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Elizabeth Lawrence, 74, scholar of human-animal relations

Dr. Elizabeth Atwood Lawrence, a pioneer in the field of animal-human relations, overcame sexism in veterinary school to become perhaps the only veterinary-anthropologist in America.

She and her husband traveled to all seven continents so she could study different societies, the role animals played in them, and the interdependence of humans and animals.

Dr. Lawrence, retired professor of veterinary medicine at Tufts University, died Nov. 11 at New England Baptist Hospital of multiple myeloma. She was 74 and a resident of Westport.

Over a career that included raising a family, running a private veterinarian practice, working on a doctorate in cultural anthropology at Brown University, and teaching at Tufts, Dr. Lawrence found the time to write five major books.

Her writings reflected her lifelong love of animals. She highlighted the importance of the human-animal bond, said Dr. Paul Gambardella, former chief of staff at Angell Memorial Hospital. ``Betty's work was very much in line with our mission.''

When she attended veterinary school in the 1950s, there were quotas on women students and, she later wrote, ``women were considered misfits and non-persons.''

``Men in every position at the school made it clear that women did not belong, that we should be at home raising families and that we were unsuited to handling and treating animals,'' she wrote in 1997 in AnthrozoÃos, a multidisciplinary journal of the interactions of people and animals.

Nonetheless, Dr. Lawrence persevered and will be remembered, her Tufts colleague Paul Waldau said yesterday, ``not only for her important role as one of the first female graduates of a veterinary school, but also for the compassion and breadth of vision she pioneered in the study of human-animal relations generally.''

She had doctorates in both veterinary medicine and anthropology and was ``as far as we know, the only veterinary-anthropologist in America,'' said her husband, pastor of the First Congregational Church in Fall River. ``I [just] carried her bags.''

In studying the rodeo, Lawrence said, his wife found the animal was as important as the rider. ``You take the horse away from the cowboy and there is no culture.''

She even delved into the anthropological view of Mickey Mouse. ``Even when you're in the deepest jungle,'' her husband said, ``every kid has [toy] Mickey Mouse ears.''

Dr. Lawrence studied the bond between the Crow Indians and their horses. In the Antarctic, her focus was the wandering albatross. In the Amazon, she studied the musician wren and wrote about the bird's relationship with humans in a lyrical 1997 book titled, ``Hunting the Wren: Transformation of Bird to Symbol.''

Her preface was cautionary. ``By elucidating the ways in which that bird is perceived,'' she wrote, ``a great deal can be learned about how people symbolize animals and the ways in which their symbolic views affect the treatment of those animals ... Human destructiveness toward nature has reached tragic proportions.''

Dr. Lawrence was a much sought-after speaker around the world: at the International Congress of Ornithologists in Vienna, the World Congress of Veterinary Medicine in Perth, Australia, and in Monaco, where she received a distinguished teaching award, one of many given to her.

She was born in Boston, daughter of the late Dr. Warren G. Atwood, a Fall River surgeon for whom a wing of that city's Charlton Memorial Hospital is named, and Leila M. (Redavat).

Dr. Lawrence lived in Fall River during her youth, summering in Westport for many years before moving there permanently in 1960. Dr. Lawrence's father would have liked her to practice medicine with humans, her husband said, ``but she preferred the furred, finned, and feathered.''

She graduated from Mount Holyoke College with a major in English. A lifelong horsewoman interested in equine medicine, she earned her doctorate in veterinary medicine from the University of Pennsylvania in 1956.

``I gave no credence to numerous individuals stressing the value of human medicine over veterinary medicine, those who said women did not have the strength and stamina to treat animals, nor to those who asserted that women's only proper destiny was devoting full time to marriage and family life,'' Dr. Lawrence wrote in her AnthrozoÃos article.

The Lawrences were married in 1957 and moved to California, where her husband was a federal prison chaplain. Dr. Lawrence got her license to practice in California.

In 1960, the couple returned to Westport and converted a barn on their property into an animal hospital, where Dr. Lawrence started a solo practice. She also rode and showed horses until she was 66 and raised Siberian huskies, which she entered in the Westminster Dog Show in Madison Square Garden. She achieved another dream, a library in her home of 15,000 volumes.

While running her home and her practice, Dr. Lawrence earned two degrees at Brown, a master of arts degree in 1976 and a doctor of philosophy degree in 1979, both in cultural anthropology.

In 1979, Dr. Lawrence was offered a professorship at Tufts, where she developed a course in human-animal interactions that she taught for 20 years. The course became mandatory for all first-year students and a national model.

``Betty was a gentle teacher who pushed her students to be rigorous and precise,'' Waldau said.

Dr. Lawrence retired from Tufts in 2001 but continued to advise master's degree candidates.

Besides her husband, Dr. Lawrence leaves a son, Mark, of Texas; a daughter, Rev. Priscilla A. Lawrence Melampy, of Pepperell; a sister, Marjorie Atwood of Virginia; and two grandchildren.

A celebration of her life will be held at 11 a.m. on Dec. 6 at the First Congregational Church in Fall River.

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