Maddie’s Shelter Medicine alumna honored as Veterinarian of the Year

Dr. Katherine Polak
Dr. Katherine Polak

At the annual meeting of the Association of Shelter Veterinarians held on October 10, Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program alumna Dr. Katherine Polak was named 2019 ASV Veterinarian of the Year.

Dr. Polak completed a residency in Shelter Medicine and a Masters in Veterinary Forensics at the University of Florida in 2014, leading to being boarded in both the American College of Veterinary Preventive Medicine and the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners (Shelter Medicine Practice). She has completed the arc of learning by rejoining her former mentors at Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program as an online instructor of veterinary students and interns.

Since completing her residency, she has literally been changing the world. Her work began with a position with the Soi Dog Foundation, where she was assigned to establish spay/neuter clinics and train a local veterinary workforce to address community animal populations in Thailand. She took the helm of a large rescue center/sanctuary for dogs that had long been ravaged by infectious diseases such as distemper and transitional venereal tumor. She established high yet practical standards of shelter medicine throughout her programs, not only improving the welfare of the animals in her care but also setting a bar to be emulated throughout the region.

Currently, Dr. Polak serves as the Head of Stray Animal Care – Southeast Asia for FOUR PAWS International, an organization that is a leader in the fight against the dog and cat meat trade in Southeast Asia. She works through political channels and assists with the development of alternative trades when possible.


“I am extremely honored to receive the ASV Shelter Veterinarian of the Year award,” Dr. Polak said. “It comes as a huge surprise and honor to be recognized by colleagues and friends in the shelter medicine community for doing work that feels so incredibly necessary.

“I can say with 100 percent certainty that I would not be receiving or even nominated for this award without the training, mentorship, and support I received from the UF Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program. My residency training provided me with the skills, enthusiasm, and tenacity to tackle some of the toughest issues facing companion animals, in an area of the world with little to no veterinary capacity.

“Not only did I receive the academic and practical training needed to design and manage effective companion animal programs, but I was also fortunate have the opportunity to learn from industry leaders Dr. Julie Levy, Dr. Cynda Crawford, and Dr. Brenda Griffin. These inspirational mentors encouraged their residents to continuously strive for excellence and never accept the status quo. I’m forever thankful for UF MSMP for paving the road to success for myself and the countless other students, interns, and residents, and ultimately helping so many animals along the way.”

“If Dr. Polak is grateful to our program, we are grateful beyond words for her,” said Dr. Levy. “Much of her work involves bringing unimaginable cruelty to light. To do this, she conducts undercover investigations of the live markets, documenting the transportation of stolen pets packed in wire cages for days without food and water. She has to bear witness to the most horrific treatment of animals, including killing by bludgeoning, strangling, drowning, and burying alive. These are not exceptions, but daily practices impacting hundreds of animals at a time.”

Dr. Katherine Polak

It takes a special kind of perseverance and fortitude to stay in this fight, and we are grateful that Dr. Polak does; certainly most of us could not. She is one of the most down to earth, kind, genuine people that we have had the pleasure of meeting as a veterinarian. There certainly is no one like her. Her dedication and her passion in the field of shelter medicine is one of a kind. Her actions speak louder than words. We can think of no one else today who is changing shelter medicine across the globe more than Dr. Polak, or more worthy of the ASV Veterinarian of the Year Award.

Portions of this post were part of a letter sent to the ASV nominating Dr. Polak for this award, signed by Dr. Levy, Dr. Crawford, Dr. Alana Canupp, and 11 more of Dr. Polak’s shelter medicine colleagues.