Spitrey, who is a nurse, said, "I tell Dr. Campos all the time, 'Are you sure you won't start seeing humans?' Words cannot ever begin to express how much we adore Dr. Campos." The winner was overcome with emotion as he accepted the award.
Cathey said later, "We held the contest to celebrate the AVF's 50th year (the non-profit provides outreach to animals and people during disasters, and supports public education and research), as well as the 150th of the AVMA. And to highlight the special bond we've developed with our pets, and the veterinarians' role."
Over 1,000 people submitted brief stories via social media explaining why their veterinarian should be chosen as America's Favorite. A small group of finalists were pulled from the pack, and the judges (of which I was one) made the final pick.
"Most all the entries had the same theme," said Cathey. "I really believe pet owners have a unique relationship with their veterinarian, different than any other profession has with their clients, from doctors to lawyers to teachers. I'm not in any way meaning to belittle other professions. There's just something special about entrusting the care of your pet."
What's more, Campos' story is indeed a kind of All American tale.
"Ever since I was a little boy in Guatemala, I wanted to be a veterinarian," he said. Campos recalled telling his grandfather, "I want to save as many animals as possible."
Coming to the U.S. for high school, and graduating with admirable grades from Florida State University, Campos was rejected twice by the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine before finally being accepted.
"I remember I was so happy, jumping up and down and hitting the ceiling, literally. My wife (Lisa) supported me through veterinary school," Campos notes as his voice cracks with emotion, pointing out that he's also celebrating his 16th wedding anniversary. "Being my dream, how could I (quit)?" he asks.
Upon graduation, Campos worked at a few animal clinics, then founded St. Francis Veterinary Hospital in Spring Hill in 2010.
"When I opened the hospital and announced that I am bilingual, some people were actually so happy they cried, saying they can now, finally communicate what their dog has. It's wonderful to serve a large subset of the community. I do believe there need to be more bilingual veterinarians."
Spitrey's contest submission noted that Campos is affordable and compassionate. She was among many who wrote about their veterinarian handling end-of-life matters with a loving touch.
"He and his staff took their time, answered all my questions and were supportive of my decision to let him (the family dog) pass in peace," she said. "I will never forget the day we said goodbye to a precious family member. When we adopted Lola, he (Campos) again got on the floor with her as she shook in the corner at her first visit. But as usual, Dr. Campos knows how to become fast friends with our furry family members."
Has achieving his dream been everything Campos expected?
"Absolutely, and then some," he says. For people to feel this way about me -- it is an incredible honor to know that I've made an impression."
(Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can't answer all of them individually, he'll answer those of general interest in his column Send e-mail to PETWORLD(at)STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is http://www.stevedalepetworld.com; he also hosts the nationally syndicated "Steve Dale's Pet World" and "The Pet Minute." He's also a contributing editor to USA Weekend.)