It was a sickly stray cat that brought Min “Maddie” Liu (’21 DVM) to tears on her first day at Bonnie L. Hays Animal Shelter in Hillsboro, Oregon.

She didn’t know his owner or his story.

But she cared and wept for the cat when veterinarian Nicole Putney (’11 DVM) determined euthanasia was the most humane option.

Min Liu
Min Liu (Photo Henry Moore Jr.)

“I just remember crying and Dr. Putney said, ‘This cat is lucky there is a person that cares so much for him,’” Liu recalls. “I will always remember that day.”

Liu could have decided she didn’t have what it takes to be a veterinarian, but Putney provided reassurance, and they formed a bond. Putney became Liu’s mentor and ultimately hired her as a veterinary assistant in 2013.

“I shadowed her for hundreds of hours,” Liu says. “We became very close. Dr. Putney’s the one who told me to apply to vet school.”

In her late 30s, Liu walked away from an established, 14-year career in human resources and enrolled at Portland State University to earn the credits needed to apply to veterinary school. She previously worked for Motorola Asia and IBM Asia in China before moving to the United States for a position at Tektronix, headquartered in Oregon.

Her career change was inspired by a simple trip to a local veterinarian’s office after her nine-month-old yellow Lab, Jade, suffered a leg injury. Liu was struck by the compassion shown to her pet. “I didn’t know animals could get that quality of treatment,” she says.

Compassion comes naturally to Liu, a small animal veterinarian who regularly volunteers at spay and neuter clinics. She once adopted a senior dog with multiple systemic illnesses just to give him a home during his last days. She’s also been known to travel to neighboring states to say goodbye to a dog with a terminal illness.

Her dedication hasn’t gone unnoticed.

“Maddie had all the qualities we hope for in an applicant; she was prepared, organized, compassionate, and ready,” says Stacey Poler, director of recruitment at the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine. “Maddie never does anything halfway, and the field of veterinary medicine is lucky to call her their own.”

A native of Wuhan, China, she faced many hurdles during her nascent veterinary career, including the death of her mentor. Putney wasn’t there to congratulate Liu when she received her acceptance letter to WSU’s DVM program. Putney took her own life on May 29, 2015. She was 32.

Suicide is an increasing problem in the veterinary profession, to the point that the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) is providing special resources directed at suicide prevention. According to the AVMA, 11,620 veterinarians took their own lives from 1979 through 2015.

Sometimes, on her toughest days, Liu will sit down and write to Putney, knowing her friend will never read the words. “I write my feelings that day, how I feel about school, if I made the right move, happy thoughts, sad thoughts. We were really close,” Liu says. “Dr. Putney is my mentor, and she’s always there with me.”

Tragedy struck again in 2020 when Liu’s father, Guiyun Liu, the last member of her family in China, died at the height of the COVID pandemic due to heart complications and an inability to receive prompt care at Wuhan’s packed hospitals. “I couldn’t go back, and I didn’t even say goodbye. It hit me hard,” Liu says. “Honestly, coming back to school and having my classmates there helped me settle down.”

Liu found where her biological family would have stepped up, her Coug family did.

“I had so many people ask me, ‘Do you need a hug?’ and offering to help,” Liu says. “That’s what’s different about WSU, that sense of family doesn’t go away; it’s not a first impression.”

While it’s been years since that sickly cat brought her to tears and much has changed since then, her sincere care for and love of animals hasn’t wavered.

Says Liu, “The happiest moment for me is seeing an animal wagging their tail out of the hospital.”