Two New Veterinarians, One Big Heart for Shelter Animals

Rebekah Sartori and Jill Aldredge of the graduating UF College of Veterinary Medicine class of ’24 were both honored on graduation eve with the Rosebud Award, which recognizes senior students who are passionate about shelter medicine and are committed to a career in this field. The Rosebud Award carries with it a scholarship of $1,000 and is named after the anonymous donors’ beloved cat Rosebud.

Living the Dream

Jill Aldredge, class of '24
Jill Aldredge, class of ’24

Lots of children, including Sartori, insist they want to be veterinarians when they grow up. Once she started volunteering at the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando, she knew she’d make that childhood dream come true. Starting as a ‘kitty cuddler,’ Rebekah quickly advanced to more involved roles, eventually assisting with surgeries and diagnostics. “I volunteered with wildlife and worked at a general practice clinic as a technician for a while, but my heart has always been and always will be with Shelter Medicine,” she said.

Jill Aldredge also found her calling within the walls of an animal shelter. While she was working as lead technician at the animal control agency in Raleigh, her mentor saw something special in her, saying, “You should be a vet!” At first, she shrugged it off, but the idea took root.

Both Rebekah and Jill found their way to the University of Florida, drawn by its Shelter Medicine Program. The program offers students wide-ranging opportunities for practical experience and skills development, including a wealth of surgical experience that surpasses that of most graduates nationwide.

A longstanding collaboration with local trap-neuter-return program Operation Catnip and externships at shelters grant students unique access to specialized training, thereby equipping them for day-one practice readiness after graduation. Before graduation, students gain experience with hundreds of surgeries, including spay/neuter but also advanced procedures needed by pets in shelters and community cats such as amputation, enucleation, cystotomy, mass removal, abdominal cryptorchid, rectal prolapse repair, and wound care.

Aldredge said, “I’m planning on going into Shelter Medicine, and to say that you went to UF and you learned from these people, and you have this shelter background that’s really well respected in the field – just having that on your resume was a big draw to come to UF to study.”

Above and Beyond: The Professional Certificate in Shelter Medicine

Both students also earned the Professional Certificate in Shelter Medicine, which is awarded to students who complete an intensive training program of extra elective courses throughout vet school. Topics include individual health care for shelter animals, population medicine, facility design, control of disease outbreaks, disaster response, veterinary forensics, cruelty investigations, management of community cats, shelter consultations, and the latest lifesaving innovations. All these are geared toward ensuring optimal care for every animal.

“I think every student can benefit from getting the certificate and get something out of it to use for the rest of their career,” said Rebekah. “It’s especially valuable for people like me who know we want to do Shelter Medicine and really want to get that training before we hit the ground day one as a vet. Being able to see so many surgical procedures and medicine and behavior cases, and being exposed to all facets of Shelter Medicine from managing a shelter to actually being a vet in a shelter, has been the best experience.”

Jill agreed, saying, “I went to vet school to become a shelter vet, so there wasn’t even a question in my mind that I was going to do the shelter certificate. But then just after my first class or two, the community of the shelter veterinarians at UF was so inspiring. I’ve been places and they’re like, oh my gosh, I can’t believe you work with Dr. Levy and Dr. Crawford. And you don’t realize that when you’re working next to them, but to know that you’re learning from the people who people respect so much is really kind of awe inspiring.”

Standout Experiences

Rebekah Sartori, class of '24
Rebekah Sartori, class of ’24

Mentors and personal relationships have been a foundational benefit of the program for both students. “I’ve been so incredibly lucky to work with so many incredible shelter vets,” said Sartori. “I worked with Dr. Levy closely when I was president of the Shelter Medicine Club, and she was there for me whenever I needed. I know that even when I finish my time at UF, I can email her and she’ll help me with anything. It’s amazing to be a part of a network of people who all know each other and trust each other and can lean on each other. And it is really a special thing that we have at UF, and not something that you have at most schools.”

Aldredge, too, found community to be a standout experience of the Shelter Medicine Program. “I was able to go on some shelter consultations, and I really enjoyed seeing all these shelters that had reached out for help. I loved how much of a community the shelter world is, and how much we rely on each other.”

Sartori’s externships were also among her top experiences in the program. “My experience at Jacksonville Humane absolutely convinced me that Shelter Med is what I need to do from day one,” she said. “I’ve always known that my passions lie there, but that really reconfirmed that this is where I see myself every day. And I was able to learn so many new skills with them.”

Sartori also called out her work with Operation Catnip. “That’s where I’ve done the vast majority of my surgeries,” she said. “I had the opportunity to learn how to spay cats before we even learned in surgery lab, which was absolutely huge because that allowed me to start the ball rolling on everything that I’ve done since. And honestly, one of my favorite things is taking walks throughout Gainesville and seeing ear-tipped cats, and wondering if that’s one of the almost 800 cats that I’ve spayed or neutered.”

Into the Future

After graduation, Aldredge will be an associate veterinarian at the Humane Society of North Central Florida in Gainesville. “I plan to stay in shelter medicine for my entire career,” she said confidently. “It is my one true love in veterinary medicine.”

Sartori applied for internships and matched at the Dumb Friends League in Denver. “I will be heading out there shortly after graduation and doing a year-long internship with them,” she said. “In the long term, just being somewhere in a shelter is all I really want. I know after my time at UF and my internship, I’ll have gained the skills that I need to basically go anywhere and help the animals in whatever community I end up in.”

Dr. Cynda Crawford, the Fredrica Saltzman Endowed Professorship Chair in Shelter Medicine at UF, said, “Both Rebekah and Jill were incredibly engaged with the Shelter Medicine curriculum throughout veterinary school, and both will be making their careers in shelters. We couldn’t be more proud of their accomplishments, and they are very deserving of the Rosebud Award.”

Rebekah Sartori and Jill Aldredge are among 22 veterinary students graduating this month with the Professional Certificate in Shelter Medicine, an advanced training program offered only by the Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Florida. Learn more about this opportunity at