Caroline Earl White started the first US animal shelter in 1869 along with a group of 30 female animal activists. The mission of sheltering back in 1869 was to ensure animals were treated with kindness and respect. While this mission remains steadfast in shelters across the nation, over the years, animal sheltering has become so much more, particularly in the realm of shelter medicine and veterinary care.
Up until the 1970’s and 1980’s, having a clinic or a medical team at a shelter didn’t really exist. Veterinarians were on hand or partnered with to provide the most urgent medical care, such as setting a broken leg or treating an infected wound. It wasn’t until April of 2014 that the American Veterinary Medical Association’s executive board voted on a petition and officially recognized Shelter Medicine as the newest veterinary specialty. “Nowadays, it’s not only primary and emergent care that we provide,” said Rescue Village’s Medical & Behavioral Director, Dr. Megan Volpe, DMV. “It’s the diagnosis and management of significant medical conditions, such as allergic skin disease and ear infections, dental disease, heartworm infection, ocular disease and pneumonia — the list goes on and on. We are no longer focusing solely on alleviating acute physical pain and distress, we are fully upholding The Five Freedoms which includes a commitment to meeting an animal’s behavioral needs.”
Given the expanding role of veterinary care in shelters as well as ever changing patient needs, it’s often a struggle for the medical teams to determine how much they can realistically manage. Focusing on primary care, and diagnosis is essential, but completely resolving a medical issue prior to adoption isn’t always possible. The role of the shelter and its medicine team is to temporarily care for an animal and provide the adopter with accurate knowledge of the animal’s health status enabling them to continue providing the care that their new pet needs. It’s truly a community effort. “We are proud to be able to examine every animal that comes through this building and give that animal the support and care they need,” said Volpe. We know we can’t fix everything, but the next step in their journey will be easier because we’re providing the adopter with a foundation for their ongoing care.”
Volpe and medical teams across shelters rely on the community to also do their part. According to Volpe, “we are all a part of the team and the adopter is too.” Rescue Village’s volunteer foster program is a big part of our success in the medical and behavior realm, and so are those helping spay and neuter community cats through Trap-Neuter-Return programs. “Shelters didn’t have these programs in the past,” said Volpe.
“It really does take a village to rescue, rehabilitate and re-home each animal. It’s possible because we have the involvement of the community — the volunteers, the donors, the animal welfare partners, and ultimately those that become the adopters. We all have a role to play and are making a difference together.”