MSMP alum trades in aquatic science for shelter medicine

Dr. Meredith MontgomeryWhen Dr. Meredith Montgomery decided to leave behind a career in aquatic sciences to go back to school and become a veterinarian, shelter medicine wasn’t part of her plan. That all changed when she began fostering dogs and cats during her first year.

“I thought this was something valuable I could do for the animals I fostered, and also to increase my own familiarity with cats,” she said. “I kept fostering all through school, which was my first exposure to sheltering and rescue.”

That experience soon propelled Dr. Montgomery into the Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program certificate course. “I originally wanted to pursue either radiology or surgery, but as I became introduced to how multifaceted shelter medicine is during the certificate program, that changed,” she said. “I became very interested in infectious disease and sheltering in general, with a strong interest in capacity for care and humane housing issues. And of course, there were lots of opportunities in surgery as well.

After graduating from veterinary school in 2015, Dr. Montgomery completed a challenging rotating internship at the Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston. Once she completed her internship, she took a position with the ASPCA’s Spay/Neuter Alliance in North Carolina, where she developed skills in high quality, high volume sterilization surgery and teaching.

Her next position allowed her to use the full complement of skills she’d developed during the shelter medicine certificate course: shelter veterinarian at the Citrus County, Florida, municipal shelter. “The shelter director, Colleen Yarbrough, is exceptional,” she said. “She really knows animal welfare and is incredibly progressive. She also recognizes the value of a shelter vet. So we worked closely together to make policy changes that would create the most change quickly.”

While at Citrus County she helped create programs resulting in the doubling of cat live release rate, pushing it close to 90 percent range during kitten season (CCAS has since reached and exceeded this LRR under leadership of their director and staff veterinarian). These programs included intake diversion programs, TNR program, offsite cat and dog adoption, and enhancing the foster network. While the shelter was initially at twice its capacity for care last winter, due to these life-saving programs and support from volunteers, live release rate steadily climbed while animals housed onsite decreased to levels compatible with staff’s capacity for care.

Prior to taking the job at Citrus County, Dr. Montgomery had applied for a Maddie’s Fund grant to do intake diversion. These funds enabled her to create a foster program for neonatal kittens and puppies without cost to the foster family. Unfortunately, her commute time to the shelter was three hours a day, and so she began doing relief shelter vet work once her position at Citrus County was filled. “I was doing high quality, high volume spay/neuter when other vets needed to take time off.”

One of her relief positions was with the Veterinary Community Outreach Program (VCOP) at UF, where she took a job as an assistant clinical professor last month.

Her very first experience after starting the job wasn’t at UF, however. “I was actually at Spayathon in Puerto Rico the first week after onboarding. I was lucky enough to tag along as a surgeon with VIDAS. We provided 3,021 sterilization surgeries among 15 surgeons in six days!” she said. “While I was at the Spay/Neuter Alliance I had actually helped to train a spay/neuter team from Puerto Rico for Spayathon. We helped them provide great, efficient care, anesthesia monitoring, all the elements that make up high quality, high volume spay/neuter. So I’d seen this from the education end, but I’d never gotten to participate myself until now. I had a great time with incredible people from all over the world, really good surgeons and technicians who were also super positive and excited to be there. It was incredible.”

As she settles in at VCOP, Dr. Montgomery is teaching some high quality, high volume surgical skills to students at UF. She’s also looking for opportunities to take part in other programs at VCOP. “I like to do it all,” she said. “I really liked the population management aspect of shelter medicine, doing daily rounds, going from case to case and looking at each animal, trying to figure out what is going to provide them the best and shortest stay at the shelter.”

Dr. Montgomery also developed a strong interest in behavior during her shelter medicine certificate course. “Cat handling in particular has become one of my passion projects. It’s one of the changes that has immediate impact, and it’s something you can change pretty easily just with more education.”

During her time at the Spay/Neuter Alliance, Dr. Montgomery added Fear Free certification to her behavior training, a combination that helped the animals in her care at Citrus County. “Most of the dogs in the shelter were young and boisterous, with a lot of energy that they needed to expend. The director encouraged a strong volunteer base that worked with the dogs, ran play groups, provided training and taking them for walks. Now, the shelter has implemented a policy for doing sleepovers to get the dogs out of the shelter for a night or a weekend, or even just take the dog out for a drive and a Puppacino.”