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How I Got Here: Sara Pizano, DVM, MA

September 11, 2023, The Association

Welcome to another installment of one of our newest features, “How I Got Here,” that digs into the career path and development of an animal welfare professional and member of The Association. In this lively Q&A, Team Shelter USA’s Dr. Sara Pizano shares her favorite professional development tip and a great book that addresses burnout.

The Association: Describe your current role as President of Team Shelter USA, LLC. What are some of your day-to-day responsibilities?
Dr. Sara Pizano: Every day is different. For the last decade I have traveled almost every other week. Most of my work entails helping municipal shelters operate as efficiently as possible, and that includes working with decision makers like commissioners and city/county officials to update ordinances. I also work with shelter leaders to help them create the best possible animal welfare systems. I do an extensive amount of public speaking and presentations, both in person and virtually.

The Association: How would you describe the trajectory of your career?
Dr. Sara Pizano: Looking back since I graduated from Cornell Vet School in 1994 I would describe my career as unexpected. But each career decision unfolded in a way that helped me impact and benefit more pets and people in my next role.

The Association: What experiences and professional development helped to shape your career path?
Dr. Sara Pizano: Working as a shelter veterinarian doing medicine and high-volume surgery in large open-admission shelters was incredibly valuable. There is no substitute for working in the trenches. And as difficult as it was to be director of a large municipal shelter, it taught me everything about what not to do. In my work now as a consultant, that role earns me more clout with shelter directors than being an Ivy league veterinarian!

The Association: How did you find your way to animal welfare and Team Shelter USA?
Dr. Sara Pizano: I decided when I was 3 years old that I wanted to be a veterinarian, so that never wavered.

And I found myself, and all of us working in sheltering, drowning in broken systems, so I created Team Shelter USA. My goal has, and continues to be, to impact more pets and people every day by fixing the foundational issues.

The Association: Favorite professional development resource or tip?
Dr. Sara Pizano: Let go of the fear, people! Fear is the enemy in animal welfare, and a lot of my work involves giving people the confidence to embrace a different perspective. I constantly ask myself if I have formed an opinion based on fear of a negative outcome (an outcome that is not likely, BTW) or if I have data/research/back-up for that opinion.

The Association: What advice do you have for someone who wants to move up the ranks in animal welfare from within the industry? From outside the industry?
Dr. Sara Pizano: Focus your efforts on teamwork and building collaborative relationships. That means not taking things personally, and remembering that positive communication with everyone, regardless of their communication style, will ultimately help more pets and people. The top Fortune 500 companies are not the smartest people, but they are the people with the highest emotional intelligence, and they know how to communicate effectively.

The Association: Name one of your professional goals for the year ahead.
Dr. Sara Pizano: To travel less.

The Association: What’s the last book you read?
Dr. Sara Pizano: I am currently reading a book called Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle. I am always looking for ways to calm my body, spirit and mind, and a friend gave this book to me for my birthday because it changed her life.

The Association: One final question. You can invite 5 people from all of history to dinner.  Who’s at the table, and what are you eating?
Dr. Sara Pizano: The greats: Dr. Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Oprah, and Barack and Michelle Obama for a seafood feast and free-flowing martinis.


Learn More

The Best Practice Playbook for Animal Shelters
How I Got Here: Stephanie Kendrick
Connect with Dr. Pizano on LinkedIn

About The Association
The Association for Animal Welfare Advancement is a cohort of leaders on a mission to champion, advance, and unify the animal welfare profession.

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