Feed Bites

Friends of Pet Food, Friends in Life

Written by: Louise Calderwood   |   August 27, 2020

Member value, Pets

This past January, the American Feed Industry Association celebrated the launch of the Friend of Pet Food Award by recognizing Gail Kuhlman, Ph.D., and Kate Shoveller, Ph.D., for their achievements in support of companion animal nutrition. With AFIA’s Pet Food Committee all ready to begin the process of selecting the award winners for 2021, I wanted to highlight our inaugural winners and share the importance of their work.

With backgrounds as diverse as their distinctive accents (Gail’s decidedly New York brogue and Kate’s Ontario drawl), the two share a love of animals and careers dedicated to companion animal nutrition. Gail and Kate also share a passion for mentoring young scientists and professionals to follow in their footsteps of professional excellence.

Scott Baker, a member of the AFIA Pet Food Committee, awarded Gail Kuhlman, Ph.D., of Mars Petcare, one of the Friend of Pet Food Awards at the 2020 Pet Food Conference.

Gail Kuhlman’s affinity for animals started at an early age. “I would walk neighborhood dogs for 25 cents and save my quarters in a dog shaped bank,” she remembered. Her inquisitive mind was nurtured by a high school zoology teacher who engaged her in extracurricular activities and care for the classroom menagerie of small animals. When Gail arrived at Cornell University, she was the only city girl in her animal science classes, which were “full of farm boys,” she said, but she quickly immersed herself in the culture as she memorized breeds of sheep and honed her dairy husbandry skills.

It was her experience at Cornell that fostered Gail’s interest in bringing diversity to the field of animal nutrition and her interests continued throughout her graduate career at Iowa State University. Her professional interest in companion animals has afforded leadership opportunities as she has moved through increasingly accountable positions at Ralston Purina, Royal Canin, IAMs, Proctor & Gamble and currently at Mars Petcare, where she is a technical manager of research and development working to bring forth innovative pet diets to the market. Gail held a place on the first roster for the newly launched AFIA Pet Food Committee back in 1996. “My career has always allowed me to follow my curiosity and excitement for new discoveries” she said.

Along the way, Gail has served as a mentor to many colleagues as she participated in the Women of Technology group at Proctor & Gamble and more recently with the women of Mars organization. “I will speak to museum groups, high school classes and Girl Scout troops” Gail said. Sharing the story of her career path allows Gail to spark interest in science and research in young people and foster the next generation of animal scientists.

Kate Shoveller, Ph.D., of the University of Guelph, was awarded one of the Friend of Pet Food Awards at the 2020 Pet Food Conference. 

Kate Shoveller is one of the young scientists who has benefitted from Gail’s sharp mind, high standards and coaching tactics. Kate grew up on a farm surrounded by animals, as much a country girl as Gail was a city dweller. “My family always knew my career would involve animals,” she said, but perhaps not as a trainer, following her “epic failure” trying to launch a kitten circus with a litter of uncooperative barn cats.

Following completion of her graduate degrees and a short stint as the provincial equine specialist for Alberta, Kate spent eight years in the U.S. working for Procter & Gamble and then Mars Petcare. In 2015, she joined the University of Guelph as a faculty member and now focuses her research on energy and amino acid metabolism in mono-gastric animals (primarily cats, dogs and pigs). “I really enjoyed working in the pet food industry, but the draw of family brought me home to Ontario,” she said.

Both women effused about their opportunities to provide career guidance to developing professionals, Gail in the workplace and Kate in the research lab. Gail recognizes her forthrightness when coaching employees, “I give the tough direction that no everyone wants to hear,” she said. Kate credits Gail’s frank demeanor with supporting her professional development and achievements. Kate said her current position requires hours completing paperwork and her outstanding students assure that she stays on top of the science. She said it is “a great feeling to give hard advice to students that makes them better scientists and people.”

Do you know someone who is deserving of this recognition? Nominations for the AFIA Friend of Pet Food Award are open until Sept. 18.

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