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Beloved Harlem veterinarian passes from COVID-19

Posted at 4:59 PM, May 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-23 17:26:50-04

HARLEM, Manhattan — She was groundbreaking in so many ways.

Dr. Julie Butler, a female African American veterinarian, has passed away from the coronavirus and now an entire community of pet owners and neighbors is in mourning.

“It’s devastating because there are not a lot of women of color who are veterinarians,” said Katarina McGinnis, a pet owner and neighbor. “She paved the way.”

McGinnis remembers bringing her pitbull Hank to Dr. Julie Butler and being so impressed by this groundbreaking veterinarian, known for her enormous love for all people and all animals.

Dr. Butler never turned anyone away from her animal hospital even if they could not pay.

"I think that she understood the difficulties that people go through,” her son Alex Howard said. “She had empathy."

Dr. Butler opened the 145th Street Animal Hospital in 1989, at the time the only full service animal clinic in the community.

“From poodles to pitbulls. When she opened up the animal hospital most of the people in the neighborhood were shocked as we were in the restoration stage,” said Lloyd Williams, president of the Great Harlem Chamber of Commerce. “No one anticipated that one of the pioneers would be a veterinarian caring for animals."

Dr. Butler grew up in New Rochelle and earned her doctorate in veterinary medicine from Cornell, the only African American in her class.

The 62-year-old trailblazer founded a nonprofit to help pet owners with the cost of emergency care called NY Save Animals in Veterinary Emergency.

"It was just a testament to the type of person that she was. Not only in her business but just in general with her friendships and acquaintances, all of the hobbies that she had,” Howard said. “All of the groups that she was a part of,” he added.

Dr. Butler was 62 when she died of complications from the coronavirus, leaving behind her husband, two children and a world of pet owners and neighbors who adored her.