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Our Team

Dr. Michael J Blackwell

Michael J Blackwell, DVM, MPH
Assistant Surgeon General, USPHS (Ret.)
Director

A life of public service is what exemplifies Dr. Michael Blackwell. Like his father, he earned a doctor of veterinary medicine degree from Tuskegee University. He also earned a Master of Public Health degree from Loma Linda University. Dr. Blackwell’s career has been anything but traditional. He currently serves as the Director of the Program for Pet Health Equity, College of Social Work, University of Tennessee, Knoxville. His mission is to improve access to veterinary care, especially for families with limited means. He chairs the Access to Veterinary Care Coalition.

Previously, Dr. Blackwell served as chief of staff, Office of the Surgeon General of the U.S., chief veterinary officer of the U.S. Public Health Service, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Tennessee, and chief veterinary officer of the Humane Society of the United States. He achieved the rank of Rear Admiral and Assistant Surgeon General during 23 years on active duty with the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. In addition, he has served on many national boards and committees Dr. Blackwell has received numerous awards and recognitions, most notably, the U.S. Public Health Service Distinguished Service Medal (which is the highest personal honor award), and the Meritorious Service Medal (the second-highest personal honor award). He also twice received the Surgeon General’s Exemplary Service Medal.


Candice Hinkle, MBA
Assistant Director

From a young age, Candice knew that animal welfare was her passion. While attending Walter’s State Community College, Candice began her career as a Keeper at Zoo Knoxville. There she was able to learn more about the Species Survival Program and received her bachelor’s degree in Animal Science from the University of Tennessee. Candice’s love for exotic animals never faltered, but it was her experience in animal sheltering that would influence her career and fuel her passion. While working in Development at her local animal shelter, Candice never forgot her experience of cleaning kennels and the difference that interaction made not only for the animal waiting to be adopted but also for their caretakers.

Candice left sheltering to work at Knoxville Habitat for Humanity to learn more about Development and Nonprofit Administration. After earning her Masters of Business Administration with a concentration in Nonprofit Management at Tusculum College, Candice knew that it was time to put the knowledge she had gained into keeping families together.


T' Fisher

T’ Fisher
Director of Operations

T’ founded the CAIT (Companion Animal Initiative of Tennessee) program at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine in 2005 and served as the Director for thirteen years. She was a facilitator of a community team that created a humane education curriculum for K-12 grade, Learning to Save Lives. She created multiple courses for veterinary students in outreach and an independent study course in Uganda, Africa partnering with the Big Fix Uganda. She led the efforts to establish a core spay/neuter course for all fourth-year UTCVM veterinary students and secured a mobile spay/neuter unit for students to travel to animal shelters in East Tennessee to provide services to those shelter animals. She led the production of the Animal Laws of TN Book; and she created VPHO (Vets for Pets of homeless Owners), an outreach program to assist homeless citizens and their pets in Knox County and served as a team leader for the Knox County Disaster Animal Response Team. T’ developed Feral Fixin, a TNR program for ferals cats in East TN. She also helped establish the Animal Haven Knox County program to assist victims of domestic violence with their pets.

Recently, T’ served as Vice President of Animal Welfare at the Houston SPCA, serving over 40,000 animals a year. In this role, she oversaw cruelty investigations, a 24-hour animal rescue service, owner surrenders, transports/ transfers, the foster program, on and off-site adoptions, veterinary services and volunteer collaborations. T’ also helped coordinate the Shelter Medicine rotation, a core requirement at Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine, training over 150 veterinary students each year.

T’ is a recipient of various awards including the National Hill’s Animal Welfare & Humane Ethics Award in recognition for advancing animal welfare through extraordinary service and furthering humane principles, education and understanding.


Pam Linden, Ph.D.
Director of Veterinary Social Work
Dr. Linden earned her MSW and PhD at Stony Brook University School of Social Welfare. She is the Director of Veterinary Social Work for the AlignCare Healthcare program. Dr. Linden holds a certificate in Veterinary Social Work from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. She was the founding President of the International Association of Veterinary Social Work (IAVSW). Dr. Linden was a faculty member at Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, Long Island, New York from 2009-2021. Dr. Linden administered programs for individuals with serious mental illness conducted research problem-solving courts for both juvenile delinquents and veterans, and as a research scientist at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, she studied mandated outpatient psychiatric treatment. Dr. Linden is co-editor of the forthcoming volume The Comprehensive Guide to Interdisciplinary Veterinary Social Work, to be published by Springer in 2022.


Rick DuCharme
Consultant
Rick founded First Coast No More Homeless Pets in 2002, a 501C3 non-profit dedicated to ending the killing of dogs and cats in Duval County and beyond. Rick grew the organization into a national thought leader in the No-Kill movement, a key partner for local shelters across two states, 10,000 square mile service area and become a lifesaving part of the First Coast Community as the area has achieved No-Kill status with local partners in the core three-county metro area.

In 2013 while at FCNMHP Rick was one of three founders of the Target Zero Institute, a program that has helped dozens of communities along in their evolution to higher live release rates. Rick has now founded RLD Consulting Group, LLC to help organizations anywhere that are working to save more dogs and cats.


Linda Daugherty, MPA
Associate Director of Research

Linda Daugherty is a social science researcher whose expertise includes population research, program evaluation, and survey design. She has more than 20 years of experience designing and conducting research projects that incorporate both qualitative and quantitative data collection and analysis. These projects have included formative and summative program evaluations, community needs assessments, and public opinion research. She is a co-author of Access to Veterinary Care: Barriers, Current Practices, and Public Policy. She is particularly interested in exploring strategies for increasing opportunities for underserved individuals and in promoting efforts for increasing equity, diversity, and inclusion.


Katy Carpenter

Beginning in February of 2022, Katy has served as the Administrative Assistant for the Program for Pet Health Equity. Her A.S. in Psychology was earned from Walters State Community College (Who’s Who Among Students Award 2013; Summa Cum Laude) and her B.S. Psychology from King University (Magna Cum Laude). Earlier in her career, she worked for non-profit organizations in her hometown of Morristown, TN, most extensively as the Human Resources Assistant for DCEA, Inc. Head Start.  She is an advocate for human and animal welfare with an emphasis on mental health.


Augusta O’Reilly
Veterinary Social Worker

Augusta O’Reilly is a clinical licensed social worker in Southern Maine. She earned her veterinary social work at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville in 2018. Since then, she has done work with animal-assisted interventions, advocated for mental wellbeing in the veterinary field, and supported the animal-human bond in her professional field. Augusta enjoys expanding her homestead, which currently includes chickens, potbelly pigs, 2 cats, and a Great Pyrenees puppy, camping and hiking with her husband and daughter, Disney, and horseback riding.


Jennifer Mihal Freitas, BSW, LSW
Veterinary Social Worker

Jennifer earned her Bachelor of Social Work from the University of Nevada Reno. Jennifer has worked as a Hospital Social Worker in Northern Nevada; working with families to coordinate safe discharge plans and in times of crisis. She has also worked in social work case management with families involved with CPS and Juveniles Services. 

Jennifer is currently the Veterinary Social Worker for AlignCare Nevada. Jennifer is able to bring together her passion for working with the public, medical background, and love of animals as a Veterinary Social Worker. Veterinary Social Work recognizes the family bond to extend to non-human family members; this is the framework from which Jennifer works with families to resolve barriers to care with the goal of keeping families together. Jennifer works with families, veterinary service providers, and human support coordinators to help underserved families access affordable veterinary care through AlignCare. She works daily operations, individual case consultations, and growing the AlignCare program in Nevada. Jennifer, her husband, and two rescue pups, Brooke and Buddy enjoy the outdoors of Lake Tahoe and traveling.  


Many consultants and volunteers have supported the research and development of AlignCare. Their significant input and guidance has been valuable.

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