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Our Team

Dr. Michael J Blackwell

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

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, where she is an instructor in the Veterinary Social Work and Veterinary Human Support Certificate programs. She is the founding President of the International Association of Veterinary Social Work. Dr. Linden is a Clinical Associate Professor at the Stony Brook University School of Health Technology & Management in Stony Brook, Long Island, New York where she teaches Animal Assisted Therapy for Health Professional and Disability Studies. Dr. Linden administered programs for individuals with serious mental illness, conducted research problem solving courts for both juvenile delinquents and veteran’s 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.

Lizett Gutierrez
Veterinary Social Work Regional Coordinator
Lizett was born in Lima, Peru and raised in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area where from a young age her fascination with animals and insects was cultivated. Her enthusiasm for animals led to 18 years working as a veterinary nurse. She accomplished her goal of learning to care for pets in a variety of specialty departments within animal hospital settings and in comparative animal research. Through her experiences as a veterinary nurse she recognized that by treating pet patients her interactions with their human handlers was just as important from the perspective of preventative education, empathy, and active listening. While on the veterinary nursing path Lizett refocused her attention towards helping the community of individuals with disabilities. Lizett gained her Master of Arts degree in Special Education from the University of New Mexico. With her degree she proudly served students and their families in a Title 1 dual language (Spanish/English) community school in Albuquerque, NM. Always looking to build on how animals, humans, and the environment are interconnected in a One Health framework, Lizett earned a Masters of Social Work degree with an academic certificate in Animal-Assisted Social Work (AASW) from the University of Denver. In addition to her graduate studies, Lizett engaged as a research assistant with the Institute for Human-Animal Connection (IHAC). IHAC provided her with opportunities to expand on the importance of the human-animal bond in special education school settings through the Green Chimneys Project and through the Pets for Life Project, she was able to increase awareness of the One Health framework as well as what access to veterinary resources looks like for low-income families in the Denver, CO area. For her assistance on IHAC’s research projects, Lizett was honored with IHAC’s Excellence in Research Award (2018). Lizett is driven by providing culturally and linguistically appropriate mental health services to the community, by increasing awareness of the One Health framework, and expanding the field of veterinary social work.

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Ashton Andrews
Veterinary Social Work Coordinator
Ashton is a clinical/medical Social Worker who practices on the North Carolina coast. She has worked in a variety of medical and clinical roles with her passions surrounding aging and end-of-life work.  She received her Master’s of Social Work from the University of North Carolina Wilmington in 2012. Outside of her time as a Social Worker, she has worked in Veterinary hospitals for the last 15 years as a receptionist and was raised in a home with an array of animals from ferrets and birds to goats and dogs. Her love of animals and her understanding of the human-animal bond is what drew her to the Aligncare program and to furthering her education through the University of Tennessee Knoxville with a postgraduate certificate in Veterinary Social Work. When Ashton is not working, she enjoys her time with her family including two English Bull Terriers, one cat and a Leopard Gecko named Geks.

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Sabrina Hsu
Veterinary Social Work Coordinator
Sabrina is an Associates Clinical Social Worker with the LA County Department of Mental Health. After receiving her B.A in Psychology from University of Southern California (USC); she went on to receive her Master in Social Work from University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).  Not only does she enjoy working with people, she also is passionate about animals. Her love of animals brought her to discover Veterinarian Social Work. Eager to unite two of her passions, she is currently enrolled in the University of Tennessee, Knoxville Veterinarian Social Work Certificate Program. Sabrina can often be found in the company of her lovable, goofy golden retriever, TumTum.

David Dieffenbach
Software Product Manager and HWSC Candidate
David has worked for leading Veterinary Diagnostic and Software companies for over 20 years, and currently serves as Director of Product Management at Covetrus where he is responsible for coordinating the visions and strategies across the company to meet veterinary staff needs. David is working to discover ways to help make social work services more available to the veterinary profession.

Rick DuCharme
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.

Cristina Barroso, DrPH
Associate Professor, University of Tennessee
Department of Public Health

Cristina S. Barroso, DrPH, is a health disparities researcher who partners with community organizations, local and regional health departments, and policymakers to provide a more equitable physical and social environment so that all populations can achieve high health status to enable them to thrive in their communities. She is particularly interested in topics concerning childhood obesity, healthy eating, active living, body image, and One Health.

Brittany Blair, MPH
Business Manager
, University of Tennessee Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research

Kathy Brown, PhD, MPH, CHES
Associate Professor of Practice
Director, Masters of Public Health Program
, University of Tennessee

Donald Bruce, PhD
Douglas and Brenda Horne Professor of Business, University of Tennessee Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research

Linda Daugherty, MPA
Assistant Director
The Social Work Office of Research and Public Service, University of Tennessee

Bill Nugent, PhD
Associate Dean for Research
University of Tennessee College of Social Work

Rebecca Poplawski, LMSW
Social Work Program Coordinator
University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, Biomedical and Diagnostic Services

Professor and Director of Veterinary Public Health, University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, Biomedical and Diagnostic Services
Marcy Souza has been at the University of Tennessee since 2005 and oversees the veterinary concentration of the university’s MPH degree.  She teaches and performs research in the area of veterinary public health including diseases that spill over from animals to humans and food safety issues.  Dr. Souza directs the Human Animal Bond in Tennessee (HABIT) outreach program and is interested in the physical and mental health benefits of pet ownership. 

Elizabeth B. Strand, PhD, LCSW
Director, Veterinary Social Work
, University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, Biomedical and Diagnostic Services

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

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