July 2017
From the State Vet's Office

What Does Chocolate Have to Do With My Job?

The first official meeting I attended as state veterinarian was the U.S. Animal Health Association meeting October 2001. The meeting was in Hershey, Pennsylvania. USAHA is a very active organization that mostly includes state and federal animal health officials and industry organizations such as the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Pork Board, the National Livestock Marketing Association and many others. During those meetings, we spend long hours helping to shape animal health regulations and recommendations for how we would respond to certain disease outbreaks. That was the year foot-and-mouth disease was ravaging the United Kingdom and we were looking closely at how we might respond if that disease were to make it to the United States.

Another memorable aspect of that trip was that, since we were not that far past 9-11, there was U.S. military personnel patrolling the airports … with M16s. That was pretty surreal. If you flew anywhere during the early post 9-11 days, you know what I am talking about. It was kind of eerie.

During the time I was in Hershey, I did take the time to tour the Hershey Chocolate factory. In my mind, it is one of the truly great places in our country. It is part of what makes America great, not only because of the candy that comes out of Hershey but also because of the history of how the business was built by Milton Hershey. I remember one story the tour guide shared with our group. It seems the candy factory was the primary employer in the town. One day a construction company was working on some land when Mr. Hershey came by to check on the project. The construction company had brought one of the early steam shovels in to be used on the project. The project manager boasted to Mr. Hershey that the steam shovel could take the place of 40 men. Upon hearing that, Mr. Hershey instructed the contractor to remove the steam shovel from his property. He didn’t want a machine taking jobs away from 40 men. So the contractor removed the steam shovel and hired more men.

The reason I related that story is because the other day I was thinking there are people who work with me who do the work of 40 people. These are administrative assistants whose names are never mentioned. You will never know who they are unless you call my office, the poultry office or meat inspection. I don’t know if they do the work of 40 other workers but they work very hard and deal with a ton of paperwork that comes with the territory of working in a government regulatory agency. And while computers have made some of the paper trail easier to negotiate, automation often brings its own set of tasks making the job more difficult and, oddly enough, time consuming.

In my opinion, these ladies’ jobs are just as important as mine. I have often used the illustration of a duck swimming on a pond. You see the duck serenely moving along on the surface of the water, but, underneath the surface, the duck’s legs and feet are working like crazy. Although I wouldn’t say that, when you see me doing my job, it appears to be very serene, I will say that behind the scenes these administrative assistants are working like crazy.

Although I wouldn’t say the administrative support assistants who work with me could take the place of a steam shovel, they do a great deal of work that cannot be done by a computer. Not only that but they deal with the public on a daily basis. And while most of the people they deal with are extremely nice, there is a small fraction of the public who believe the government is the source of all the ills of society from their sciatica to the dogs next door getting into their garbage. They deal with those folks as pleasantly as possible and often put fires out just by being courteous and accommodating. And what may be the most challenging: They have to deal with me. I suppose that could be a full-time job by itself.

Anyway, I want to take this opportunity to recognize these ladies for the hard work they do. Dynetta Burton manages all outgoing health certificates and the regulatory disease database for diseases like brucellosis and tuberculosis, and enters them into USA Herds, the software system we use. Sharon Davis manages the entire scrapie program and all incoming health certificates, and then enters all that into USA Herds. Barbara Loveless manages the entire poultry program that, in a poultry state such as Alabama, is a huge task. Lynn Blue manages the entire meat inspection program. Back when I began working with the State Department of Agriculture and Industries there were two meat inspection administrative assistants. Now with one, the work has not diminished but increased. Jordan Barrett is my personal assistant. If the only thing she did was to keep me pointed in the right direction, she would have done a good day’s work. She keeps up with my calendar of activities, makes travel arrangements and is the first person most people speak to when they are trying to get in touch with me. But she also manages the cooperative agreement process. That is a program where USDA gives the state money and we write a work plan and budget, then assure them we are doing what we say we will do – another full-time job in some states. She manages the chronic wasting disease program for cervid breeders. She also works entering data into USA Herds.

These ladies are knowledgeable and professional. They speak daily with people who want to know what the requirements are to ship a pet lizard from Texas to Alabama to why their chicken died to why there is a dead blackbird on their front porch. Wow, they really do a great deal of work for Alabama taxpayers, who pay their salary. I am happy to report to you that they more than earn their pay. Beyond that, maybe I should buy them some Hershey’s Chocolate to show them how much I appreciate them.



Dr. Tony Frazier is the State Veterinarian for Alabama. You can contact him at 334-240-7253.