Veterinary Shelter Medicine is a specialty in the field of veterinary medicine recognized as one by the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) in 2014. The recognition lies in the fact that veterinarians working in shelters are required to possess special skills and knowledge in order to successfully design and implement a health care program for animal shelters. The ASV (The Association of Shelter Veterinarians) was initiated back in 2001, and by 2015 it already had nearly 800 members, including veterinarians, vet techs, vet students and members abroad. The purpose of the organization is to represent shelter veterinarians, publish position statements, design shelter guidelines for spay and neuter, promote communication and exchange of information between members and seek employment opportunities. The association is recognized by the AVMA.
Veterinary shelter medicine is a field that has attracted a lot of attention in the past few years. The work of a shelter veterinarian and the ultimate goals are different comparing to conventional companion animal practice. Shelter vets are dedicated individuals that take care of stray and homeless animals, produce healthy companions and seek new homes for them; so in comparison, while individual healthcare is the prime focus in private practices, shelter medicine mainly focuses on collective and population level healthcare. This represents a big challenge for shelter veterinarians because the animals they come across have unknown medical history and often have behavioral issues. This is a population of animals with the highest risk for suffering from infectious diseases and spreading them to healthy animals and humans. Moreover, shelter animals live in a high-density housing where they experience a lot of stress resulting in negative behavioral impacts. Shelter vets face the challenge to provide the best behavioral and medical care for a population of animals that have seen the worst in people, and that’s not easy at all.
Providing high-quality care
Improving the quality of life for shelter animals is one of the long-term goals of veterinary shelter professionals. High-quality care can be achieved by balancing the needs of individual animals and the population as a whole. This way the shelter, as a temporary owner of the pets, will prepare them to re-enter the community once they find new loving families. These tasks require a lot of time, dedication and funding. Many shelters are hands-tie when it comes to finances so skillful managing of the resources is crucial to making the organization continue its dedicated work.
Skills of Shelter Vets
Obviously, every shelter vet needs to be skillful in the area of veterinary surgery and internal diseases when it comes to individual healthcare. However, taking care of a large population of animals and nurturing them in a disease-free environment cannot be achieved if the person in charge doesn’t have sufficient knowledge of epidemiology, infectious diseases control, preventative medicine, animal hygiene, public health, animal behavior, and forensics. Shelter staff and vets must be adaptable to situations, be innovative and brave to make the most of it. More and more shelters decide to employ full-time and part-time veterinarians due to the fact that modern shelter programs cannot function without the surgical and medical skills a veterinarian offers. A shelter can ask for the services of a vet by employing him/her directly or by making a contract with a private practitioner. When a private practitioner is contracted it is highly advisable that he/she has sufficient knowledge of shelter medicine and the challenges of working in such an institution. Veterinary shelter medicine specialist that is board certified can perform numerous tasks aside from providing healthcare for shelter animals. Many professionals choose to perform research and achieve an academic role in educating other veterinarians and vet techs in the field. For others, the surgical part of the job is what they enjoy the most so they mostly focus on performing a lot of spay and neuter procedures during their work hours. Shelter medicine specialists are also well trained to work in animal cruelty investigations, veterinary forensics, and disease outbreak investigations.
Vaccination guidelines for shelters
Across the globe, there are thousands of shelters existing in various difficult environments that take care of millions of unfortunate animals. There are obvious differences when caring for a homeless pet and a family pet, so implementing specific guidelines regarding vaccination protocols is of utmost importance for any animal shelter. Shelter animals need ‘herd’ immunity which is achieved by following specific vaccination protocols. These animals must not pose a threat to public health once they leave the shelter environment. Among others, spay and neuter guidelines are one of the most important when it comes to veterinary shelter medicine. The procedures aren’t so different than common private veterinary practices except for the fact that after the surgery shelter animals must be identified with tattoos, microchips, earrings etc. The equipment and instruments used for spaying/neutering shelter animals must always be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected due to the unknown medical history and health status of the patients.
The Future of Shelter Medicine
There is no doubt that this is a field of veterinary medicine that’s only going to get more and more popular among professionals. Although the job is challenging, both physically and mentally, it’s also rewarding and offers a certain feeling of fulfillment for everyone that managed to save an animal, treat it and find it a new loving home. Also, one of the biggest benefits of working in a shelter is avoiding client complaints and oblivious clients for the time being.