Longtime PAWS Volunteer Veterinarian, Dr. Kathy Gervais, Receives Esteemed Award

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Pictured: Dr. Kathy Gervais and Dr. Ken Gorczyca (from the Shanti/PAWS archives)

Longtime PAWS volunteer veterinarian, Dr. Kathy Gervais is this year’s recipient of the highly esteemed California Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA)’s Outstanding Service Award. Each year CVMA bestows this award on an association member who has demonstrated excellence in the veterinary profession through active community involvement and/or veterinary service.

“Dr. Gervais’s community involvement, service and advocacy far exceed that of the average veterinarian,” said PAWS co-founding veterinarian Dr. Ken Gorczyca. “Her influence and impact has rippled around the globe, and still does.”

Dr. Gorczyca and Dr. Gervais first met at UC Davis. “Her enthusiasm around life through animals and nature was infectious,” Gorczyca recalls.

Gervais went on to study veterinary medicine in Minnesota, 2,000 miles away from where Gorczyca went on to practice animal medicine in San Francisco. It was at the height of the AIDS epidemic when the two would come together once again– this time as founding veterinarians at the then newly-formed Pets Are Wonderful Support. The organization was started in 1986 by volunteers at the San Francisco AIDS Foundation Food Bank after discovering clients were feeding their own food to their pets. The organization needed their veterinarian expertise to help educate the public on the health benefits of animal companionship.

The City was in the grips of fear and stigma as it became the epicenter of the deadly and highly politicized HIV/AIDS pandemic. The veterinary profession was caught by surprise as physicians recommended that their patients diagnosed with HIV or AIDS give up their animal companions. Many individuals, terrified by the barrage of misguidance and misinformation, felt they had no choice. With broken hearts, they agreed to heed their doctors’ advice. This, of course, had a devastating effect on both human and animal alike. For many people coping with HIV/AIDS and other disabling conditions, one of the constant sources of unconditional love and support in their lives are their pets. Dr. Gervais knew this; and she was dedicated to making sure others did too.

Gervais’s work as one of PAWS’ founding veterinarians included helping to create the “Safe Pet Guidelines.” These guidelines educated doctors and the public about the overwhelming evidence on the benefit of pet companionship for individuals facing isolation, which many PAWS clients at the time were facing—and continue to face—due to the stigmatization of AIDS and other debilitating conditions. Dr. Gervais helped show how healing this bond could be, especially in the face of no other therapies. Her work during these early years was pivotal—it informed medical professionals and shaped guidelines and educational tools, including the CDC’s “Healthy People, Healthy Pets” website.

“She always met our clients where they were at, understood their situations and circumstances with compassion for both the human and animal, and was a constant source of guidance and insight for me,” stated former PAWS client and former PAWS care navigator, Richard Goldman.

Since those earliest days of PAWS and that of Dr. Gervais’s career, she has continued to contribute her time, knowledge, and heart to make the world a better place for humans and animals alike. Just a few additional examples of her other outstanding contributions, past and present, include work for:

  • The San Francisco SPCA – Pacific Heights Campus (Formerly Pets Unlimited)
  • The San Francisco SPCA – Mission Campus
  • Cheetah Conservation Fund
  • Africa Matters
  • Disaster Animal Response Team (DART)
  • CVMA Animal Disaster Preparedness work

And the list goes on.

“Dr. Gervais’s never-ending efforts to make our world a better place for animal and humans is inspirational to all of us that know her,” said Gorczyca. “The world and the veterinary profession are much better places with the presence of Dr. Kathy Gervais.”

Thank you for your long-lasting legacy, Dr. Gervais, and congratulations for receiving this year’s CVMA Outstanding Achievement Award.

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