For some, an early love of animals sparked their lifelong interest in veterinary medicine, but Jessica Stroupe didn’t realize she wanted to be a veterinarian until she was in college.

Stroupe now owns Howard County Veterinary Service near Fayette, working on both livestock and companion animals. The Missouri Women’s Business Center will present her with the “Women Who Own It” award for Howard County at a ceremony Oct. 24 at Cooper’s Ridge in Boonville. The center presents the award to a woman in each of eight counties in central Missouri who owns at least 50 percent of her own business, has goals to grow her business and is active in the community she serves.

“It feels great,” Stroupe said. “I’ve always felt really supported in a lot of my endeavors here.”

Born and raised in Fayette, Stroupe wanted to be a marine biologist. She went to the University of West Florida in Pensacola to study marine biology, where she realized the life of a marine biologist was more lab work and writing grants than sailing the high seas.

When she was home in Fayette during the summer, she shadowed Dr. Richard Taylor and Dr. Ken Vroman at Howard County Veterinary Service, the practice she now owns. She enjoyed the work, and saw how important Taylor, Vroman and the practice were to the community. She also saw how rewarding it was for them to work with clients, she said.

Already in her junior year of college, Stroupe had to switch gears quickly to enter the MU College of Veterinary Medicine. A competitive application includes over 400 hours of work under an experienced veterinarian, she said. Schools also want students to have a range of experience, from small companion animals to large livestock and equines, she said.

Stroupe packed in the work hours and was accepted to MU. She graduated in 2012, and joined Vroman at Howard County Veterinary Service as Taylor retired. When Vroman retired in 2016, she became the full owner of the practice, she said.

Stroupe expected her marine biology career to take her away from Fayette, somewhere near a coast. Her time away at college in Florida taught her to appreciate her hometown, and she was happy to come home. She’s had a lot of support from the community, especially when she was going through treatment for cancer in 2017, she said.

“It’s great to be able to practice in your hometown and be able to help the people you grew up with,” she said.

The practice has about an even split between companion animals and livestock, and each is rewarding in their own way, Stroupe said. She likes working with livestock producers, helping them find ways to keep their animals healthy, and sometimes helping make their operation more profitable. Working with companion animals is rewarding because of the close bonds people form with their pets, she said.

Stroupe has also enjoyed the challenges of being a business owner, she said. She enjoys crunching the numbers and thinking of new business strategies and ways to improve services, she said.

Stroupe recently hired a third veterinarian, Dr. Cody Lewis, onto the practice, which had long been staffed by two doctors. They had gotten to the point where there was more work than she and Dr. Benjamin Potter could handle, and now they’re growing into having three and looking to add more services. The new veterinarian has a keen interest in horses, so Stroupe bought equipment for equine dentistry, which the practice hadn’t delved into before, she said.

Many veterinarians don’t own a practice because of student debt, Stroupe said. Unless they’re independently wealthy, a veterinarian is going to have to take out more loans to buy a practice, she said. But owning her practice actually helped Stroupe pay her student loan debt faster, she said.

“That’s daunting for a lot of people,” Stroupe said. “But a lot of people don’t realize, if you buy the right practice with a good business model, the practice will pay for itself eventually.”

Stroupe said it’s important for her to encourage other women to own veterinary practices. The practice used to be dominated by men, but veterinarians are now mainly women. Stroupe’s graduating class was 85 percent female, she said.

“For a profession that’s predominantly female, it’s good to have more women in leadership, more women owning practices, promoting family-friendly practices,” she said.