The Houston veterinarian has dedicated her career to keeping pet populations healthy and manageable.
Dr. Mary Kate Lawler, the winner of the 2021 American Humane Hero Veterinarian Award, with her dog
Credit: Courtesy of American Humane

Dr. Mary Kate Lawler, DVM, has dedicated her life to safe, efficient population control in animal populations. As chief surgeon and Executive Director of the Spay-Neuter Assistance Program (SNAP), Dr. Lawler has conducted some 150,000 spay/neuter surgeries in her career.

"I will conduct anywhere from 40 to 60 surgeries in a six to seven hour period," Lawler tells Daily Paws. "But it's not about going fast, it's about doing the steps efficiently so the time is lower, but the animal gets the same quality of care."

It's those two things—her desire to give every animal she sees the highest quality of care possible, combined with the sheer volume of animals she's seen—that makes Lawler's career an anomaly. In fact, her combination of empathy and technical prowess is so unique, that American Humane (along with tens of thousands of public voters) recently named her the recipient of this year's American Hero Veterinarian Award.

"I ran a mobile vet in Wyoming for a number of years and really saw the need [for safe, efficient spay/neuter services] there," she says. "I would do 10 animals at a time and thought I was knocking it out of the park. Then I moved to Texas in 2005 and found SNAP and realized how many they were doing and was just in awe."

"When I began, I had the desire to be much more of an exotics vet," she continues. "I always told myself 'I'm going to make a difference as a vet'. I just never expected that it was in the way I have."

Lawler moved to San Antonio and joined SNAP in 2005. She quickly became the program's chief surgeon, overseeing the spay and neutering of thousands of dogs and cats. SNAP's mission is two-pronged: giving local pet owners a safe, cost-effective way to have their pet's surgeries completed, and to also perform spay/neuter surgeries on captured strays and feral animals throughout the San Antonio and Houston regions, helping to reduce and control feral populations.

"Healthy animals make healthy happy people," she says.

While Lawler doesn't have plans to slow down her work anytime soon, she's also aware of the realities of time. Knowing that she won't be able to do her work forever, she takes her current role as SNAP's Executive Director seriously, looking to set the program up for the best possible future success.

"I took over SNAP at a time when we were kind of struggling financially," she admits. "When the pandemic hit, there was a real concern about how we were going to make it through." She and her team learned how to navigate those problems, and she says their ability to determine "how to move with those ebbs and flows" is how they remained able to do their important work.

Hats off to Lawler and her team of pet professionals! Their dedication to helping animals in need is something we can all celebrate.

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to more accurately reflect the total number of spay/neuter surgeries performed by Dr. Lawler, which is higher than originally reported.