These are my surrogate children, laughs Daniel S. Aja, D.V.M., introducing Gator and Beignet, two of the five dogs that accompany him and his wife, Rhonda, to work each day. Their two cats and horse stay home.
Dr. Ajas love for animals is obvious and infectious. It began young and never waned. Hes now sharing his enthusiasm on a national stage as president of the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA).
The AAHA is the accrediting body for veterinary hospitals in North America, an international organization of close to 35,000 veterinary care providers who treat companion animals or pets. Members range from veterinarians to technicians to office staff. Using the slogan, Healthy Practices, Healthy Pets, the organization advocates for high standards, compassionate care, continuing education and responsible pet ownership. Dr. Aja was named national president last spring, after serving in several leadership roles during the past decade.
ON THE ROAD
Were the leading voice for animal hospitals and small companion animals, Dr. Aja said, noting that only one in seven animal hospitals in the United States is accredited. Michigan has no requirements for reg-ular inspections or continuing professional education although 43 other states do. Accreditation requirements include regular one day site visits by an independent team who evaluate a facility and its staff to assure that industry standards are practiced.
As president of the AAHA, Dr. Aja finds himself on the road three to four times each month, speaking at symposiums, visiting veterinary schools, meeting with policy makers and advocating for animal care issues. The greatest challenges facing the field of veterinary medicine are economics, pricing, animal rights and animal welfare issues.
In addition to his AAHA duties, he is also involved with the American and Michigan Veterinary Medical Associations, the Michigan State University Veterinary Alumni Council and the Michigan Board of Veterinary Medicine.
Referring to his own pets as surrogate children, Dr. Aja likens being a veterinarian to that of a perpetual pediatrician. It was a career that he wanted to pursue since he was a child.
We didnt have any pets when I was younger, he said, but one day, my father was out of town on business and my mom brought home a dog from the Humane Society.
That was in elementary school. The next steps led to cleaning cages at Grand Traverse Animal Hospital as an adolescent to Michigan State University for college and veterinary school, earning his DVM in 1982. He then completed his training with an internship in small animal surgery and medicine at Louisiana State University and entered private practice in Hollywood, Florida before returning to Traverse City to open Cherrybend Animal Hospital in 1987.
A native of Traverse City, Dr. Aja was the third of four brothers. All graduated from Traverse City High School during the 1970s and pursued college and professional training, then returned to the region. Oldest brother, Joe, specializes in construction and building plans, while Mike is a radiation oncologist and Tom is a certified public accountant. Family was the draw back to Northern Michigan as well as an ongoing source of mutual support.
We have a pretty tight family. Dr. Aja said. All the brothers left, we all came back.
My parents set a strong example, he added. They had a great work ethic. We appreciated the value of working hard and achieving our goals.
Dr. Ajas wife, Rhonda, shares his passion for animals. They met over 20 years ago at Louisiana State Universitys Veterinary School during Dr. Ajas first week as an intern. Rhonda specializes in animal behavior medicine and modification while also serving as the hospital manager. She co-owns Cherrybend Animal Hospital with her husband and has been active in growing the business from its earliest stages to the current 6,000 square foot facility, with four vets and 30 staff. All share a common bond as animal lovers as well as professionals.
We all love working with pets, Dr. Aja said, commenting on the Cherrybend team of Rhonda, the staff and fellow vets, Drs. Leslie Littlefield, Dana Mavidonski and Jen Richmond. You cant train the heart.