Dr. Natalie Marks

Chicago veterinarian Dr. Natalie Marks is one of 20 national finalists for America's Favorite Veterinarian. (Handout, Dr. Natalie Marks / August 25, 2014)

Chicago veterinarian Dr. Natalie Marks says she doesn’t just treat pets—she treats families, and they're hoping she'll become America’s Favorite Veterinarian.

Marks, who owns and practices at Blum Animal Hospital in Lakeview, was selected as one of 20 national finalists for the American Veterinary Medical Foundation contest. If she receives the most online votes at americasfavoriteveterinarian.org and wins, she'll serve as the AVMF's spokesperson for the year. The prize includes $500, plus gift packages for her clients' pets.

"It would be a wonderful honor for Blum," Marks, 37, a Roscoe Village resident, told RedEye. "I wouldn't be where I am today without everyone here at Blum and also without my clients. My clients are amazing, amazing people. It’s great to kind of live your passion. I get to do what I love every day."

A committee selected Marks from more than 700 nominees for the second annual contest, reviewing her nominator's essay and her responses to questions about her practice, background, ethics, community involvement and connections with her patients.

Marks grew up with dogs, guinea pigs, fish and hamsters in small-town Sterling, Ill. She said she discovered her love for animals at a close friend's horse ranch, where she often spent days after school and weekends working with horses, goats and chickens. Although she said she'll always love large animals and horseback riding, she chose small animal medicine and graduated from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in 2002.

After joining Blum Animal Hospital in 2006, Marks is now co-owner of the 62-year-old clinic, which is one of Chicago's oldest, according to Marks. She serves on the Chicago Veterinary Medical Association's executive board and has appeared on 'Good Day Chicago,' 'WGN-Pet Central,' 'NBC Morning News' and other local outlets.

Marks walks in the Chicago Pride Parade every year and serves as a veterinary resource for Fred Says, a nonprofit founded by her client that supports HIV-positive teens. She also financially supports 20 local rescues and veterinary-related organizations.

If selected as America's Favorite Veterinarian and AVMF spokesperson, Marks said she would promote awareness of the One Health Initiative, which fuses a human-veterinary medical approach. She said she also hopes to empower women's emerging role as veterinarians and working moms—she is the mother of three children aged 1, 2 and 4, who adore their family’s betta fish Goldie.

Organizer Brittany Coleman, AMVF's marketing and engagement coordinator, said the nomination essay was the most important factor in finalist selections. Marks' seven-year client Arleen Burke, a Lincoln Park resident in her 50s, nominated Marks last June. In her essay, Burke shared a story about discovering her cat's malignant tumor about a year ago while Marks was on maternity leave. Burke told RedEye that Marks called her the same day from her home to walk Burke through the cancer diagnosis.

Although she and Marks decided not to operate, Marks was there for Burke throughout the cat's decline during regular check-ups, phone calls, emails and texts. They put down the cat, named Tiger, earlier this month.

"A more caring, dedicated vet you will never meet and I am so very glad she's mine," Burke wrote. "I feel she deserves any and all recognition she can receive because she goes beyond the call of duty with grace and care."

Two years ago when Burke's mother died, Marks even sent a bouquet of white lilies to Burke's home.

Dr. Carlos Campos of Spring Hill, Fla. won last year's inaugural contest. His practice nearly doubled in size after he won the award. Marks is the first Chicagoan nominated.

Supporters can vote once per day at americasfavoriteveterinarian.org until Sept. 1. The site has already received 66,000 votes. Winners will be announced online in September, but AMVF hasn't announced an exact date.

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