Kindred spirit

Veterinarian Amanda Wojtalik-Courter fulfills a childhood dream

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Vet Amanda Wojtalik-Courter performs an annual examination of Bob, a bobcat at the Chattanooga Nature Center, where she volunteers. Special photo

When Amanda Wojtalik-Courter (BS ’95) was 5 years old, her family veterinarian asked what she wanted to be. She replied, “A cat doctor.”

“From early, early, early childhood I have absolutely adored cats,” she says. “I actually really liked cats, bats and snakes—those were my three favorites, but Mom and Dad sort of discouraged the bats and the snakes a little bit.”

She grew up with a Tonkinese cat named Samantha, and while at UGA she rescued Esperanza, a Manx kitten who is “quite possibly one of the major loves of my life.”

“My husband [Scott Wojtalik-Courter] will tell you,” she says. “It is first the cat, second my parents and third him.”

After graduating from UGA with three fellowships—Truman, National Science Foundation and Phi Kappa Phi—Wojtalik-Courter headed to Yale for a master’s program in conservation biology. But it wasn’t until she was enrolled in veterinary school at Tufts University that Wojtalik-Courter began to realize she had a special relationship with cats that would be an asset.

“I have a kindred spirit connection,” she says. “I’m good with them, and they’re good with me.”

“What I found was that a lot of people overlook the subtle signals that cats give. Cats are really good at hiding illness. A lot of times people will bring them in and they’ll say ‘I didn’t know they were ill, they’re still purring.’ Well, cats can purr when they’re stressed. And so learning to accept them and be patient with them was a gift.”

After finishing vet school Wojtalik-Courter returned to her hometown of Chattanooga and took a job with her family vet—the same one who asked what she wanted to be—at Middle Valley Animal Hospital. She spent five years with the practice, soaking up knowledge and volunteering with the Chattanooga Nature Center, where she’s established a friendship with a bobcat named Bob.

After winning a Truman Scholarship in 1994, Wojtalik-Courter posed with then President Charles Knapp (left) and then Honors Program Director Lothar Tresp. Special photo

“Bob is fantastic. He’s super interactive,” she says. “You become a fan. It’s like you’ve met Bon Jovi when you meet a bobcat up close.”

Wojtalik-Courter—who goes by “Dr. Amanda”—also became involved with plans to open an animal shelter, first serving on the board and then becoming executive director of the McKamey Animal Care and Adoption Center. She spent three years designing and building the center, setting up policies, opening the clinic and starting a trap-neuter-release program for feral cats. She also found time to start her own practice—Chattanooga Veterinary Center, where she and her partners provide general care for small animals as well as more specialized treatments like ultrasound, orthopedics and soft tissue surgery.

“It grew a little bit faster than we expected,” she says. “We’re still seeing double-digit growth, and we’re in our fourth or fifth year, even in spite of the recession.”

Wojtalik-Courter has found that one of the best parts of her job is talking to people about their pets.

“People’s faces light up when they speak about their pets. They will share things,” she says. “The connection that I have with people is so much deeper now than it was when I was younger because I’m able to talk to them after they’ve already opened up their hearts by telling me about their pet. It’s awesome.”