Dennis Summers' career takes him back to the farm

·3 min read

REYNOLDSBURG — Warm memories from his childhood on a farm have led Dr. Dennis Summers to the highest animal welfare position in the Ohio Department of Agriculture.

Summers was named Chief of the Division of Animal Health at ODA in December.

He was born and raised in Dresden, and spent his pre-teen years on his parents' 600-acre cattle farm. As he approached his teen years, his parents moved. His father took a job with AEP in Conesville to spend more time with his children.

"I kind of got out of being around animals," he said, following the move. Summers and his future wife Angela Liggett graduated from Tri-Valley High School in 1996, and Summers went off to The Ohio State University.

"I started out in the engineering program at Ohio State in 1996," he said. "I spent about two years in the program and realized it wasn't the right fit for me."

Thinking back to the happy memories of his childhood, he asked himself how to get back into agriculture. "I explored being a vet."

Unlike many who pursue the profession, Summers said he hadn't always wanted to be a vet, "but I was always fundamentally connected to it," he said of his early years on the family farm.

Late in his sophomore year he moved into the animal science program, and graduated two years later with a bachelor of science in agriculture.

He applied to the highly competitive vet program at Ohio State, and started the program in 2002.

"I wanted to do what I saw the vets do when I was little," Summers said. "I went through all of vet school preparing myself to do large animal medicine."

While he was in school, he developed a particular interest in dairy work. "I was really attracted to dairy science, and dairy production medicine."

After graduation in 2006, Summers spent time in Vermont and Pennsylvania, doing a lot of work in dairies but also working with other barnyard animals. He even worked with more exotic species, like white-tail deer and elk.

In 2019, Summers decided he wanted to take the next step in his career to become board certified as a specialist. He spent a year studying before passing the two-day exam, and became a board-certified preventative medicine specialist through the American College of Veterinary Preventive Medicine.

The certification is focused on public health, such as safety and preventing zoonotic diseases, which can jump from animals to humans. "It is my job to think of things producers, the public and consumers can do to prevent themselves from getting sick. Our job is to understand the diseases livestock can carry that can make humans sick, and target preventative measures." He and his staff monitor diseases locally, across the country and across the world.

Using avian influenza as an example, Summers said his job would be to keep the keep poultry industry running and protect it from diseases. If there was an outbreak, "my job is to get rid of that disease, and help train producers to be proactive against transmission.

"If it does come here, my job is to get them through that event, and get those businesses back up and operating so we can get those products back out to the consumers."

Summers now oversees a large staff of inspectors, veterinarians and a diagnostic lab.

"Ohio has a national impact, agriculture is a billion-dollar industry," in the state, Summer said. "It is a huge poultry state, a huge hog producing state and a huge dairy producing state. There is a very strong beef economy, a very strong sheep and goat economy. Ohio is a big player nationally.

"There is a lot of energy and excitement with this position," Summers said. Having worked at ODA for seven years has helped him understand how the department interacts with the industries its works with.

"I love the people I work with and I love the industries we work with."

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This article originally appeared on Zanesville Times Recorder: Dennis Summers' career takes him back to the farm