By: Nancy Marchbanks

Bill and Debra met in high school and began dating just days before graduation. They married four years later, in l973. Debra immediately began pursuing a career in Veterinarian medicine as soon as she graduated. It had been her dream since she was in the 7th grade. She attended the University of Kentucky for 2 years, Western Kentucky University for 2 years, then enrolled at the Auburn University college of Veterinarian Medicine in 73. She graduated with honors in 1977, within a class of 115 students. She was one of only nine women in the class.  Debra Nalley worked for a local vet for 7 years before opening her own practice, Animal Care Hospital in Long Beach. She has practiced small animal medicine for 33 years, and has extensive experience in small animal surgery, pediatrics, obstetrics, and internal medicine.
Bill Nalley served in the Navy while Debra attended Auburn. Upon discharge from the military, he attended Mississippi State University and worked toward a nuclear engineering degree. He worked as an engineer for a time at Bell Aerospace, and later wrote technical manuals for the US Navy at Textron Marine Systems. When the jobs were completed, Bill had to go in another direction, working independently. It meant that he would have to travel throughout the country to work, but leaving Debra was out of the question. “We had a long discussion about the possibility of me going back to school to get a degree in Veterinarian medicine, and after months of research and interviews with the admissions dept at MSU-CVM, the Nalley’s decided to go for it. Bill went to school for 2 years (year round) to get the prerequisite courses he needed to apply to Veterinarian school. He graduated in 1996 and joined his beloved wife at the Animal Care Hospital as a staff Veterinarian. They have worked together, side by side for 15 years.
The first building Dr. Debra Nalley called her own was very small. It had a little waiting room, one exam room and a very small pharmacy area that doubled as a surgery suite. There was also a little kennel and just enough space for her office. It was meager yet it provided her with a good start. She had no shortage of patients, and very quickly outgrew the tiny office. Today, Animal Care Hospital is a huge, very busy office with patients coming and going all hours of the day. A new location provided a tremendous amount of space which generously allowed for everything the Nalleys’ wanted. A very large reception room is beautifully decorated with a mural of a tulip garden with a wonderful brass water fountain in front of the mural. A St. Bernard stands on his back legs, happily sipping the water. A most unusual focal point for any office, it is a delightful addition to the decor. There are four examination rooms, a medical library, two surgical suites, a laboratory, pharmacy, radiology room, isolation ward, a huge dog kennel, a separate cat ward, and a large outside exercise area that is completely fenced in.
Animal Care Hospital has the capability to run extensive blood tests in house, using the latest in analyzing equipment. During Vet school, Bill became interested in small animal dentistry and avian medicine. You cannot pursue a specialty course of study during Veterinary school, you must complete all species. Following graduation, Bill enrolled in a special training program for small animal dentistry and became an adjunct clinical professor at MSU-CVM where he taught small animal dentistry for 10 years. He does referral dentistry cases from all over Mississippi and the surrounding states. Dental disease is the most common disease in small animals. By the age of 3 years, 80% of dogs and 70% of cats have periodontal disease. If it goes untreated, it will advance and cause serious metabolic issues involving the heart, lungs, liver and kidneys. Bacteria gets into the bloodstream and spreads to the other organs causing many systemic illnesses. The owner must play a vital role in maintaining good oral health, and can do so by brushing the teeth daily.
Bill treats birds and other exotic pets. Birds are unusual in that they hide symptoms. They can be sick but instinctually act quite normal. They do this because in the wild, if they appear to be ill, they make for easy prey.” Owners must be very familiar with the habits and mannerisms of their birds, so they can recognize when they are acting differently. When this happens, it is imperative that the bird receive medical care right away, do not wait until they are acting sick because by then they are extremely ill and the prognosis becomes quite grave,” Bill said. Other exotics have unique illnesses that make them challenging to diagnose and treat. “All species have different metabolic values and numerous anatomical differences and various diseases that will affect one but not the other,” he added.
The Nalley’s are quite obviously animal lovers. They own a wonderful variety of pets from horses, cats, dogs and a bird. Bill has been raising Yorkshire Terriers for 25 years. Although he would love to enter them in dog show competitions, he simply does not have the time. “I love Yorkies because they have a large dog mentality in a small body. They have a beautiful long, silky coat and they do not shed. I take them everywhere we go and we enjoy them so much,” he said. Happy, healthy pets need attention and love at home. They need a healthy diet and plenty of exercise. Regular wellness check-ups are so important, as are yearly vaccinations. Year round heart worm preventative and flea control is crucial in this South Mississippi climate – make sure your best friends are protected.
There are currently 27 colleges of Veterinarian medicine in the United States. Excellent grades are very important if you are going to have a chance of being accepted. The application process is very different now from when Bill and Debra applied. Today you apply online and can apply to as many colleges as you want to. The acceptance process is also very different from one school to another, so check with the schools that interest you the most.  It also helps to have experience in working in a Veterinarian’s office. “This separates those who have a casual interest, from those that have a true calling to the profession. This is a very challenging career and without question the most rewarding,” Bill said.

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