October 29, 2020

When Janel Griffey entered the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Science’s (CVMBS) Small Animal Hospital in 2014, she didn’t expect heartbreaking news or the happy ending that ultimately followed.

Griffey had taken her 5-pound toy poodle, Molly, in for what she thought would be a solvable problem and was distressed to learn that—after nearly two hours of anxiously waiting—her beloved companion had more complications than she originally anticipated. Griffey then made the difficult decision to euthanize Molly.

The traumatic experience left her with many questions and set her on a quest to transform her grief into something meaningful.

Puppy Love

Griffey’s love for animals began after witnessing her great aunt’s compassion for all animals. Growing up, Griffey didn’t have much, and she always wanted a pet of her own. After graduating from college and embarking on a successful career teaching children with hearing impairments, she decided to fulfill her childhood dream and adopted a dog from her local, no-kill rescue in Waco, Texas. As time passed, she became more involved with the shelter, providing a loving home for more dogs and eventually picking up a household nickname “The Griffey Gang.” She had a soft spot for the underdogs—the ones with special health needs and those who had long outgrown their playful puppy years.

“The rescue would call me and say, ‘We have a Griffey dog for you!’ These were the dogs that needed extra care,” Griffey said. “When you adopt a dog, you agree to take that life on for 10 years or longer, so it’s your responsibility to give them the best care you can.”

Griffey has adopted around 20 dogs in her life, housing up to eight at one time. “These pets are like my children,” Griffey explained. “I try to give them a good life and keep them as healthy as I can because they are my family.”

Tender Love and Care

Janel Griffey (left) stands with her devoted Aggie veterinarian, Dr. Robert Judd '79, and his wife, Deborah, in front of the comfort room she donated in his honor. 

Taking care of dogs with health needs meant many trips to the veterinarian. Through trial and error, Griffey found Dr. Robert Judd ’79 in Hewitt, Texas, who became her veterinarian for routine visits. “A lot of people can tell me how cute my dogs are and cuddle them,” she explained, “but I want a veterinarian who knows what is wrong or will do research to figure it out. That’s what Dr. Judd does every time.” Watching this Aggie veterinarian’s dedication to saving animals and providing quality care is what led Griffey to Texas A&M University’s Small Animal Hospital when her dogs required more specialized services.

Griffey estimates that she has traveled the three-hour round trip to the Small Animal Hospital nearly 40 times with her dogs for procedures ranging from dental cleanings to hernia surgery. As she became more acquainted with the veterinarians, she realized she wanted to make an impact on the CVMBS to ensure the best foundation for future veterinarians. To do this, she decided to plan three endowed scholarships for students in the CVMBS through her estate. She has also committed part of her estate to a memorial fund named after her great aunt, Emma, to cover treatment costs for owners who qualify for additional assistance.

Griffey then pondered what would happen to her dogs after her lifetime. She learned about the Stevenson Companion Animal Life-Care Center, which provides the physical, emotional and medical needs for companion animals whose owners can no longer provide that care. “I agonized over where they would go because no one in my family had the patience or funds to take care of my dogs the way they deserve,” she explained. “It’s an amazing program because veterinary students live in the facility, and their sole purpose is to give the animals the same love their owners gave.”

After Molly’s passing and conversations with development officer Monika Blackwell, Griffey donated funds for two comfort rooms. The first memorializes her beloved pet, Molly, and honors Judd. The second, named “The Griffey Gang Room,” honors her great aunt’s life and love of animals.

“A beautiful relationship formed from a tragic event,” Griffey said. “I wanted to take that experience and turn it into a positive thing—a learning experience.”

Educating the Future

Griffey’s gift will support the Clinical Skills Laboratory and Veterinary Makerspace, where Dr. Elizabeth Scallan ’01 (right) instructs future veterinarians.

While on a tour of the CVMBS, Griffey met with Dr. Elizabeth Scallan, director of the Clinical Skills Laboratory and Veterinary Makerspace—a laboratory which comprises a series of flexible spaces designed to support student learning objectives. The three main areas of focus are to expand hands-on opportunities to teach veterinary students surgical- and medical-related skills, empower student problem solving and critical thinking, and create targeted patient solutions.

“I notice students don't like to make mistakes, so they just don't try because it's better to stand in the back and not risk an error,” Scallan explained. “In the lab, we try to get the students comfortable and out of their shell so they practice these skills and recognize that the way to improve is to make a mistake, because then they will know how to fix it.”

Being a hands-on learner herself, Griffey was inspired both by the program and Scallan’s spirit. “The students are getting such great experience, which gives them an advantage after graduation,” Griffey shared. “I was impressed with Dr. Scallan’s enthusiasm and dedication to helping students succeed in their future.”

To show her support, Griffey included the Clinical Skills Laboratory in her estate plan by planning a future endowed chair in Judd’s name. Her gift will create funds to provide more opportunities for students, expand teaching efforts, and create solutions to help future CVMBS clients and their animals. “Janel’s gift will foster opportunities for students to experience things they can't experience at any other veterinary school,” Scallan added. “She cares about students and wants to make a difference in the world any way she can.”

Making a Difference

Griffey’s childhood was far from glamorous. Her father was a self-made man who worked as a short-order cook at 13 years old with only a third-grade education. He worked diligently and died a multi-millionaire, leaving a portion of his estate to Griffey. “I didn’t work for this money, so it’s not mine to waste,” she said. “I want to make sure that my father’s hard work impacts the lives of others.”

From personal experience, Griffey knows what it’s like to work paycheck to paycheck, so she hopes her gifts help students in the CVMBS become successful veterinarians and provide owners with some financial relief so they don’t have to sacrifice the care of their pets for other necessities.

“I’m not a fancy person,” she explained. “I’m happiest when I can help others, and I want to make sure my and my father’s legacy positively impacts the lives of others for years to come.”

To learn more about the many ways you can improve the lives of future pets and the veterinarians that will be treating them, contact Larry Walker by completing the form below. Interested in learning more about using a planned gift to support your pet passions? Contact Angela Throne ’03 at giftplanning@txamfoundation.com.

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