Veterinary student realizes life-long dream


49-year-old veterinary student earns DVM after putting her aspirations on hold.

North Grafton, Ma. — Nothing about Cara Kneser points to a typical veterinary graduate.

At age 49, she is at least 20 years older than most of her classmates. And while those classmates were focused on classes and studying and jobs, Kneser also had a husband and four children to consider.

27 years in the making: Dr. Cara Kneser (above and right photos) receiving her diploma from Tufts Dean Deborah Kochevar. Kneser: It was worth the wait.

But the late nights and hard work paid off.

Twenty-seven years after a fateful decision not to pursue her dream, she earned the degree from the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University and officially became a DVM.

"It's still surreal," she said on a summer afternoon, just back from picking up her daughter from softball practice. "I had someone ask me, 'do we call you Dr. Kneser or Dr. Cara?' I said, 'Are you kidding? Just call me Cara. It's really exciting."

Born in New York City, Kneser knew from childhood that she wanted to be a large-animal veterinarian.

She chose Cornell University and earned a bachelor's degree in animal science in 1983 with every intention of heading straight to veterinary school.

"I don't know what was wrong with me," she says of her decision not to go. "Everyone told me you have to have a 4.0 — which I didn't — and straight A's to get into vet school, and I listened."

Instead Kneser headed to New Jersey and took a job at a dairy farm. She ended up "marrying the boy next door," and they bought a farm in upstate New York.

Even though they ended up selling the farm, she found jobs at dairy farms.

And in 2003 that childhood dream came calling again. "I told my husband this is something I've always wanted to do," she said. "I needed to do this."

Kneser attended Eastern Connecticut State University for two-and-a-half years to take a number of prerequisite classes like organic chemistry and microbiology before she could apply to vet school.

She juggled classes and a full-time job while trying to keep up with activities and schoolwork for Dan, a high-school student at the time; Sam and Margit, both in middle school, and 3-year-old Katherine. She said she couldn't have done it without her husband, Dan.

Kneser earned a degree in biology and applied to Tufts, but was rejected.The second time she applied proved to be the charm. She was accepted.

With a strong sense of humor, a solid support system at home, and her life-long dream pushing her forward, Kneser quit her job and headed to Tufts — 80 miles away from her Bozrah, Conn., home.

"We live in a very small town," she explains. "At the beginning of each year I would go to the elementary school and say 'we can do no projects this year.' Of course I found myself a few months later creating an Indian village out of clay thinking the whole time, 'I really should be studying anatomy right now.'"

For four years, Kneser made the almost three-hour, round-trip drive to Tufts.

"All through vet school I thought that if I'd gone right after college, when I was 23, I would have lived on campus and my parents probably would have paid," she says. "But to tell you the truth, I think I was probably better prepared now. Because of life, I think I'm a much better vet now than if I'd gone to school then."

Dr. Eugene White, director of the Tufts Ambulatory Service, agrees.

"She is one of the best students we ever had," he says. "She had the practical experience before school."

White worked with Kneser during her month-long rotation with the ambulatory service, which tends to about 40,000 animals — dairy cows, horses, sheep, goats and swine — a year.

"She can relate to the client because she's been there," White adds. "I think she will be an excellent practitioner."

While at Tufts, Kneser spent her summers working at the Brooklyn-Canterbury Large Animal Clinic, and after two years they asked her if she'd be interested in a job after graduation.

Kneser quickly said yes and soon realized how lucky she was. "I really didn't appreciate it until my classmates were scrambling around looking for a job."

As circuitous as her path was, Kneser said she is happy things turned out this way.

"So many things tell me that this is what I should be doing," she says. An example came to mind during her fourth year as a veterinary student when she had been asked to help in the ,post-surgical care of a horse.

"A month later, I got a picture of the horse and the nicest letter thanking me. I thought 'I just fed your horse and gave it medicine,' ," she says. "This is why I want to be a vet. So many people want to be a vet because they love animals. I do too, but I love working with people. It is such a great profession, and I'm so happy to be a part of it."

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