MSMP alumni host Puerto Rican colleagues for Florida shelter tour

Animal sheltering requires a team of shelter professionals focused on physical and behavioral medicine, population management, spay-neuter, facility design and environment, and more, all working together to provide the best possible outcome for each animal in the shelter.

The Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program team of Dr. Cynda Crawford, Cameron Moore, and Dr. Sarah Kirk is now in the second year of a Humane Society of the United States project assisting shelters in Puerto Rico in that process. Last week our program hosted our colleagues from those Puerto Rico shelters for a tour of Citrus County Animal Services, the Hillsborough County Pet Resource Center, and the Humane Society of Tampa Bay.

The Puerto Rican shelter teams were able to connect with graduates of our program working in those organizations to discuss challenges common to both stateside and Puerto Rican shelters, along with strategies for successfully overcoming those challenges. The best practices exemplified at these Florida shelters showcase policies and procedures put into place by UF alumni reflecting their MSMP shelter medicine education and research.

“This visit helped me see my strengths and how I can help and support other shelter and sanctuaries back home to be better places for our pets and community,” said Rosana Rivera, Lead Technologist at Centro de Control y Adopcion de Animales-Municipio de San Juan. “It also helped me realize that we all have the same struggles and there are people who already overcome them and are more than willing to help out and guide us to overcome them, too.”

This stateside shelter visit brought together Puerto Rico colleagues in a setting that allowed them to learn about each other’s shelters and to know each other on a more personal level. They learned that they each have something to offer to the other, whether that be a loan of a bank of cages, sharing of supplies, a new audience for the other’s shelter animals, or simply a listening ear and emotional support. Before leaving Florida, they committed to creating a coalition of shelter welfare professionals, with their first meeting scheduled in mid-November and their second meeting in mid-December, when the UF team will once again be visiting them in Puerto Rico.

Zeyra Santiago, Director at Centro de Control de Animales de Carolina, said, “To see the facilities, to speak with the administrators and in my case the municipal administrators, was of an incomparable help. Knowing that they went through the same thing that we did and what the shelters have come through fills me with strength to continue fighting for the animals not only from Carolina but from Puerto Rico.”

Day one of the tour began at the Humane Society of Tampa Bay (HSTB), where Dr. Karla Bard (UF CVM ’97) and her team demonstrated proficiency and skill in sterilizing community cats. Community cat diversion is a new concept for some of the Puerto Rico shelters, and our visitors were keen to learn about its lifesaving impact as well as how to introduce the concept to their communities.

Team photo
Jahaira de Jesus, Humane Society of Puerto Rico; Sherry Silk, Humane Society of Tampa Bay; Rosana Rivera, Centro de Control y Adopcion de Animales-Municipio de San Juan; Dellymar Bernal, Santuario de Animales San Francisco de Asis; Zeyra Santiago, Centro de Control de Animales de Carolina; Renan Zuniga, Villa Michelle Alberque de Animales; Danyelle Ho, Humane Society of Tampa Bay; Heather Thomas, Humane Society of North Central Florida; Cameron Moore, UF MSMP; Sarah Kirk, UF MSMP

The next day found the team at Citrus County Animal Services (CCAS) municipal shelter in Inverness. The facility is comparable in size and age to many of the Puerto Rico shelters, and is under the leadership of Director Colleen Yarbrough and Medical Director Dr. Meaghan Mielo, who was a Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program intern at UF in 2018-2019.

Meaghan Mielo and Cameron Moore with Puppies
Dr. Meaghan Mielo and Cameron Moore

The morning began with Daily Population Rounds, which ensure that every animal is visually assessed every day for their physical and behavioral health, that any needs are met or scheduled, and that there is a plan for each animal to have a positive outcome as quickly as possible. Changes in housing, ordinance revisions, and a robust Trap-Neuter-Vaccinate-Return (TNVR)/Return to Field (RTF) program have resulted in greatly diminished length of stay for both cats and dogs at this shelter.

With an annual intake of around 18,000 animals, HCPRC is significantly larger than the Puerto Rico shelters and provided a great opportunity for our visitors to appreciate the impact of data collection on population management. In addition to data-driven decision making, the value of transparency and collaboration with private shelters and rescue groups was discussed.

“This stateside visit has been life changing,” said Dellymar Bernal, Director of Santuaria de Animals San Francisco de Asis. “It gave me the opportunity to spend time with colleagues from other shelters on the Island. We share experiences, ideas, protocols, and we are going to be building a coalition to unify our voice so we can be stronger. The shelters we met and their team gave us livesaving techniques, emphasizing the power of alliances and working together. I am leaving with my mind full of ideas.”