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New Veterinarian Brings Skill and ‘Hope’ to Animal Services Center

SAN MARTIN, CALIF. – A world-class animal shelter deserves a special veterinarian, and the County of Santa Clara Animal Services Center has found the perfect fit in Dr. Kieu Vuong.


The longtime South Bay resident joined the shelter in the fall after five years in private practice. She also worked for many years as a volunteer and part-time vet with the City of San José Animal Care Center.

Vuong has an ideal blend of skills, experience and disposition to lead the medical clinic at the state-of-the-art Animal Services Center, which opened in 2021, said Lisa Jenkins, Program Manager for the shelter.

The shelter was fortunate to find her, considering there is a nationwide shortage of veterinarians.

“Dr. Vuong is an excellent veterinarian – she’s very thorough and her attention to detail is extraordinary. And her personality lends itself to a warm, caring environment for the animals,” Jenkins said. “She’s such a nice and gentle person, and that’s the kind of personality that animals need when they are already in a stressful environment.”

The arrival of Vuong enhances the services the Animal Services Center provides to county residents. The 37,000-square-foot facility includes a modern veterinary clinic, a central courtyard that provides an open-air play space for dogs, and free-roaming cat condos, among many other features.

The shelter’s new veterinarian was born in Vietnam and came to the United States when she was 10. Her family settled in San José. After studying animal science at UC Davis, Vuong earned her doctorate in veterinary medicine in 2017 from the Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

While in veterinary school, Vuong began volunteering during the summer at the San José Animal Care Center. It was there that she learned to love practicing shelter medicine and decided her goal was to work as a shelter vet.


Vuong and a

“Stray animals often need a lot of care,” Vuong said. “It’s really rewarding to treat them and get them healthier so they can find a new, loving home.”

She enjoys not only treating down-on-their-luck animals but also building trust with them, serving as a compassionate bridge between humans and dogs or cats who either haven’t had much contact with people or have been abused or neglected by them.

“I don’t know exactly how to say it, but you’re creating a bond with the human side,” she said. “For these animals, it’s the beginning of a new and loving relationship with people.”

Vuong is a dog lover with a soft spot for pit bulls. She owns two dogs: Kaylee, a pit bull she adopted from Lucky Dog Animal Rescue in Dublin, and Hope, an American bully she took in after performing surgery on her at the San José animal shelter.

Kaylee accompanies Vuong to work every day, sitting in her office and waiting patiently for her to return from her appointments.

“She’s the perfect dog – I love her a lot,” said Vuong. “She’s good with everything. She loves kids, dogs, cats.” 

A critical role

One of the most important roles Vuong plays at the San Martin shelter is spaying and neutering dogs and cats, including all animals that are up for adoption. The shelter conducted 4,272 of these procedures in 2021.

Twice a week the shelter clinic devotes an entire morning to fixing cats that have been trapped by residents and community partners. Most of these animals are “community cats” that range from friendly to feral. They live around people and are sometimes fed by them.

The goal of fixing them is to prevent overpopulation, which leads to unnecessary suffering and puts a strain on shelter resources. Spaying and neutering also makes cats less aggressive and reduces nuisance behaviors, among other community benefits.

Once they are fixed, the cats are released where they were found.

On a recent morning, there were more than 20 cages covered with blankets and towels on the clinic floor. Meows, yowls and, occasionally, smells emanated from within. Clinic staff and volunteers prepared the cats for surgery, conducted by Vuong and a part-time vet who contracts with the shelter, and helped them recover.

Each cat is anesthetized before having its reproductive organs removed. It takes less than a minute for a skilled shelter vet to neuter a male cat, while it takes up to 5-10 minutes to spay a female.

In addition to being fixed, each cat is microchipped and vaccinated. They also get a small tattoo and the tip of an ear clipped to identify them as having been spayed or neutered.

It takes skill and speed to spay and neuter as many as 30 cats in a few hours. Vuong’s experience doing this work at the San José shelter is one reason the Animal Services Center was so happy to hire her. 

The persistence of hope

But Vuong is adept at performing a range of surgical procedures, such as removing tumors, which is what she did for Hope. It took her seven hours to cut a 5.5-pound mammary tumor out of Hope’s body, along with her lymph nodes, in 2020.

An analysis confirmed both the tumor and lymph nodes were cancerous. Vuong consulted an oncologist, who told her the prognosis was bleak. If the cancer had made its way to the lymph nodes, there was a good chance it had circulated elsewhere in her body.

Knowing it would be almost impossible to find a home for the ailing dog, Vuong took her in, knowing she might have only months to live. She named her Hope, she said, “because I was hoping she would beat this cancer.”

Two years later, Hope is still here. Her health appears to be fine. She’s very attached to the woman who saved her life, a bit hot-headed, and eats everything in sight, including lots of things she shouldn’t. But Vuong loves her anyway.

Asked to describe her dog’s personality, Vuong uttered a universal truth.

“Hope,” said Vuong, “is stubborn.”

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