July 2014
From the State Vet's Office

A New Director for Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory System

Dr. David Pugh  

If you kept all of your past articles of "From the Office of the State Vet"in a leather-bound book somewhere and if you refer to the article in the May 2012 issue of AFC Cooperative Farming News, I wrote about our former Lab Director Dr. Hoerr’s retiring. If you don’t keep the old articles around, you will just have to take my word for it. Anyway, the article was sort of left with the implication of "stay tuned." Well, after a long, diligent search, the Alabama Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory System has a new director. He is Dr. David Pugh, and he is not a stranger to the large animal veterinary community, not only in Alabama but across the country. I will tell you more about Pugh later.

The Diagnostic Laboratory System consists of three branch laboratories. They are located at Elba, Boaz and Hanceville. The branch laboratories support the local agriculture and veterinary communities. They have the capability to perform necropsies, microbiological testing and serological testing for various diseases. Often a diagnosis or at least a strong suspicion of what the problem is can be determined at the branch laboratories. The branch laboratories are staffed with a veterinarian, a microbiologist, a technician and an administrative assistant. If a cattle farmer, poultry producer, horse owner, pet owner or veterinarian needs to know the cause of death of an animal or multiple animals, the branch labs are often where the pieces of the puzzle begin to be assembled.

The main diagnostic laboratory, the hub of the wheel – or as Dr. Slaten refers to it, "The Mother Ship,"is located in Auburn. The present facility at Auburn, officially named the Thompson Bishop Sparks Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, was opened in 2006. While the Auburn lab offers all the services offered at the branch labs, it is also a state-of-the-art laboratory capable of performing virology, histology and toxicology. Tissue samples and other specimens requiring further testing are sent from the branch labs to Auburn for more pieces of the puzzle to come together.

If you are not a state employee, you may not be aware that over the past few years our budgets have been whittled away fairly significantly. Now don’t get me wrong, I understand that we do not have a printing press to create money and, when the economy in suffering as it has over the past few years, the state takes in less taxes and you have to rearrange budgets to fit the money you have. Having said that, I will admit the budget cuts have had some effect on our diagnostic labs. While we have been able to hire some new folks to replace those we have lost over the past few years, we are still not hitting on all eight cylinders. I will say that the personnel we have working at our laboratories are very competent, and they are very dedicated to what they do. I have never asked anything from the laboratories that they did not accomplish as fast as they could and did a very good job accomplishing it.

As we began our search for a lab director to replace Hoerr, a couple of things became evident to me. First, a state-supported laboratory cannot compete salary wise with private industry. Secondly, many very good candidates shied away from taking the position because of the uncertain times our state is facing. I don’t think Alabama has the market cornered on facing uncertain times. In fact, I think during our present economy, most states are in that same situation. So we operated for a couple of years with Dr. Sara Rowe as our interim director. I cannot say enough about the job she did as interim director while continuing to carry out her other duties as director of microbiology and serology. As a salaried employee, Rowe gets nothing more than a very heartfelt thank you for all of the extra hours she put in and the stress she endured. They say that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I don’t know if I agree with that, but, if it is true, Rowe should be as strong as anybody you will meet.

That brings us to our newly appointed Laboratory Director Dr. Pugh. I believe, and certainly as we searched for the right candidate for the job, that to the person we hired this would be as much a calling as it is a job or position. The more I come to know Pugh, the more I am convinced he views the position as a calling - the place he is supposed to be. He understands the rough times we have gone through and shares a vision of where the laboratory system needs to be to support the great agriculture industry and the veterinarians and pet industry in this state. The good thing is, I believe, Pugh brings the tools with him to have the system hitting on all eight cylinders very soon. Having spent 5 years in large animal veterinary practice in Georgia, he has learned to use duct tape and bailing wire to construct the space shuttle if that is what the job requires.

Pugh has held faculty positions at both the University of Georgia and Auburn University. And while you will never hear him blow his own horn, Dr. David Pugh has a very impressive résumé. He earned his master’s degree in Agricultural Entomology at Auburn. He received post DVM training in Equine Clinical Nutrition at Virginia Tech and theriogenology at Texas A&M. He is a diplomate of the American College of Theriogenology, the American College of Nutrition and the American College of Veterinary Microbiologists. He has worked as a technical services veterinarian for both Fort Dodge and Pfizer Animal Health. His most recent job was project veterinarian and director of operations for the Auburn Equine Source Plasma Project. He is author of over 600 publications and is editor of the "Sheep and Goat Medicine" book that I believe is pretty much the gold standard in the veterinary industry when it comes to small ruminant medicine. He has received many awards in the veterinary community and has served on many committees.

As I mentioned earlier, Pugh has an impressive résumé. However, the thing, to me, that outshines his résumé is the character and type of person he is. If I had all the things in my tool kit that Pugh brings with him, I might need to get a hat a couple of sizes bigger than the one I wear now. Pugh is one of the most humble people I know. He looks at those he supervises as his teammates striving toward the same goals. He is just as comfortable communicating with a farmer who never finished high school as he is discussing veterinary issues with PhDs. He is a man who leans heavily upon his faith. I feel fortunate that Dr. David Pugh will be riding herd on the Alabama Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory System. I believe we are in good hands as we ride into the future.

Dr. Tony Frazier is the State Veterinarian for Alabama.