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The AKC Humane Fund, Inc. is pleased to announce the 2016 recipients of the Sir John D. Spurling Scholarship, celebrating the human-canine bond. Each year, the AKC Humane Fund awards five full-time students enrolled in courses of study that contribute to the well-being of dogs and the advancement of responsible pet ownership.

The scholarship is named in honor of Sir John D. Spurling, Chairman of the Board of PetPartners, Inc. which provides comprehensive and affordable pet health insurance to dog and cat owners throughout the United States.

“Each of the five recipients has demonstrated excellence in their academic records and has community experience with pet and animal welfare,” said AKC CEO and President Dennis Sprung. “These students are the future generation of responsible pet owners and pet care professionals. We could not be more pleased to help contribute to their studies.”

The AKC Humane Fund awards $2,000 to each of the five scholarship recipients, payable as tuition assistance to accredited institutions in which each the student is enrolled in courses of study focusing on the care of pets.

The 2016 recipients are:

Linnea Thraen of St. Paul, MN

Linnea Thraen is currently in her third year at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul, MN, where she is pursuing her Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine. Her overall goal is to become a small animal veterinarian working in primary care with a special interest in nutrition, surgery and theriogenology.

In addition to her studies, Linnea is on the board of several clubs and organizations including Alpha Psi Veterinary Fraternity and the Sled Dog Medicine Club. She also has been on the board of the Student Society of Veterinary Surgery. In the future, she hopes to own her own veterinary practice where she plans to keep up with the constantly evolving field.

Zong Peng of Creighton, NE

Zong Peng is beginning his first year at the University of Nebraska, in Lincoln, NE this August, where he will pursue a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine.

Zong became an avid dog lover after having purchased an Irish Setter from a responsible breeder in 2011. He began his journey into the world of AKC dog shows with his Irish Setter, Emmett, who quickly earned his champion title in the show ring. His second Irish Setter, Allison, finished both her championship and grand championship.

Being involved in AKC dog shows and becoming an Irish Setter breeder himself, Zong saw first-hand how rewarding it is for a human and canine to work collaboratively toward a goal. Zong is an active member of the Irish Setter Club of America (ISCA) where he was awarded the New Member Award as well as the ISCA Foundation’s Marion Baird Neville Veterinary Scholarship. He wants to specialize in theriogenology and become a reproductive veterinarian, as well as research genetic issues to continue breeding the healthiest dogs possible.

Kristina Baltutis of Burlington, NC

Kristina Baltutis is in her final year at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, NC, pursuing a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine. Her curriculum is mainly focused on companion animal medicine, specifically dogs and cats. She has served as President of the Student Chapter of the Society for Theriogenology (SCSFT) and is also a member of the Companion Animal Wellness Club (CAWC). Kristina has also volunteered on campus at the CAWC’s Dog Olympics, an annual event that celebrates the human-animal bond through athletic and non-athletic competitions. She recently began working with the Alamance Kennel Club in North Carolina to implement curriculum on responsible pet ownership and dog breeding in the area schools.

Kristina believes that contributing to the health and well-being of animals is not only caring for them, but also educating her clients on responsible pet ownership and helping to strengthen the human-animal bond.

Olivia Cox of South Bend, IN

Olivia Cox is a first year student at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY where she is pursuing her Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine with a focus on neonatal/prenatal care, genetic counseling and reproductive medicine. Olivia hopes to join Cornell’s foaling team as well as the Theriogenology Club.

While pursuing a PhD in biochemistry at the University of Notre Dame, Olivia’s research led her to a special interest in responsible breeding programs and their relationship to congenital birth defects. Olivia has a strong passion for minimizing the occurrence of these malformations in purebred dogs, specifically. She would like to use her expertise to create a low-cost counseling program for those desiring to establish a canine breeding program. Through genetic screening and client education, Olivia’s goal is to improve the genetic health of purebred canines, with client education as a fundamental aspect of her practice. Her ultimate goal is to help animal owners breed responsibly, producing healthy offspring.

Lena Sanchez of Albuquerque, NM

Lena Sanchez is a first year student pursuing a degree in Animal Science at New Mexico State University (NMSU) in Las Cruses, NM as a prerequisite for a future degree in Veterinary Medicine. In her field of study at NMSU, Lena will be focusing primarily on canine genetics, breeding, nutrition, behavior and care. Many of her courses are designed to encourage ethical treatment of companion animals by teaching everything from genetics and behavior of domestic canines to the importance of the relationship between pet and owner.

Lena is from the Jicarilla Apache Nation, located in northern New Mexico where she had her first experiences with animals. On the reservation, Lena interacted with both livestock and companion animals including cattle, sheep, horses and dogs.

Through the nonprofit organization she developed, Generation Ag, Lena hopes to help people gain access to resources to keep their animals healthy, while also encouraging Native Producers to practice responsible animal stewardship. Lena hopes to return to her reservation once she has her final degree in Veterinary Medicine to set up her own veterinary practice.

For more about other AKC Humane Fund grants, visit

The scholarships go to five full-time students enrolled in courses of study that contribute to the well-being of dogs and the advancement of responsible pet ownership.