Dr. Susan Keller, state veterinarian and director of the Animal Health Division of the North Dakota Department of Agriculture for nearly 25 years, plans to retire at the end of June.

“Dr. Keller’s absence will definitely be felt both in the department and throughout the agriculture and animal health sectors in North Dakota,” Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring said in a statement. “She has been key in monitoring, managing and controlling contagious animal health diseases in the state. Her commitment to and comprehensive knowledge of the industry are valuable assets that will be difficult to replace.”

Keller’s love for animal health was instilled in her at a young age on her family farm in northeast Kansas.

“We had dairy, beef, horse, pigs, dogs and cats. I always liked animals. I spent a lot of time working outside with animals when I was younger,” she said.

Dr. Keller earned her bachelor’s degree in animal science and industry, and Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree at Kansas State University. After graduation, she practiced veterinary medicine at a large animal practice in Bowman, N.D. After moving to Mandan, N.D., she worked at a veterinary clinic for a short time before building her own practice on her family ranch. She operated the clinic, Countryside Animal Clinic, until December 1997. She then began her tenure with the North Dakota Department of Agriculture and the State Board of Animal Health as the deputy state veterinarian. She was appointed state veterinarian in 2004.

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Keller said it’s the connection with the producers that she will miss the most.

“I’ve gotten to know many people and, even though there have been some really tough conversations, I think I’ll really miss those interactions with producers,” she said.

Keller said a lot has changed over the course of her career. She used to almost exclusively work with large food production animals but has pivoted to also tend to small or companion animals as well as some exotic animals.

The biggest change Keller has seen, however, has been the evolution of communication.

“It’s been phenomenal to see all the changes that have happened since I started. When I first started (at the North Dakota Department of Agriculture), they had just moved to an electronic communication system, meaning e-mail,” she explained. “At the time, we couldn’t accept e-signatures. Now, veterinarians are using electronic health certificates and we see the implementation of electronic identification. Sometimes the communication comes so fast now that we have to take a step back and double-check that everything is accurate and that we are hearing and reading everything.”

As she reaches the final stages of her professional career, Keller leaves in high regard to her colleagues and peers.

“Dr. Keller has been the epitome of state veterinarians,” Dr. Gerald Kitto, new president of the State Board of Animal Health said. “I’ve been a veterinarian in two states and have worked with several state veterinarians. She stands out among them.”

“Dr. Keller is pleasant, responsive and has always been careful to get full board support for decisions,” added Melvin Leland, former president of the State Board of Animal Health said. “I very much appreciated her approach. She is a hard worker, dedicated to her position and has committed many hours to animal health.”

Keller and her husband, Dwight, live south of Mandan on the Keller Broken Heart Ranch. They have three grown children and Susan looks forward to working with and spending more time with her family.