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Day in the life: Rucker vet balances work life, motherhood

Leigh Ann Farris, civilian veterinarian at the Fort Rucker Veterinary Treatment Facility, administers a shot to her patient, Dixie, as Spc. Summer Palmer, Fort Rucker Veterinary Treatment Facility NCOIC, keeps the dog calm. (Photo by Nathan Pfau)

Leigh Ann Farris, civilian veterinarian at the Fort Rucker Veterinary Treatment Facility, administers a shot to her patient, Dixie, as Spc. Summer Palmer, Fort Rucker Veterinary Treatment Facility NCOIC, keeps the dog calm. (Photo by Nathan Pfau)

Published: March 6, 2014

(Editor’s note: This is part of a continuing series looking at different jobs and the people who get them done at Fort Rucker. Readers who have ideas for jobs or people to be highlighted in the series can send an email to jhughes ‘at’ for the staff to consider.)

FORT RUCKER, Ala. (March 6, 2014) -- Juggling work and Family is a struggle that most members of the Army Family know all too well, but one Fort Rucker veterinarian makes sure that her job in the workplace doesn’t interfere with her job as a mom at home.

Leigh Ann Farris is a civilian veterinarian at the Fort Rucker Veterinary Treatment Facility, and manages to balance her work and personal life in a way that she said keeps her fulfilled as a person, despite the long hours and immense responsibility.

“I take life one day at a time – it’s all I know how to do it,” said Farris. “If today didn’t go so well, then wake up and start over tomorrow. You don’t have any control over what happens tomorrow, so there’s no point worrying about it.

“There’s also no point obsessing about whatever happened yesterday,” she added. “If today was a bad day, there’s no point for me to take that home to my daughter.”

Farris, who’s worked at the veterinary clinic for 8 ½ years, starts her workday at 8 a.m. and begins by taking veterinary appointments at 8:15 a.m. Normally, appointment times range from 15-30 minutes, depending on the needs of the animal, until 3:30 p.m., so the veterinarian can see many different patients a day.

After work, she leaves the workplace behind and focuses on her 4-year-old daughter, Ada.

“When I get off work, I pick her up and it’s just mom-and-Ada time,” said Farris. “The evenings are just about me and her hanging out, doing household chores, cooking and that kind of stuff, and on the weekends we get to do basically whatever we want.”

Farris said that she and her daughter love the outdoors, so it’s in warm-weather activities that they thrive. During her alone time, she enjoys reading and cross-stitching, but admits that her daughter isn’t fond of those activities.

“We’ll go to the park or head to the beach. She really enjoys doing things outside of the house, especially anything that involves warm weather and water, like the splash parks,” said the veterinarian.

When not at the beach or parks, Farris spends her days dealing with animals with minor injuries, illnesses, vaccinations, various veterinary tests and exams, and the occasional grumpy patient.

There are times that the animals people bring in don’t want to be handled or are in pain and don’t want to be bothered, and it’s during those times that she said she and the staff need to be most cautious.

“We’ve got to take extra care to not hurt the animals or ourselves,” said the veterinarian. “That’s just one of the challenges of our job.”

Most of the patients that the clinic receives are cats and dogs, and although each animal is different, they all need to be treated and handled carefully, and Farris said that looks can be deceiving.

Most people who have handled cats know that their claws can be quite sharp and scratch the skin easily, said Farris, but something that many people don’t know is that a cat’s bite is where the real danger can be.

“Their bites are very dangerous because of the bacteria they carry, and I’ve seen a technician who had to be hospitalized and have surgery because of a cat bite – they are extremely infectious,” she said, adding that dealing with unruly animals is just part of the job.

Another major challenge for the veterinarian is diagnosing what’s wrong with animals that are brought in. Unlike people, animals can’t tell the doctor what’s wrong, she said.

“I have an ongoing joke with my pediatrician that our jobs are a lot alike some days,” said Farris. “Our patients can’t say where it hurts and we have to figure it out ourselves, and sometimes the symptoms that we see are misleading, and sometimes we go down the wrong path, which can be frustrating for both the owners and us.”

Regardless of the frustrations, the tests must be conducted in order to get the animal, as well as the Family, feeling better, she said.

Amongst the challenges of her job, Farris said that one of the benefits of being a veterinarian is that she gets to work with both people and animals, something she considers a perk because she initially applied to school as a pre-med student.

“I thought I wanted to be a radiologist, but right before I started college, I changed my major to veterinary medicine,” she said. “The curriculum was basically the same in undergraduate school, and I had a cousin who was already in college in the College of Agriculture at Auburn University.”

Farris, who is a third generation Auburn graduate, said she owed a lot of her decision to become a veterinarian to her cousin.

“My cousin was singing the praises of the College of Agriculture and would talk to me about when I used to tell him I wanted to be a vet,” she said. “I told him I was leaning toward radiology, and he said that I could still do radiology and practice medicine, too.

“He also reminded me that I’m still helping people, but I’m helping animals, as well,” Farris continued. “It’s like getting two for the price of one. I really was 50/50 on trying to decide what I wanted to do, and I picked pre-med initially, but he really helped convince me to pursue veterinary medicine and I realized then that I made the right decision.”

Despite changing her major from pre-med, Farris said she always knew she wanted to pursue a future in medicine of some sort. Many of her friends growing up were children of doctors, and although her parents weren’t in the medical field, she was influenced by the environment she grew up in and found her passion early on – helping people.

“The nice thing about this job is we get to work with both people and animals,” she said. “I like working with people, I just don’t like working on them.

“When you take a sick animal and you’re able to make them well again, you not only make the animal feel better but you make the owner and the Family feel better,” said Farris, “and that’s the most rewarding part of my job.”

This article was originally published at

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