Heather Rogers photo
Heather Rogers is a veterinary medicine student at Washington State University.

In November 2012, Heather Rogers and her parents noticed an abandoned cat hanging around outside their house in Spokane, Washington. Every day, they put food out for the cat, and then on New Year’s Eve, when she followed Heather’s parents to the front door, the family took “Scarlet” in for good. Right away, the family noticed the cat sneezed all the time, so they took her to the vet. Upon further examination, they learned Scarlet had a hole in the top of her soft palate from being shot, and the bullet was still lodged in her head.

The injury Scarlet endured had also caused her sinuses to “blow out,” and food and water perpetually entered her sinuses and caused infections. “The veterinarians were immensely caring when it came to Scarlet,” Heather said. “And they tried multiple techniques to close, or minimize, the hole.” A WSU vet student who had been doing her clinicals even suggested a new procedure. Unfortunately, the procedure wasn’t feasible and the vets gave Scarlet a year or two to live.

Heather was born in Kentucky at Fort Campbell, an army base that sits on the border of Tennessee and Kentucky. After her father retired from military service, her family settled in Spokane. Since she was a child, Heather dreamt of becoming a veterinarian. And while she always planned to go to college to pursue her dream, she also enjoys learning for learning’s sake. “I’m incredibly curious,” Heather said. “I love finding out how things work—to me, the world is a fascinating puzzle.”

As Heather came of age, she cultivated her deep passion for animals. “I grew up in the suburbs,” she said, “and had no ‘large animal’ experiences.” Heather did, however, feel drawn to the healing process and wanted to help improve the lives of people and their pets. In addition, she had experience with small animals, having had three cats in her lifetime—each of them rescues—including Scarlet, of course, who would change her life. “Caring for Scarlet,” Heather said, “seeing just how much medical care she needed, and watching the veterinarians care for her, helped solidify that veterinary medicine was for me.”

Scarlet has defied the odds. Heather came up with the idea for Scarlet to use a rabbit water bottle instead of a dish to help the water flow down her throat. This aids in keeping water from entering her sinuses. Along with Heather’s family, Scarlet’s vets watch over her, too, making sure she doesn’t sneeze blood or develop other symptoms that might indicate infection. The more frequently the infections occur, the more likely they are to be fatal. “All in all,” Heather said, “She’s doing as well as she can. We have no idea how she lived through being shot or how she’s lived this long, but Scarlet’s our miracle cat.”

Making the Most of Her Time at WSU

During her first year at WSU, Heather participated in the pre-vet club and the Ignite program, a research internship through the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences (CAHNRS). Since entering the Animal Science field, Heather has realized that being around the animals, and studying science and medicine is where she feels most at home. “My degree program is fun,” she said. “I look forward to learning more about the different topics.” Heather is still deciding in which area of vet medicine she wants to specialize. “Since WSU teaches exotics, large, and small animal medicine,” she said, “I can learn about all of the areas before I make a decision.”

Heather Rogers snuggles with her miracle cat, Scarlet.
Heather Rogers snuggles with her miracle cat, Scarlet.

Heather speaks very highly of her experiences with the faculty and staff in her department and at WSU as a whole. “The first Animal Science course I took,” she said, “was with at least 100 other students, but the professor learned our names in a few weeks.” Heather spends a lot of time doing schoolwork and participates in student-life activities on campus and in the Pullman community. “There seems to be a good relationship between Pullman and WSU,” she said. “There is a variety of things for students to do on- and off-campus. I appreciate the number of activities available to those under 21, too, like playing pool and swing dancing.”

Heather works as a consultant at the WSU Writing Center and volunteers in the Exotics Department at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital (VTH). She said, “At the VTH, I help with cleaning, feeding, restocking, and anything else the staff needs. Volunteering gives me the chance to observe surgeries and treatments, and to learn about the different animals that pass through the department.” Heather also serves as a CAHNRS Ambassador and volunteers for the Palouse Area Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) program, which, among other things, helps children with disabilities learn how to ride horses.

Donors Create Dreams

When Heather was still a senior in high school, she’d started scouting universities for vet-med programs. Part of her decision, like many other college hopefuls, depended on which university offered the most generous financial aid package. “A different university I’d considered had lower tuition,” she said. “But WSU’s vet-med program is excellent, and they offered me enough financial aid to cover tuition and the mandatory first-year room and board.” Heather received a Pell Grant, Cougar Commitment Grant, and the Dean’s Merit Scholarship through CAHNRS. She also received the WSU Regent’s Scholarship, which is partially funded by the June Witter Gagliardi Scholarship and awards Washington’s top-achieving high school students.

After earning her bachelor’s degree, Heather plans to attend veterinary school. “I know I want to be a practicing veterinarian,” she said, “and I’m still open to an area of specialty.” When asked what she’d like to tell the donors who fund scholarships, she said: “Thank you. Without your generosity, I would probably have an enormous amount of debt even before attending professional school, which is even more expensive. With the help of your financial support, I am able to dedicate more time to my studies and less to wondering how to make ends meet. I put a lot of effort into my classes and gaining experience. The scholarships you help provide make that possible.”