The ding alerting Craig Nishimoto (’82 Bacterio., ’83 Vet. Sci., ’84 DVM) of a new Facebook message prompts him to quickly check the social media site. The communiqué could be related to an animal in need some 2,600 miles away on a small island chain in the South Pacific.

For much of the past decade and throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, American Samoa has struggled to retain a practicing veterinarian. The absence has left animals in need of veterinary care and Nishimoto’s Facebook Messenger dinging more and more often with notes from government officials seeking advice on everything from skin conditions to respiratory infections. Nishimoto didn’t always operate over Facebook.

Before the pandemic, the Kauai, Hawaii-based veterinarian and his family made a handful of trips to American Samoa in support of animals and public health. During his first trip, his family hosted a low-cost, four-day spay and neuter clinic. They spayed or neutered 80 animals, examined another 16, and performed two amputations. Nishimoto also helped two families receive health certifications so their pets could enter the US mainland.

This work was partly why he was recently awarded the Washington State University Alumni Association’s highest honor: the Alumni Achievement Award. Nishimoto was nominated for the award by Alofa mo Meaola Love for Animals, a grassroots nonprofit alternative humane society dedicated to the welfare of animals in American Samoa.

This work is also why many on the island say Nishimoto is aiga, meaning “family” in Samoan.

“I enjoy giving back to the community, both locally and throughout the world,” says Nishimoto, a dedicated Rotarian at Poipu Beach. “I’m selfish; it gives me joy to help others.”

His Rotary Club raised enough money to construct and manage a preschool in Cambodia’s Pursat province. Now, when children in the small village are done with their daily classes, they get extra education and nourishment, and a crash course in English, too.

“We had been doing clean water projects and bringing dictionaries to students over there, but we wanted to do a more lasting project,” Nishimoto says. “Part of our preschool program is that the students have a high-protein breakfast, to give them a good meal.”

While the urge to give back has led Nishimoto to humanitarian work, it’s also the same thing that attracted him to veterinary medicine more than four decades ago. That’s when he first picked up late veterinarian James Herriot’s book All Creatures Great and Small during his junior year of high school.

“I really liked the idea of helping people in need and animals that couldn’t help themselves. That’s never changed,” Nishimoto says.

He hopes to pass on the trait to his two children, Matthew (’21 Neurosci.), and Christine (’17 Microbiol.), who has been at WSU since 2013 and is in her final year of WSU’s doctor of veterinary medicine program. The plan is for her to take over the family practice, Paradise Animal Clinic, the only veterinary clinic on the western half of Kauai.

“I love my family and seeing my kids grow up as successful young people,” Nishimoto says. “I think I instilled in them the desire to help others and not just think of themselves.”