Online training in Fear Free for shelter and rescue staff is here (and it’s free!)

Kittens using laptopSince launching in 2016, Fear Free has been an important educational component of the Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at UF. Yesterday, led by instructors and alumni of the UF program, they released a free online training course specifically designed for shelter, rescue, and animal welfare organization staff and volunteers.

Fear Free’s over-arching mission is to prevent and alleviate fear, anxiety, and stress (FAS) in pets by inspiring and educating the people who care for them. It has provided online and in-person education to more than 50,000 veterinary and pet professionals, including offering the professional certification course free to veterinary and veterinary technician students. Fear Free also provides educational materials for pet owners and foster caregivers at

“With the launch of the sheltering program, we are bringing our mission full circle,” said Dr. Marty Becker, founder and CEO of Fear Free. “We created the program to empower people who work or volunteer in shelters and rescue or animal welfare organizations to apply concepts, strategies, and techniques designed to reduce the negative emotional states that are commonly experienced by shelter animals, including fear, anxiety, stress, and frustration.”

Fear Free’s relationship with the Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at UF is a longstanding one. In recognition of the harmful effects of stress and the positive effects of easing fears and anxiety for pets, it was the first academic program to require its veterinary students to complete Fear Free certification. In addition, the faculty and staff of both the shelter medicine program and the primary care service are certified and are encouraging staff and students throughout the college to be certified, regardless of their focus.

Brenda Griffin, DVM, MS, DACVIM, DABVP, an instructor in the UF Shelter Medicine Program as well as the Regent for the new specialty in Shelter Medicine, is a member of the Fear Free Executive Council. Dr. Julie Levy, Fran Marino Endowed Professor of Shelter Medicine Education at the UF College of Veterinary Medicine, serves on their Advisory Group, as do a number of other shelter veterinarians and behaviorists with sheltering backgrounds.

The course was authored by:

  • Dr. Griffin, who served as lead author
  • Sheila (D’Arpino) Segurson, DVM, DACVB, the Director of Research for Maddie’s Fund
  • Sara Bennett, DVM, MS, DACVB, co-instructor for the Shelter Animal Behavior and Welfare online learning course at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine
  • Wailani Sung, MS, PhD, DVM, DACVB, of the San Francisco SPCA Behavior Specialty Service

Also contributing to the course were UF Shelter Medicine Program alums Staci Cannon, DVM, MPH, DACVPM, DABVP; and Meaghan Mielo, DVM, who recently finished her one-year UF shelter medicine internship.

After a brief introduction to Fear Free, the shelter program consists of four basic modules:

  • Emotional Health
  • Recognizing How Animals Are Feeling in the Shelter
  • How Animals Learn
  • Fear Free Communication and Animal Handling Basics

The core modules are made up of video, photos, and audio, and are mobile-friendly. They will take around five hours to complete and provide five hours of RACE CE to veterinarians and technicians in jurisdictions that recognize RACE.

Additional modules are tailored to the needs of different positions and will launch in regular intervals.

“While many of the triggers for fear, anxiety, and stress are similar in clinics and shelters, there is no doubt that animal shelters present some unique challenges,” said Dr. Levy. “An abrupt removal from the home, a large number of animals, and unfamiliar sounds, smells, and routines can trigger distress and make it hard for animals to show their best selves to potential adopters. And distress can lower immunity, leading to the spread of disease in shelters. Fear Free Shelters will provide shelter staff and volunteers with the tools they need to recognize and mitigate negative emotional states in shelter pets.”

You can learn more about Fear Free and sign up for the Fear Free Shelter Program at