternate occupation

A university professor. I would probably just teach sciences. I love to teach.

■ Any advice for pet owners?

We advocate to reduce the pet population. We provide low-cost spay and neuter.

Contact John Przybys at jprzybys@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0280. Follow @JJPrzybys on Twitter.

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