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Dr. John Otto

Otto named 2022 Oklahoma Veterinarian of the Year

Friday, April 15, 2022

Media Contact: Kaylie Wehr | College of Veterinary Medicine | 405-744-6740 |

Dr. John Otto knew he wanted to be a veterinarian since he was 8 years old.

“I asked my mom once ‘Do animals have doctors?’” said Otto, a native of St. Paul, Minnesota. “She said ‘Yes, they’re called veterinarians,’ and I said ‘Well, that’s it, I want to be a veterinarian.’”

And he has made quite the career of it. Otto was named the 2022 Oklahoma Veterinarian of the Year by the Oklahoma Veterinary Medical Association.

“That’s a high honor because your peers are the ones that vote on it and when your colleagues say you are doing a good job, that’s always nice,” Otto said. “It just validates a lot of the work I’ve done.”

The transformational relationship between human and animal is what drew Otto to veterinary medicine. Moving frequently as a child, he
always found comfort in his animal relationships.

“The human-animal bond is something I am really intrigued by because it helped me so much with all the moves and tough times,” Otto said. “That relationship is very powerful.”

Although he applied to veterinary schools all around the country, Oklahoma State University was where
Otto felt at home. He graduated with his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree in 1990. Little did he know Oklahoma would bring him much more than an education. It was there that Otto met his wife and made a home.

“When I was going into my senior year, Patty was going on a tour of the teaching hospital with a classmate friend, I saw her and the rest is history,” he said. “She’s from Norman, so that was the big reason for moving here. I love Oklahoma — this is my home now.”

After settling in Norman, Otto established University Veterinary Hospital in 1995. Apart from owning his own practice, Otto also volunteers in numerous organizations and mentor programs, including the Animal Welfare Committee, Friends for Folks and the Moore-Norman Technology career shadowing program.

“I was chairman of the animal welfare committee for 10 years and we got the indigent spay and neuter legislation through to help people of low income get their animals spayed or neutered,” he said. “Our committee also pushed the current animal abuse legislation through, and worked on puppy mill legislation. Those types of things that I really feel are important in our profession, I was able to work on, so it’s a really neat thing.”

Friends for Folks pairs “unadoptable” dogs from shelters and humane organizations with inmates educated as dog trainers. The dogs are then placed with people who need companionship, such as senior citizens and veterans.

“I started volunteering down at the Lexington correction facility in 1996 and watching the transformation that occurs with an animal and an inmate when they come together, it’s a really beautiful thing,” Otto said. “I also work a lot with children whose parents are incarcerated.”

Otto also co-authored three children’s books with his son, Payton, based on his experiences volunteering within the prison system: “Sarge: The Veteran’s Best Friend,” “Marvin’s Rising Star” and “Marvin’s Gift.”

Mentoring students is also close to Otto’s heart.

“There was a veterinarian that I met in Virginia who was very nice and encouraging,” Otto said. “I asked a lot of questions and he took the time to answer them for me and that’s what I’ve always tried to do, take the time to encourage students and help them. I always say I have an open door for them. They can always come in and observe.”

Otto encourages those considering a career in veterinary medicine to go for it.

“It is the greatest profession there is because you get to work with animals that you absolutely love and you work with people,” he said. “That relationship between the animal and the person is so strong and powerful and it’s a privilege to be part of and facilitate that because when you help the animal, you help the person.”

He also offered some practical advice.

“The main thing is you want to know for sure this is the profession you want,” Otto said. “I tell people to try to get a job at a vet hospital, gain experience and be sure this is what you want to do. And most importantly, get your grades up and sharpen those study skills.”
Whether it’s seeing clients at his practice or volunteering, Otto has devoted his career to fostering human-animal relationships and affecting positive change for humans and animals alike.

“I am just so grateful to be a veterinarian,” he said. “It’s been a dream since I was 8 years old and I really thank God every day that I’ve had the opportunity to do it. I hope I’ve given back as much as it’s given me.” 

Story and Photo By: Kaylie Wehr | Vet Cetera

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