- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 4, 2015

GULFPORT, Miss. (AP) - Four mismatched infant socks and a heated rice bag kept 2-month-old Annie warm on the operating table as her heart rate slowed and she began to lie still.

When Annie was finally under anesthetic, Dr. Jennifer Morris prepared to make a small incision on the belly of the retriever mix. She spayed Annie in about 10 minutes.

“The blood vessels are small. The incisions are smaller. The recovery time is almost zero,” Morris said of Annie’s surgery.

As she closed the incisions, Morris joked that she’s also a tattoo artist - she marked one of the openings with green permanent ink to help identify Annie’s surgery in the future.

“We tattoo everybody. If you want straight lines, I’m your girl. And in green, then I’m definitely your girl,” she said.

Morris’ schedule is packed with surgeries, procedures and rounds from the moment she walks into the Humane Society of South Mississippi on U.S. Highway 49.

She usually arrives at 8 a.m., and is in surgery until 2 p.m. or 3 p.m. Then she makes rounds and checks on all the animals.

Morris said she loves her routine.

“When I come here I know exactly what’s going to happen, mostly, every day,” she said.

Morris, a D’Iberville native who lives in Saucier with her husband, children and pets, left a private practice and took a pay cut to join the HSSM team eight years ago. She said she hasn’t looked back.

“When this position came open, it just called to me because I had been doing shelter work so long,” she said. “I felt like I could do the most amount of good and prevent the most suffering with my daily time.”

She earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Southern Mississippi, and she and a friend started a small nonprofit organization that worked with Southern Pines Animal Shelter in Hattiesburg.

When she went on to veterinary school at Mississippi State University, she said the next logical thing to do was ready herself to work at a practice.

Morris said shelter medicine is completely different.

“I definitely had to learn a whole new set of skills,” she said. “At the time, shelter medicine wasn’t the focus (in school).”

Shelter medicine, she said, is almost like managing a herd of cows except it’s dogs and cats. Because HSSM houses a large population of animals, group health is vital in keeping a healthy clinic.

“We have to do everything with the financial situation in mind because we’re nonprofit and we depend on our community to support our work,” she said. “We have to use those dollars very efficiently.”

Morris said she does vaccinating, nourishing animals back to health and spay and neuter surgeries every day.

She also does emergency surgery, noting she’s become efficient in amputations.

“I’m really good at cutting things off of animals,” she said.

Morris works almost exclusively with her team of animal-care specialists, whom she described as her close-knit work family.

She and her team are very proud of their accomplishments. Eight years ago, HSSM was taking in 18,000 animals. In 2014, that number dropped to fewer than 8,000.

“That’s so fast. That’s the goal, to make that number keep getting lower so live release keeps getting higher,” she said. “Every time I spay a dog, it’s almost like I’m saving another several hundred animals from being euthanized.”

Morris said she could make more money at a vet clinic, but that wouldn’t make her happy.

“I’m happy coming to work every single day because I’m making a difference,” she said. “The difference is made up in job satisfaction, not dollars.”

Morris was recently one of five veterinarians from around the country selected for a fellowship with University of California Davis, University of Wisconsin and the ASPCA that advocates for shelter medicine education.

She said recognizing the importance of shelter practice is vital for future veterinarians.

“People are finally recognizing that caring for shelter animals is a completely different animal than caring for individual animals like you would at a private practice,” she said.

___

Information from: The Sun Herald, http://www.sunherald.com

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