New Shelter Rotation Indicative of Industry Interest

UC Davis veterinary students examine a patient in the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital. Photo courtesy of UC Davis.

The University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine (UF) is the latest in a string of US veterinary colleges to introduce a shelter medicine rotation program. Introduced in August, the UF rotation offers students an opportunity to practice surgery skills and get exposure to shelter realities for animals. The schedule filled quickly and a waiting list was formed. Meanwhile, University of California Davis School of Veterinary Medicine graduated its first resident in shelter medicine in October, a veterinary shelter textbook will be published in June, the North American Veterinary Conference offered a full panel of shelter topics for the second consecutive year and the Animal Care Expo – sponsored by the Humane Society of the United States – will feature a shelter veterinarian track in March for the first time in its 13-year event history.

“I have definitely seen a renewed interest in shelter medicine for veterinarians,” said Kate Hurley, DVM, director of Maddie’s Shelter Program at UC Davis and its first resident. “It’s developed into a real field of veterinary medicine.”

Hurley attributes that interest to a realization that veterinarians can play more active roles in reducing the number of animals in shelters, and in protecting shelter animals from illness and euthanasia. “Ending up in shelters is the number one killer of companion animals in the United States,” Hurley said. “Why shouldn’t that be an urgent concern for veterinarians?”

In the future, she believes, more practitioners will counsel clients about pre-selection of animals as well as identify and work on behavioral issues, two main reasons for animal abandonment.

Students who gain a working knowledge of shelter systems appreciate the real-world immersion shelter experiences provide. “It’s the practicality [of the rotation] that they like,” said Natalie Isaza, DVM, clinical assistant professor of shelter medicine for the UF. “Students do surgeries, watch animals recover and take them out to the new owner. They get a big sense of accomplishment from that.”

The educational opportunity is not limited to students. “I have two local veterinarians who volunteer here once or twice a week without fail.” One, whom owns two local practices, “likes to see students who have spay/neuter experience because she hires them,” Isaza explained. “And some of the students are pretty green when they come to me.”

The UF program, a one-credit, two-week rotation for juniors and seniors, is a partnership between the Alachua County Animal Services Shelter, the university and Merial. It is one of the first shelter courses that requires veterinary students to work at a shelter; other programs bring shelter animals to universities. UF students perform an average of 20 spays and neuters, cruelty exams and other medical procedures.

“Students are definitely impacted more concerning shelter medicine and animal welfare problems [by being at the shelter]…otherwise they only see the problem from a vet school point of view…and there is a difference,” said Randy Caligiuri, DVM, shelter director. “Here, they are exposed to shelter animals, all the associated problems they [shelter animals] have and the reasons why they end up here.”