Cumberland veterinarian Joyce Gifford knew at an early age there was only one career path for her.
It started when she read “All Creatures Great and Small,” the 1972 compilation of British veterinary surgeon and writer James Herriot’s first two novels.
“I fell in love with the whole notion of being a veterinarian and I really couldn’t be persuaded otherwise,” Gifford said. “It was a very clear plan. That’s not an uncommon thing for veterinarians.”
At the time she was a child growing up Queens, N.Y., and back then her dream was centered on a simple love of animals.
She parlayed that love into securing student loans to be able to earn a bachelor of science degree in pre-veterinary medicine at Rutgers University in 1981, and to pursue a master’s in animal and nutritional sciences at the University of New Hampshire. She stopped short of completing her master’s thesis when her father fell ill, but quickly resumed her studies and earned her doctor of veterinary medicine from Tufts University in 1989.
“When I started taking classes in science and pre-veterinary medicine, I loved the medicine component,’ Gifford said. “I loved the problem-solving and trying to get to the bottom of the animal’s condition and figure out what was going on.”
After completing a 13-month internship in medicine and surgery at the Angell Memorial Animal Hospital in Boston, she spent a few years working part time in private practices while beginning a family.
While her sons were still toddlers, she decided to open her own practice.
Eighteen years later, she employs 16 doctors, technicians and staff at Abbott Valley Veterinary Center.
But it was far from easy.
Gifford said that in getting her business going, she encountered a lot of resistance from banks unwilling to lend what she needed. She found solace and help in the Rhode Island Small Business Administration, receiving a direct loan – and plenty of coaching advice – from them.