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Aggie Veterinarians Serving Texans Every Day

Posted December 09, 2015

Dr. Cleveland Manley and Dr. Dana Johnson next to a painting of former dean Dr. George C. Shelton

Early years

Dr. Dana Johnson developed a fascination with animals during visits to her grandmother’s small farm, while growing up in Lubbock, Texas. “I loved collecting eggs and just being around animals. [My grandmother] was the same way and said that if she had lived in a different time, she would want to be a veterinarian,” Johnson said. “I asked her what that was and she told me. I kind of felt like I was geared to do that because of her influence.”

Johnson’s grandmother wasn’t the only person who inspired her as a child. The local veterinarian, Dr. John Key, also encouraged her to pursue a career in veterinary medicine.

“The veterinarian in Lubbock who took care of our animals was very influential too,” Johnson said. “He was a very good person, and whenever we would take our pets in, he knew that I was interested and he would take the time to show me X-rays and ask me what I thought. I remember that vividly, and that piqued my interest even more to want to do this.”

Meanwhile, across the country in Sudbury, Massachusetts, Dr. Cleveland Manley grew up in a rural neighborhood raising animals, including rabbits, chickens, and dogs.

“Being around animals was a natural thing for me,” Manley said. “I had really passionate advanced biology teachers. I was lucky enough to have a teacher to inspire me and really fascinate me with science and anatomy and physiology.”

Manley grew up in a working class family, and he wanted to do well in his undergraduate program so that his transition to professional school would be smooth. Texas A&M University had a well-respected undergraduate animal science program and offered him a scholarship, so he came to Texas.

Headed to College Station

Manley’s transition to College Station was not easy. “It was a pretty big culture shock to go from the northeast to a university that culturally and ethnically was very different in 1978,” he said. “I adapted by finding people that were receptive of my differences. I made friends here that were like my family.”

In the 1980s, Johnson’s and Manley’s paths converged at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM). As the only African-Americans in the college, they supported each other while navigating the rigorous academic challenges and the unique social challenges due to their ethnicity.

“We spent a lot of time together. That’s how our courtship kind of grew,” Johnson recalls. “Wherever he was, I was. Wherever I was, he was.”
One of their biggest influencers at the CVM was the college dean, Dr. George C. Shelton. “The dean had an open-door policy, and any time we needed to talk, if we were having a hard time or feeling stressed out for various reasons, we could go and talk to him,” Manley said. “He was there to listen to us.”

“I think he played matchmaker too,” Johnson said. “I remember after my interview a lady came to me and said, ‘Dean Shelton would like to see you.’ I was wondering why, and I soon realized that he was wanting me to meet Cleveland Manley.”

The relationship blossomed into marriage for the two young veterinarians in 1990, three years after they both received their veterinary medicine degrees. Johnson was the first African-American woman to graduate with a DVM from Texas A&M. Now living in Wiley, Texas, a northern suburb of Dallas, both doctors are respected veterans in their field and are raising three sons, Isaiah, Elias, and Xavier, ages 16 to 23.

“We feed off each other, and we come home and talk about cases and new ideas,” Johnson said. “I realize now that the dean had a plan. He was a good man, the dean.”

Drs. Johnson and Manley with their sons, Xavier (left), Elias, and Isaiah (right)

Lasting influence

Johnson works at a full-service clinic, East Plano Murphy Pet Hospital, in the Dallas suburb of Murphy, Texas, seeing primarily dogs and cats. Manley is medical director for the VCA Pet Doctor Animal Hospital in Richardson, Texas, a position that involves not only staying abreast of the latest veterinary medicine practices but mentoring associate doctors.

Manley remembers the support he received from Dr. Alice Wolf, now retired from the CVM, who encouraged him to continue learning and not become complacent. “She made me feel like, okay, she wants me to succeed, so I’m going to do my best to succeed,” he said.

Dr. Mike Herron, who is now a veterinarian at the Wellborn Road Veterinary Medical Center, and Dr. Gregory Troy were other important influences who left a positive, lasting impression on the two. “There are people like them who stand out,” Johnson said, “professors who made you feel welcome, like a real person.”

“I have always thought that students deserve respect, and I have always attempted to treat them as future colleagues,” said Troy, now a professor in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences at the Virginia–Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. “I hope I had a small part in providing an inclusive environment for Dana and Cleveland during their time at Texas A&M.”

“Even though we had some bad experiences, the good far outweighed the bad,” Johnson said. “It’s just that sometimes those things stick with you a little bit longer, but when you think about the whole realm of things, it was a good place to come to school. We enjoyed it here; we met here. There are lots of good people in that class. There were lots of good professors here that did make us feel welcome.”

Growing up in a house with two veterinarians, the Manley boys have learned a lot about veterinary medicine from spending time at clinics, listening to their parents discussions, and even helping care for the occasional pet patient that their parents have brought home for short stays. “They talk about work all the time, think about work all the time,” Xavier said. “They have a passion for what they do, and it’s apparent.”

Manley and Johnson are happy for their children to follow their own interests. “Where their passion takes them is the most important thing to us,” Manley said. “You’ve got to do what you love and hope everything works out.” Xavier studied journalism at Texas Tech University, Elias is enrolled in the college of architecture at Texas A&M, while Isaiah is still in high school.

Both Johnson and Manley are happy that Elias gave Texas A&M a chance. “I have a lot of clients that come in and ask me, ‘What school did you go to?’” Johnson said. “A lot of times they went to A&M and they’re like, ‘Whoop!’ They’ve still got that atmosphere and pride of being here.”

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Contact Information:
Megan Palsa, mpalsa@cvm.tamu.edu, 979-862-4216, 979-421-3121 (cell)

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