Army Captain grinds out reps for kittens and puppies
January 15, 2020 - 11:12 am
Army vet courtesy photo


By Joe Lacdan, Army News Service

FORT MEADE, Md. -- One night while Danica Goodheart worked the overnight shift at an emergency veterinary clinic in Concord, New Hampshire, a middle-aged couple emerged from the winter cold carrying a bleeding pit bull.

As police sirens flashed outside, another man walked in, clutching a wet and injured golden retriever. Goodheart, only a year removed from graduating veterinary school at Auburn University, learned that two dogs had grappled with another dog on a frozen lake.

Police had fired at the dogs in an attempt to break up the fight and a bullet hit one of the dogs.

For more than two hours Goodheart worked on the pit bull as the distressed couple sat in the waiting room. She mended and treated the bullet wound after the projectile had torn through the dog's abdomen. She also treated the second canine for hypothermia and bite wounds.

When Goodheart approached the couple in the waiting room to tell them that their pit bull would survive, their eyes welled with tears.

"I will never forget the look on their faces," Goodheart said, adding that all the late-night effort was worth it.

Now two years later, her peers say that Capt. Goodheart takes the same determined approach as a military veterinarian -- whether treating military working dogs or conducting physical fitness and weight training.

"She will put 110 percent effort into whatever she's doing," said co-worker Capt. Chelsi Blume.

A fitness junkie since her teen years, Goodheart has continued to train and keep in peak shape. She spends up to 25 hours a week in the gym.


Her efforts paid dividends last August in her first bodybuilding competition at the Jay Cutler Classic in Richmond, Virginia. There the 29-year-old Goodheart placed first, winning the overall figure championship for women. Goodheart had only trained for four months as a bodybuilder, hiring strength coach Nic Wightman shortly after arriving at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

"I had a really good coach and a good trainer and people that supported me throughout it," she said.

It also helped that she had been in great shape prior to beginning the training. She had been an athlete most of her life, competing in Division I track at the University of New Hampshire. She had powerlifted and took part in CrossFit for four years while attending veterinary school.

Blume also has shared her emergence in the sport through social media, amassing more than 42,000 followers for her Instagram handle, "dr.danimal_111."

In addition, she has built meal plans for fellow Soldiers and friends to help them get in shape.

"She's a very caring, kind person," Blume said.

As a veterinary field services officer assigned to the 248th Medical Veterinarian Medical Detachment, at Fort Bragg, she and her seven-person staff are charged with the medical care of military working dogs that provide security services for U.S. forces in the detection of drugs and explosives.

Goodheart, a New Hampshire native, had always planned on joining the Army. But after graduation from veterinary school, she wanted to test herself in critical situations before commissioning and took the job as an emergency room veterinarian. Goodheart said it takes resiliency to meet the demands of the position, which requires veterinarians to constantly train and prepare for a variety of duties, including providing preventive medicine, outpatient care and disease control for pets at military installations. In addition to providing emergency care for military working dogs and other animals, members of the Army's veterinary Corps must prepare for deployments. They also monitor and inspect conditions of food served at Army dining facilities and could provide veterinary expertise during natural disasters and emergencies.

Even before joining the military, Goodheart had understood how to work under duress, having already dealt with the pressures of working in the ER. There she tended to injured dogs and cats and even injured animals found by roadsides.

This April, Goodheart will take part in Defender 2020 a multi-national joint military exercise that will test the Army's ability to project its capabilities from the U.S. to Europe.

Even though she won't be able to compete in this year's Cutler Classic due to mission requirements, she still continues bodybuilding training.

Even when she doesn't compete, Goodheart continues to dedicate her time to the gym, doing deadlifts, powerlifts and other exercises.

"A lot of discipline and hard work," said Blume. "(Bodybuilding) is something that she enjoys doing, but sometimes it's sacrifice giving up some of the fun and more enjoyable things, to be able to do something like that."


Goodheart had grown up on a 100-acre farm, nestled on the eastern shore of New Hampshire's Lakes Region in the small town of Meredith. There, blanketed by the New England countryside, she cultivated her love of animals. She rode a horse that she named Kodiak and competed in barrel racing while her parents bred mountain dogs.

"I was always around animals," Goodheart said. "My mother has a very strong passion for animals and instilled that in us girls."

While attending high school, Goodheart learned of the importance of military working dogs, who often must go into harm's way when searching for explosive devices. That helped spur her toward a career as an Army veterinary doctor.

In the Granite State she also participated in athletics -- gymnastics and track -- a passion that eventually evolved into weight training and powerlifting. Growing up on a farm, where her family grew fruits, vegetables and grains, also instilled a work ethic that Goodheart said she carries with her to this day.

Goodheart approaches each challenge the same way, whether building muscle in the gym or tending to an injured canine in the field.

"She's very hardworking, motivated and self-driven," Blume said