The Oklahoma Veterinary Medical Association held its annual awards ceremony at Embassy Suites last month, and Norman’s Dr. John Otto was honored as Veterinarian of the Year.
For Otto, veterinary work is about “focusing on the good.” In a profession that deals with animal welfare, he might say it’s an imperative mindset.
Between managing the University Animal Hospital, which he opened in 1995, 1218 Lindsey Plaza Dr., and his volunteer efforts in metropolitan communities and throughout the state, Otto has helped improve countless animals from Oklahoma.
After EF-5 tornadoes ripped through parts of South Oklahoma City and Moore in May 1999, Otto helped with search and rescue efforts and provided assistance at the South Oklahoma City shelter.
He received the Red Cross Hero Award for his contributions in the aftermath of the national disaster.
Otto is also the executive director of Friends For Folks, a program that matches dogs with inmates at Mabel Bassett Correctional Center and Lexington Correctional Center.
In 2018 Otto received the Kirkpatrick Honor for Animal Wellbeing for his work with Friends For Folks.
Currently, Otto is working to expand the program to the Bureau of Juvenile Affairs and the Central Oklahoma Juvenile Center in Tecumseh, Okla., in addition to restarting the program in Lexington following a staffing shortage at the correctional facility.
Through Friends For Folks, Otto hires an outside trainer to help run the programming there.
Otto helped raise money for local animal organizations with the help of OU Hall of Fame football coach Bob Stoops and his wife Carol and internationally renowned illusionist Rob Lake.
When Otto started volunteering at Norman Animal Welfare in 1991, he said they had a 97% euthanasia rate.
Through collaboration with other local animal welfare advocates, including Mark Howery, Rebecca Bean and Joe Carter, the city adopted a five-year general bond issue to fund a larger facility more conducive to the rehabilitation.
According to a Kirkpatrick Foundation survey, the shelter now has a live release rate of 97%.
“When you can see things like this happening in your life, it’s so gratifying,” Otto said.
State Rep. Lee Denney (R-Okla) said Otto has been persistent throughout his career to make the state a better place for animals, whether that’s helping pass animal laws. puppy mills or to develop and expand the Friends For Folks program.
“He continually finds ways to give back,” Denney said.
In the presence of colleagues, friends and family on January 28, Otto was named 2022 Vet of the Year by the OVMA. The award is given to honor an outstanding career in veterinary medicine and contributions made to their practice and community, and Otto has an ever-growing list.
Cordon DeCock, executive director of the OVMA, said Dr. Otto represents their core values of integrity, compassion and dedication.
“Dr. Otto exemplified these values and worked to be true north to many in the field,” DeCock said. “He overcame many challenges, worked to advance the profession, and continues to serve as a role model for young practitioners of the whole state.”
Otto said it was a special night to be included among so many veterinary medicine specialists he holds in high regard.
“All the vets I love have received this award, and it really means a lot to me, because they’re the people I looked up to,” Otto said.
Otto said he would eventually retire, but focusing on the good he can do has kept him going all these years.
“I will probably want to retire one day, and I will continue to work with inmates, the homeless with pets, and veteran mental health,” Otto said. “The bond between man and animal is so powerful.”