The Best Shelter Isn’t a Shelter at All

Pets for Life PatientRain or shine, they wait in line for hours.  Children keep their arms wrapped around small dogs and kittens, while larger dogs test out their leashes, having a great time trying to tangle up their humans.  For the pet parents, it’s worth the wait.  Days like this offer a rare opportunity: a few minutes with a pet health expert.

“Oftentimes we find out that this is the first time the animal has been examined by a veterinarian,” says Dr. Jennifer Dill, graduate of the UF CVM Class of 2011.

For pet owners at today’s free pet care clinic, professional medical attention for their furry family member is usually out of reach – which is why the Humane Society of the United States and PetSmart Charities brought the “Pets for Life” program to Atlanta, Georgia.

Free resources like vaccination, sterilization, pet food, obedience training, and wellness education are all offered to pet owners in under-served urban communities around the United States through Pets for Life.

When veterinarians like Dr. Dill help pet owners, they teach simple yet important ways to keep pets healthy. They solve medical problems that are causing unwanted behavior, and they provide tips on housetraining.  Addressing and preventing problems like these strengthens the bond between pet and owner.

Finding the best shelter

What does this have to do with shelter medicine?  Isn’t shelter medicine about adoptions and outbreaks and animal control and cat housing?  How does this help homeless pets?

In her work with underserved communities, Dr. Dill is doing one of the best things possible for homeless pets: She’s helping keep them from becoming homeless in the first place.

The best shelter isn’t a shelter at all.  It’s the pet’s original home.  In shelter medicine we manage the issues that arise with animals coming in and out of the shelter every day; we deal with stress, sickness, outbreaks, behavior… not to mention housing, enrichment, preventive care, and finding a new home!

How much better – for the pet and the person – to keep a pet in his or her own home, to keep a family together when there is a bond that can be saved.  It’s cheaper, certainly.  It’s practical.  And it’s the right thing to do.

Pets for Life teamWhile we’re striving to make shelters the best they can be, we remind ourselves that they should be a last resort. Programs like Pets for Life and veterinarians like Dr. Dill are doing their part to keep pets and their families healthy, happy, and connected.

Becoming a mindful veterinarian

So how did Dr. Dill get from UF Shelter Medicine to the streets of Atlanta?  In 2011 she was one of the first two graduates to earn Maddie’s Certificate in Shelter Medicine at UF.  As a student Dr. Dill spent time in shelters, studied animal hoarding, and learned spay/neuter. Completing the rigorous Maddie’s Certificate requirements showed her an entire corner of the veterinary world needing more attention: animal welfare.  She knew she wanted to keep working with shelters and underserved pets.

After graduation with her Maddie’s Certificate in Shelter Medicine, Dr. Dill immediately became involved in Georgia’s shelter medicine community.  Even as she started a residency/PhD program at the University of Georgia, she worked with multiple low-cost and no-cost clinics throughout the state.

When Pets for Life came to Atlanta, a new opportunity arose: Dr. Dill could not only help underserved pets, but also teach future veterinarians.

“These students come with various levels of experience ranging from never having restrained a cat to having worked years as a technician, but none have had the unique and intense shelter education like I received from the University of Florida and the Maddie’s Shelter Medicine certificate program.”

Sowing seeds of compassion

Dr. Dill believes that her time serving the community and teaching future veterinarians helps address an overlooked aspect of veterinary practice:

“One of my goals is to make sure these students realize the incredible benefit of non-profit and low-cost veterinary services.

It is important they understand that low-cost and high volume work is not lowering the standards of care, but is an alternative method to veterinary care that is accessible and affordable to the growing population.

This work is helping people in the community who seriously love their pets and as the field develops it will continue to need compassionate, motivated veterinarians.”

We’re proud that one of those compassionate, motivated veterinarians is a UF Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program alum.  Keep up the great work, Dr. Dill!  We’ll make sure shelter medicine continues to open doors for future veterinarians and community pets.