Dayton native and veterinary dermatologist Dr. Joya Griffin, a Dayton Christian High School graduate, stars in the new Nat Geo WILD series “Pop Goes the Vet with Dr. Joya,” which premiered Jan. 1.
The personable, eye-opening series chronicles Griffin through dermatologic explorations of animal care at the Animal Dermatology Clinic in Louisville and Lexington, Kentucky as well as Evansville, Indiana. In the series premiere, titled “I’m All Ear Worms,” the focus centered on five special canines. Among those featured were rescued Maltese Johnny B Good diagnosed with hypothyroidism, an attack on the thyroid gland, and labradoodle Cooper coping with a woolly worm, a giant mat of hair that blocks the ear canal.
However, the most dramatic case involved Buttercup, a four-week-old Siberian husky suffering from pemphigus foliaceus, an autoimmune disease. Griffin noted Buttercup was the youngest and smallest dog she ever diagnosed with pemphigus. Buttercup’s bubbly transformation to better health was an exciting highlight.
Throughout the episode, Griffin’s charm, relatability and expertise is evident in her great love and concern for her furry patients. She’s also astute with a microscope, deciphering correct steps to take in order to handle infections of all sorts.
“Whether it has two legs or four legs, all the animals are Joya’s little babies,” said Dr. Jeff Tinsley, first-year resident.
Lifelong love of animals
A graduate of Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, Griffin says she knew she wanted to be a veterinarian from about the age of 7.
“I would take in strays,” she said. “We had a rabbit, frogs, lots of cats, a few dogs and, at one point, a snapping turtle. I had a special connection to them and wanted to treat them when I grew up.”
When she arrived at Cornell, located in Ithaca, New York, she became more interested in veterinary dermatology. It is a medical field requiring extra training beyond veterinary school including a 1-year internship or practice equivalency followed by a 3-year residency program and additional specialized conditions leading up to becoming board certified.
“My family had a Lhasa Apso named Gizmo who was actually my ‘replacement’ when I went away to undergrad,” she said. “She had the worse skin and suffered so badly she had to live in an e-collar for over a year. As soon as I moved to Ithaca, I scheduled an appointment with the dermatology service. The transformation they were able to make in my baby was amazing. She regrew her hair, wasn’t stinky anymore, and was able to live a happy and healthy life until the age of 13-and-a-half. I knew then I wanted to specialize in veterinary dermatology. Her improvement meant the world to me, and I wanted to be able to do the same for my patients and their pet parents.”
The veterinary version of ‘Dr. Pimple Popper’
Two years ago, Griffin seized an opportunity to have her own TV show by simply having the courage to respond to a unique request.
“I answered an inquiry looking for someone to be the veterinary version of ‘Dr. Pimple Popper,’” she said, referring to California dermatologist and YouTube sensation Dr. Sandra Lee and her popular TV series. “I read the email and thought, yes, that’s me.”
After interviewing with a producer and sharing her story and the cases she treated, the production company compiled the footage and pitched it to Nat Geo WILD. Filming began in March of 2021.
“The breadth of cases we treated at the clinic (ranged) from the grossest, crusty immune-mediated cases to allergic, itchy pets,” she said. “Nat Geo WILD loved what they saw and picked up the show right away. It was a long process from my first interview with the producer to actually filming with lots of tiny hurdles along the way (such as) the pandemic, finding a place to film and getting permission to film at our satellite clinics. The hard work eventually paid off and it’s been amazing ever since.”
Bringing attention to the field
Griffin, residing in Louisville with her husband and three children, became a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Dermatology in 2010 and joined the Animal Dermatology Group. She hopes her series fuels stronger interest in her field, particularly from a diversity standpoint.
“Daily I have pet parents who come in saying they didn’t know a veterinary dermatologist existed, that they wish they knew sooner,” she said. “(I’m) hoping to change that and for people to seek out dermatologists in their geographic area to get the best care for their babies by seeing the cases we treat. There are only a little over 300 boarded veterinary dermatologists in the country with only four Black women and currently no men who are boarded in that group. I am hoping more POC will see us and become interested in the field. My resident, Dr. Jeff Tinsley, will soon be the first Black veterinary dermatologist after taking his boards in fall 2023.”
While a writing seminars minor at Johns Hopkins University, Griffin loved writing short stories and poetry. In fact, she fantasized about a writing a book which would be turned into a screenplay, allowing her to see her story acted out on the big screen. She is humbled by her series and desires to leave an indelible imprint.
“It’s a dream,” she said. “I feel so fortunate and honored to be a little girl from Dayton, Ohio who was given this grand opportunity. I never imagined this but am thrilled to tell my story in this way – to be able to show the world the patients I treat and the fun I have while doing it, to show my amazing pet parents who touch my life by the amazing dedication they have to their babies and the trust they instill in me to get them back to a happy and healthy state, and to show my talented and loyal staff who love our patients as much as I do. I always felt I had a story to tell.”
HOW TO WATCH
“Pop Goes the Vet with Dr. Joya” can be seen on Nat Geo WILD Saturdays at 10/9c and will be available on Disney+ on Jan. 5.