An email came up with Jane Goodall’s name on it. Thinking it might be spam, Anna Katogiritis almost clicked the trash-can icon.

Instead, Katogiritis opened a treasure chest from an icon.

Goodall, the globally renowned chimpanzee researcher and conservationist, was sending Katogiritis to a summer of research in 2015 at the institute that bears Goodall’s name in the Republic of Congo.

That started Katogiritis, a 2018 veterinary graduate from the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech, on the path to a prolific career in animal welfare and environmental advocacy and clinical support, founding multiple nonprofit organizations to advance those causes in her native Greece and around the world while also working as independently contracted emergency relief veterinarian and consultant based in the Washington, D.C.-Baltimore area.

In the fall, Katogiritis was featured in a CNN Travel article about returning to her native Greece to fulfill a childhood promise to help the many stray cats on the island of Karpathos, working through Animal Welfare Karpathos, a nonprofit, all-volunteer organization she founded in 2020.

Katogiritis’ passion for animal welfare and One Health – the overarching concept that animal, human, and environmental health are inextricably intertwined – has led her to found an organization that looks far beyond the borders of Greece or the United States.

In February 2022, Katogiritis founded Veterinary Global Aid (VGA), an organization supporting animal welfare, environmental health, and their interactions with human health through expertise and education intended to change the way animals are treated across the world.

“In an effort to expand the work that I do internationally, we created Veterinary Global Aid,” Katogiritis said. “It is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that is based in Washington, D.C. Just like Animal Welfare Kapathos, VGA has the full endorsement of Dr. Goodall, who recorded the video for us that is on our homepage.”

While VGA strives to find ways to provide free health care to animals that need it around the world, Katogiritis’ aims are much wider. 

“Part of the mission for VGA is also to inspire young kids and youth to take action for animals in their areas,” Katogiritis said. “I've come to understand over the years that unless you involve kids in anything you do, there's really no future in our efforts. So when I do spay-and-neuter campaigns or any program that involves animals, I always invite schools to join. I usually go to schools a day before and teach the kids with interactive storytelling. And then I invite the kids to the program, and I have them see firsthand what we do.” 

Katogiritis’ commitment to education extends to young adults as well, as three veterinary students have interned with her in Greece.

“Dr. Anna Katogiritis always had specific goals she wanted to achieve and some of those were pretty lofty goals,” said Jacquelyn Pelzer, assistant dean of student support and admissions for the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine program and a mentor of Katogiritis. “Whether that was working with Jane Goodall or advocating for the feral cat population in Karpathos, she didn’t take no for an answer.  Dr. Katogiritis knows how to make things happen.”

Katogiritis began dreaming of being a veterinarian even before she knew that animal doctors existed.

“The island I was raised on, like many parts of Greece, has thousands of stray cats,” Katogiritis said. “And they were always my inspiration on why I wanted to become a veterinarian. When I was growing up, I thought veterinarians did not exist because the island didn't really have any. So in my naive 5-year-old mind, I'm like, ‘OK, we have tons of medical doctors, we have zero animal doctors in the world.’ And that's kind of how it started for me.”

Katogiritis is a daughter of both Greece and Virginia. Her father operated a restaurant in Virginia Beach for 30 years, qualifying the family as Virginia residents. 

“We would go to Virginia to spend time with my dad who was here for five months at a time,” Katogiritis said. “And because we had that Virginia tax break, when I was applying to veterinary schools and got accepted by schools in both the U.K. and the U.S., it just made financial sense that I would come to Virginia-Maryland. That turned out good because that’s where I met my husband.”

Thomas Rogers-Cotrone '07, DVM '14, Ph.D. '17 wasn’t the only life-changing personal connection Katogiritis made during veterinary school.

Goodall gave a lecture in Leesburg, and Katogiritis traveled from Blacksburg to see her hero.

“I wrote a letter, and I put it in an envelope,” Katogiritis said. “I sat in the lecture. At the end, they had the book signing, and obviously, I was shaking like a leaf when I went up to her and handed her the letter. And I just remember her looking at me from top to bottom. She's very observant of people. She’s just very into details.”

Katogiritis’ letter was placed on a pile of letters Goodall had already received. “I was thinking, ‘She has over 100 letters here. Forget it. So, I got my book signed and I left. Then, about two weeks later, I get this email that says it’s a message from Jane Goodall, do not share. I thought it was spam. I almost deleted it.”

Instead, it was Goodall wanting to send her to the Republic of Congo to be a volunteer veterinary assistant at the Jane Goodall Institute’s Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Center and Sanctuary.

“She told me that my backstory was inspirational,” Katogiritis said. “And she said, ‘I want to support you and your dreams. I want to send you to Africa so you can study chimpanzees and then see where we can take it from there.’ And literally that next year, I flew to Africa. I saw her a couple more times, so our relationship grew a little more. Now it’s like she’s part of the family. She just emailed me yesterday.”

Katogiritis founded and served as executive director for Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots Greece from 2016-20, an organization that created partnerships with nongovernmental organizations, coordinated Goodall’s tours and her global Roots & Shoots program in Greece, and organized seminars for educators and youth to teach and inspire them for action to improve the welfare of animals, people and the environment.

And Katogiritis continues to look fondly back on her time at Virginia Tech.

“By the time I got accepted into Virginia-Maryland, I obviously knew there are a bunch of veterinarians and veterinary schools,” Katogiritis said. “But the quality of veterinary medicine that is being practiced in the U.S. is something that I wasn't familiar with until I got into Virginia-Maryland. And the biggest part for me was not only that VMCVM gave me an opportunity to study a highly competitive field, but also that the professors were extremely supportive and understanding that I was coming from a different background. I was away from my family, so they became my home away from home in many ways.”

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