Shelter Animal Medicine Program Provides Benefits to Animals, Students, Community
The plight of unwanted pets is staggering – almost 7 million companion animals enter shelters nationwide annually. Veterinarians, particularly those specializing in shelter medicine, can make a difference in the lives of these animals. That is the impetus behind the growth of Penn Vet’s Shelter Animal Medicine Program (SAM), started in 2006.
Penn Vet’s urban location, unique amongst veterinary schools, offers an opportunity to touch on all the missions of the school: teaching, research and clinical care. To expand the clinical and teaching opportunities, and to develop a focused shelter medicine academic core, the school recently hired Rachael Kreisler (V’12) as a lecturer in Shelter Animal Medicine and Surgery.
The program began as a way to expand Penn Vet’s ability to teach clinical veterinary medicine to students in their senior year. At the same time, the academic field of shelter medicine focuses on the study of diseases, the population management realities of animals in shelters and outbreak recognition and mitigation.
This discipline takes a herd approach to managing populations with limited resources. In the elective shelter medicine rotation, students carry out daily walk-throughs to assess overall health, prioritize health services for that day, perform sterilization and other surgeries and provide educational content for front line staff.
Penn Vet’s students are engaged with three local shelters — Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), Pennsylvania SPCA (PSPCA) and Philadelphia Animal Control (ACCT). Students on clinical rotations (Shelter Medicine Elective and Soft Tissue Surgery) are in ACCT three days a week, while many students elect to take the PSPCA externship. SAM will most likely expand to a five-day rotation in May 2013. SAM students also make occasional road trips to other shelters or facilities and the program provides educational and consultative services locally and nationally.
In addition to the clinical rotations, over one-third of students also participate in the Shelter Animal Medicine Club’s Surgical Opportunities Program on the weekends at ACCT and PAWS. This program was started by Rachael Kreisler in March of 2010, and nearly 4,000 surgeries a year are performed on student-powered days. Students provide the manpower for every step in the process of high-volume surgery, including performing or participating in the majority of the surgeries. When top participants graduate, they have already performed several hundred surgeries.
Penn Vet students have had an opportunity to learn firsthand about important shelter issues and topics, including pet overpopulation, infectious disease control and behavior problems and evaluations, as well as animal cruelty, neglect and hoarding. They also provide medical and surgical services, allowing an additional 1,800 additional dogs and cats to be spayed or castrated and therefore more readily available for adoption each year.
By partnering with the major players in animal welfare in Philadelphia and beyond, the school has not only developed a model program for students, it continues to be a force behind the rescue of the lives of thousands of adoptable animals in this city.
“This is an exciting, emerging discipline,” said Dr. Kreisler. “I applied to vet school to be part of it. Veterinarians do an amazing job with individual animals, but there has not been enough attention paid to the health of the population of animals in or at risk for entering shelters.”
Dr. Kreisler’s background in technology prepares her well for bringing technical or process solutions to the shelter industry, solutions that will be beneficial to a large number of animals. She cites as one example the adoption application process.
“We really don’t know how different aspects of the adoption application impact the success of an adoption,” said Dr. Kreisler.
That requires more scientific examination because, she explained, every decision made affects a shelter’s entire animal population both medically and financially. Every animal that is not successfully adopted costs a shelter approximately $15 per day, money that cannot be used to address the medical needs of the animals.
“We have an opportunity to maximize shelter resources by scientifically looking at the processes,” said Dr. Kreisler.
Dr. Moyer’s role has been to establish the program, he explained, which has been largely clinical with some strategic and consultative role.
“We touch the lives of thousands of animals a year, hands on,” said Dr. Kreisler, “and the work we do with consultation benefits all the animals that go through those doors.”
The Penn Vet Shelter Medicine Program will be the beneficiary of The Black and White Ball with a Touch of Fur, presented by Ground Zero Salons at Le Meridien in Philadelphia on July 21. The event website states, “At Penn Vet, the Shelter Animal Medicine Program is helping these animals face a brighter future…. By partnering with the major players in animal welfare in Philadelphia and beyond, the school has not only developed a model program for students, it continues to be the force behind the rescue of the lives of thousands of adoptable animals in this city.” For more information or to purchase tickets go to http://www.blackandwhiteball2012.com.