5 questions about veterinary shelter medicineanswered
This quick Q&A busts some of the biggest myths about shelters.
Michelle M. Newfield, DVM, Interim Executive Director & Medical Director at St. Tammany Humane Society, Covington, Louisiana, answers top questions about shelter medicine.
1. What drew you to shelter medicine? Did you work in private practice before, and how is it different?
I have always been interested in rescue work. I knew when I applied to veterinary school that I wanted to do rescue of some sort. After working as a private practice veterinarian for three years, I switched to nonprofit and shelter medicine. I love that I am able to offer care to animals even when their owners cannot financially afford it.
2. What are the most common misconceptions people have about working in a shelter?
That shelter pets and those who use our low-cost clinic receive lower quality care. We have four full-time veterinarians at our shelter, and we hold ourselves to the same standards as a private practice veterinarian.
3. How do you guard against issues of compassion fatigue? Do you think there's a higher instance of issues like compassion fatigue, burnout and depression among your colleagues in shelter medicine?
Compassion fatigue is still an issue in our practice, but it comes more from dealing with the public who use our clinic and the public who insists we take responsibility for their pet when they no longer want to. As a no-kill shelter, we have a waiting list and can't immediately intake an animal when an owner wants to surrender. Their anger toward the fact that we can't immediately help them is frustrating. However, working with our shelter pets is incredibly rewarding, especially when we can save them by providing life-saving medical care and they go on to live a great life with their adopter.
4. A new veterinary technician specialty (VTS) in shelter medicine is being planned. Is this something you'd be interested in? Why or why not?
As a veterinarian and shelter director, I would love to be able to hire veterinary technicians with a specialty in shelter medicine. There is a huge learning curve when it comes to hiring veterinary assistants, both with and without veterinary clinic experience.
5. Sometimes there's a sense of competition between private veterinarians and shelters over who is offering care to the pet owner. How can both sides be more open to working together for the good of pets and people?
Most of our clients who use our low-cost veterinary clinic can't afford care at the area veterinary clinics. And oftentimes we are practicing medicine without being able to perform all of the desired diagnostics because the owner can barely afford the visit, much less the diagnostics. I try to explain to the area veterinarians that we are serving a segment of the population that would not be profitable for their practice. We do, however, refer clients to area veterinary clinics for services that we don't offer, such as ultrasounds, orthopedic surgeries and physical therapy. We have really good relationships with several veterinary clinics in town that we often refer patients to. We even send our shelter pets to them for treatment as needed.