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Remembering Dr. Julie Butler, Beloved Harlem Veterinarian

Isabelle Perlman

Born on June 11, 1957, in Washington, D.C., Julie was the oldest of 5 children. She always knew she wanted to be a vet; she also knew she wanted to serve her African-American community. Julie fulfilled her dream of becoming a vet after earning a doctorate from Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. She was the only African-American graduate in her class.

She practiced for several years at the ASPCA clinic in Brooklyn and eventually moved to Harlem with her husband. Her first day as owner of the 145th Street Animal Hospital was April 1, 1989. For a long time, it was the only full-service vet clinic in Harlem.'Dr. Butler

In a blog entry, Dr. Butler reflected on her first day at the hospital, 25 years later: 'I was very excited. I was living my dream of owning my own business in Harlem! Initially, I was commuting from Brooklyn, but in June my husband and I moved on top of the animal hospital. We were living in one-room, which is now my office. I am blessed. This community has been very supportive. We have raised our children here. We have found our church here. Harlem has been good to us.'

At the time, the neighborhood'and working as a sole practitioner'was tough. The hospital was next door to a crack house and her receptionist sat behind protective glass. Dr. Butler's first patients were pit bulls and Rottweilers. She was working long hours (usually getting home past midnight), covering growing costs for equipment and staffing, as well as seeing clients who owed her money which she would never get back. Her husband, Claude, said that she was 'never really focused on the business side. She was interested in the animals. There were people that swore by her because she saved their animals' lives.''

Julie was also very interested in the people of her community. She was a mentor to aspiring veterinarians in the area and co-founded the nonprofit, NY Save Animals in Veterinary Emergency, which provides financial assistance to owners of pets in need of emergency care.'Dr. Butler

Dr. Butler was as versatile in the office as she was out of office. As a vet, she treated not just dogs and cats, but reptiles, birds, rabbits, and rodents. She was well-rounded, once saying, 'I don't have to be subject to one specialty'I can be an internist, I can be a surgeon, I can be a dentist, I can be a cardiologist, I can be whatever I want to be depending on the case that comes in' according to the HCN. Out of the office, she loved the arts. She co-founded the South African Harlem Voices Choir and even acted in a short film featured on 'Showtime.''

Looking back on Dr. Julie Butler's life, we're reminded of the strength and promise of African American women in the veterinary community. Dr. Butler was a trailblazer in Harlem, as both a business-owner and veterinarian with a big heart. Her story is a testament to women, to black lives, and to veterinarians everywhere.'

Sadly,'Dr. Butler passed on April 4 at her home due to complications of the coronavirus. She was 62 years old and will be missed in the community.'


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