The UC Davis shelter medicine boot camp is open for business

Established in 2001, the Koret Shelter Medicine Program at the AAHA-Accredited UC Davis Veterinary Hospital was the first dedicated shelter medicine program at a veterinary school.

In 2021 the program received a grant from the Wiederhold Foundation to develop a focused Bootcamp on Behavior, Training, and Enrichment in animal shelters.  That was followed by becoming a part of the Maddie’s Million Pet Challenge with the goal of expanding their online learning for animal shelters through the creation of a “Learniverse” of animal shelter education and support. 

The combination allowed UC Davis to both develop and begin regularly offering their Behavior, Training, and Enrichment Bootcamp to animal shelters throughout the country. Their pilot Bootcamp launched last February and included more than 60 participants from 8 animal shelters. A second Bootcamp launched in mid-April with more than 100 participants from 10 shelters.

NEWStat reached out to the Koret Shelter Medicine Program’s resident behavior and training expert  Cynthia Delany, DVM, KPA-CTP, to find out more.

NEWStat: Why did Koret launch the bootcamp?

Cynthia Delany: To inspire shelter leaders to implement a humane, community-centered approach to animal care and shelter management, [one] focused on prevention and grounded in science.

One of our main strategies is outreach to shelters to support effective management practices, improve shelter facility design and practices to sustain animal health and welfare, as well as training the next generation of shelter medicine veterinarians and other shelter professionals.

A lot of our work has been working with shelters one-on-one through consultations.  Approximately 5 years ago we were interested in finding ways to scale our work to help more shelters.  We began offering online “Bootcamps” for shelter leaders and have been working to improve that Bootcamp model over time.

NEWStat: How did the pandemic influence that decision?

CD: The pandemic offered an opportunity to really explore this area of online learning to scale impact and led to the creation of our Shelter Medicine Portal as a central location for a variety of online learning offerings.  Initially we focused largely on animal shelter response to the pandemic and how to adjust operations to continue to provide needed care for animals and the community.

Our programs initial focus had been on shelter medicine and related areas but over time we expanded our knowledge and outreach to encompass additional areas that impacted the health and welfare of animals in shelters—Including housing, intake management, helping shelters assess and stay within their capacity for care and other broader areas.

NEWStat: How has shelter medicine changed since UC Davis established the program?

CD: There has been a massive and amazing shift in the incorporation of veterinary medicine into daily shelter operations. Most shelters now have veterinary staffing and provide needed care. 

One of the newer challenges arising in many shelters, as euthanasia for pure overpopulation has begun to decline, has been to focus on behavior challenges of animals in shelters. Shelters themselves are challenging environments for any animal and result in significant fear, anxiety, stress, and frustration for the animals who find themselves in that setting.  This means that for shelters to continue to improve and better serve animals and their communities we need to make sure shelter staff—and the community—have the information and resources they need to not just provide housing and medical care but also behavioral support, training, and environmental enrichment for the animals in their care.

Our overall goal is always to try to keep animals out of shelters unless it’s absolutely necessary for them to receive services in one.  Even then, once in the shelter our over-riding goal is to ensure that animals spend as few nights [there] as possible while still ensuring they’re moving to an appropriate outcome given their needs.

NEWStat: How is the Bootcamp set up? Is it all online? Or is there an in-person component?

CD: The Bootcamp includes online content hosted on our Shelter Medicine Portal and a private group discussion on Maddie’s Pet Forum. [It] features a large “Animal Welfare Community” group open to anyone in the industry but also allows us a private forum for our Bootcamp discussions. We hold 2 live Zoom meetings each week during the Bootcamp in which we review the content and shelters participate in assessing their own Behavior, Training, Enrichment programming, sharing information with the group and beginning an Action Plan of things they’d like to implement to improve their policies and practices. We are also offer one-on-one time with each shelter to consult with their Bootcamp coach about areas where they need assistance or would like input. 

Typically, we do try to perform site visits to nearby shelters during or after Bootcamp but that’s not a requirement and allows more distant shelters to participate in the Bootcamp.

NEWStat: Who’s eligible to apply?

CD: Any shelters is eligible to apply. At this time our greatest focus is on public or private shelters with an actual brick-and-mortar building [as opposed to foster-based rescues].  We’ve been attempting to have a balance of medium to large shelters. We find that a group of participants from the shelter is most likely to lead to success in not only learning about the policies, programs, and practices, but also getting new programs implemented and existing programs revised. Typically, that means representation from upper and/or middle management as well as representatives from departments such as kennel staff, medical staff, behavior training staff, front office/client services staff, rescue/foster coordinators, etc.

We will also be offering content from the Bootcamp in a self-paced, stand-alone format in the near future for shelters not able to do the Bootcamp.

NEWStat: Can staff at regular general practice (non-shelter) veterinary hospitals apply? How would it benefit them?

CD: The Bootcamp is definitely shelter focused so might be less applicable to the typical veterinary hospital.  We do use a lot of the material that the Fear Free program has developed—with their generous permission to do so—and would recommend all veterinary hospitals ensure that their staff has received that training. The fear, anxiety, stress, and frustration exhibited by animals in shelters is seen in all animals in confinement housing—or just visiting a new stressful environment—and regular veterinary hospitals definitely are included in that. 

Not only will that training help patient emotional health and welfare, but it will make the veterinary hospital a more positive place for animal owners and clinic staff. That translates into improved medical care for the animals and improved medical outcomes.

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