An Industry Veterinarian’s Perspective on a Career in Human-Animal Interaction
Karyl J. Hurley, DVM, DACVIM, DECVIM-CA, is the Director of Global Scientific Policy and Engagement at Mars, Incorporated. She is currently part of the Mars Global Corporate Scientific and Regulatory Affairs team based in the US. In this role, Karyl provides strategic leadership in the governance of Mars scientific research with human and animal participants. Karyl also manages the Mars Research Review Board which is accountable for ensuring all of our research adheres to robust ethical and scientific standards.
I have had a unique and wonderful journey in the practice and study of human-animal interactions (HAI), and I welcome the opportunity’ to share my story' in hopes that others may be encouraged and know that there is no one right path in finding what you love to do. Following formative years in academia, I have worked over two decades for an industry' that at its core feeds people, cares for pets, and seeks to have a positive societal impact.
I am first and foremost a veterinarian, and the health and welfare of pets has been the focus of my career for over three decades. In the years I worked in academia, I loved the work—seeing patients, teaching students, and leading rounds and journal clubs—but the downside was that my patients who, by’ the nature of referral to a specialist, were very ill, had highly caring owners, but eventually succumbed to their diseases. While helping animals and their families is an awesome reward of being a practicing veterinarian, it is also a common cause of compassion fatigue. When I was offered a role in Scientific Communications for WALTHAM Petcare Science Institute, a division of Mars Incorporated (UK), I learned that I could help pets in other ways. I lectured internationally, and edited and published journals and newsletters focused on pet health. Industry' roles can be dynamic and after a few years, I returned to the US to join our Mars Corporate Scientific and Regulatory Affairs team where I help the Mars business understand and address pet health challenges and food safety' issues. A highlight of my career in HAI was when we approached the prestigious
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), found that we shared a common enthusiasm, and entered a public-private-partnership (PPP) to gain momentum for the field. Together, over the past 12 years, we have provided support for workshops and scientific conferences, published three textbooks and numerous journal articles, and provided sustained funding for dozens of research studies. The PPP has encouraged the adaptation of rigorous research designs and methodologies on topics ranging from pet ownership and social isolation to addressing the contributions of service animals to the social functioning of children and military service veterans with post-traumatic stress disorders or PTSD.
Now, as the Mars Global Director of Science Policy and Engagement for the past three years, my role is to ensure the science we do is rigorous, transparent and benefits people, pets and the planet. I engage in many pet health issues and am a point of contact for veterinary and HAI advice and expertise within Mars and for our external partners.
When I reflect on the path to my current position, I find that the role seemed to grow around me rather than having a preconceived vision or trying to master a list of required skills. I do feel, however, that there are some core competencies people who work with animals must have, including compassion, empathy and the ability to communicate well with both people and animals. An industry role in science requires the ability to deal with ambiguity, to assess what is needed and fill the gap, to work well within a team and build an external network of scientific support and knowledge. This role requires filtering and assessing a great deal of information about animals, from scientific publications, news and even social media, and communicating these findings effectively to a global audience. Examples include the public perception of pets—the bond and the benefits of pets for individuals, families and communities. On the rare occasions when there are food safety incidents that affect humans and animals (e.g. zoonoses like salmonella, MKSA or Campylobacter, or perceived threats such as COVID-19), I provide technical support and advice on how to best manage people and pet interactions.
My role is global and remotely based from a home office surrounded by my own pets. This is both a wonderful perk and often a challenge as it requires clear separation of personal and professional time and space. I live within reasonable distance to a train station and an airport as travel is necessary to ensure regular meetings with internal teams and scientific colleagues. Compensation is relevant to one’s needs, and for me, I was able to pay off my student loans by my early 30s and have all I need to live well and feel comfortable when I retire, hopefully some years from now.
I have been very fortunate in my career and am grateful for the options that were available to me. I have held many varied roles in teaching and industry that have given me great joy in working with animals and their
An Industry Veterinarian’s Perspective 133 humans. My advice is to have a sense of adventure and do not let fear of the unknown prevent you from taking opportunities as they arise to move, grow, change and redefine how you lead your life. You will learn to know yourself better, what holds your interest and what challenges you. All jobs will change and grow over time, particularly in industry, so learn to find excitement and fulfillment in change.