Whitney Joy Engler was remembered as a young woman of small stature but enormous spirit, who inspired others as a nurturer and teacher.
During a commemoration of her life Friday evening, family, friends, mentors and fellow students recalled how their lives were touched by Engler, the 27-year-old UC Davis veterinary student who died March 26, the victim of a murder-suicide.
The commemoration was held in the lobby of the veterinary school’s Valley Hall, where a portrait of of Engler holding her service dog, Rosie, overlooked a row of votive candles and floral arrangements. Many of those who came to pay tribute to Engler brought along their dogs.
Virginia Bigler-Engler, Whitney’s mother, noted that it was Good Friday, the prelude to Easter and a season of rebirth and renewal. On behalf her husband, Dennis, and son, Wesley, she thanked those who gathered to remember her daughter, saying, “You have sustained us. You have helped us.”
Bigler-Engler also reached out to her daughter’s grieving friends, stepping forward to hug a young man whose voice choked as he recalled times he had shared with Whitney.
Anjolie Daryani brought her dog, a Labrador named Ebony. She and Engler, both vet students, studied and trained their service dogs together, she said.
“She was really compassionate and very patient,” Daryani said. “She was always there when you needed her for anything, anything at all.”
Some who came did not know Engler but said they were touched by what they had learned about her since her death. Melanie Burt-Schipke brought her dog, Travis, a German shepherd. She said she lived in the same neighborhood as Engler, although the two had never met. Burt-Schipke said Travis had been treated at the veterinary school several times and she wanted to show the community’s support for the school and Engler’s family.
Engler grew up in San Diego and graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in brain behavior and cognitive science. She was a member of the Davis School of Veterinary Medicine’s class of 2015 and was scheduled to graduate in May. She planned to become a board-certified veterinary behaviorist and wanted to incorporate behavioral and reproductive services in a predominately small-animal clinical practice, according to a tribute posted on the veterinary school’s website.
Melissa Bain, an associate professor in veterinary behavior, was Engler’s mentor for research. She said Engler had presented her research last year at a meeting of the American College of Veterinary Behavior in Denver. She was particularly interested in working to help dogs overcome behavioral problems that sometimes cost them their homes.
“She wanted people to keep their pets,” Bain said.
Bain said she had spent time with Engler’s parents Friday and they recalled when their daughter was in preschool and had her picture taken on a pony. She announced then that she wanted to spend her life working with animals.
“She was happy, motivated and insightful,” Bain said.
Police say Engler was shot by her roommate, 23-year-old Joseph Hein, in the duplex they shared in west Davis. Coroner’s officials said Hein died of a self-inflicted gunshot to the head. Police and Engler’s family have said they do not know the motive for the shooting.
Melinda Faubel Newton, a friend of Engler and a fellow veterinary student, said she almost didn’t come to the Friday’s commemoration because she was working on a farm more than two hours away. “But I realized I had never seen her family face to face,” she said, adding that she felt it was important to share with them her stories about Engler.
Through stories, she said, “we keep the people we love close to us when there is no other way to keep them close.”
Newton said she had learned from her friendship with Engler that “following your passion can create such peace and joy in your life.”
Call The Bee’s Cathy Locke, (916) 321-5287.