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Outreach and International Affairs
sharing the best of Virginia Tech by working side by side with communities throughout the world

Dr. Bess Pierce serves her country, academia, and the busy world of working dogs

“When properly trained, managed, and appreciated, the happiest creature in the world is a dog with a job,” notes Dr. Bess Pierce in “In Praise of the Working Dog,” an essay she wrote for the North American Veterinary Conference Clinician’s Brief.

With more than 20 years of professional experience in the military and academia, Pierce has become one of the nation’s leading experts on the subject of working dogs.

After graduating cum laude in 1992 from Auburn University with a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree, she joined the Army Veterinary Corps and served at Edwards Air Force Base, focusing on military working dog care. Working in a variety of assignments around the world since her stint at Edwards AFB, Pierce has spent 15 years in active military service, including three years as chief of internal medicine at the Department of Defense Military Working Dog Veterinary Service.

Working dogs train and serve with all branches of the military. They work with their human handlers in combat missions, as well as in search-and-rescue, law enforcement, and drug and explosives detection. As a chief military veterinarian, Pierce oversaw not only the health care needs of working dogs, but the promotion of successful partnerships between dogs and handlers.

In 2007, Dr. Pierce joined the faculty of the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine (VMRCVM). She left active military duty and became a member of the U.S. Army Reserve, serving now as a colonel and the reserve director of the Military Working Dog Veterinary Service.

Dr. Bess Pierce, a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves, has been serving military
and law enforcement working dogs and their handlers for more than 20 years.

As an associate professor in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences at Virginia Tech, Pierce trains students in veterinary practice procedures and provides care for canine and feline patients in the Veterinary Teaching Hospital’s Small Animal Community Practice.

In 2011 she was appointed director of the VMRCVM’s Center for Animal-Human Relationships. Faculty and students associated with the center conduct research and provide instructional and outreach programs focused on understanding the benefits of human-animal interaction.

“We aim to discover new knowledge about the benefits people and animals derive from one another and provide opportunities for people to experience the therapeutic benefits of companion animals,” Pierce says of the center.

Along with academic research and education programs in the field of human companion animals, the center offers an expanding agenda of community outreach projects.

Among these, of course, are programs aimed at assisting working dogs and their handlers. Dr. Pierce and other Community Practice faculty and students provide health care and handler training for many of the more than 200 dogs working in law enforcement and service dogs in the New River Valley and Potomac Region.

The center also has a developing interest in equine assisted activities and sponsors a Pet Loss Support Hotline (540-231-8038). The hotline is staffed by trained student volunteers who help those bereaved by the loss of pets.

Pierce is the faculty advisor for another center program, VT Helping PAWS (Pet Assisted Wellness Service). Funded in part by a grant from the Center for Student Engagement and Community Partnerships, this programs trains and certifies the pets of VMRCVM faculty and students to make therapy visits to facilities such as nursing homes, libraries, and schools.
Through her roles as a faculty member at Virginia Tech and as an officer and reserve veterinarian with the U.S. Army, Dr. Pierce maintains a busy schedule of championing the well-being of the working dog. She looks after the health of canine clients and still helps train military, law enforcement, and service dog handlers throughout the United States.