Envisioning a World Without Animal Shelters

MAPP student, Jillian Morrell has dedicated much of her life to serving shelter animals, but hopes in the future there won’t be a need for the facilities
Jillian Morrell posing for photo with a large snack wrapped around her neck.

In their own words: Jillian Morrell, VG20, MAPP

Originally posted May 8, 2020

Jillian Morrell’s educational origin story didn’t begin like many of her Cummings School classmates. Growing up in Wakefield, Massachusetts, Morrell didn’t start out an animal lover—in fact, she was afraid of them. But one day when she was five years old, a stray kitten made its way into her neighborhood. The Morrell family scooped up the kitten—a furry mess covered with fleas—intending to bring it to an animal shelter. But the shelter was closed.

So, the kitten found her new home with the family, who named her Emma. “Emma was the first experience I had with an animal where it didn’t try and hurt me,” says Morrell. “At that age, I loved putting her in a baby stroller and pushing her around.”

Morrell’s love of animals snowballed from there. The family got another cat, then a dog. Morrell went with her mom to every one of the pets’ veterinary appointments. “The veterinarian would actually take the stethoscope ears off and put them on me and let me listen,” she says. “So that definitely had an impact on me.” Even at such a young age, Morrell no longer wanted birthday gifts. Every year, all the way through high school, she instead asked party guests to bring dog food, dog toys, or cat food that she could donate to the animal shelter.

At the recommendation of her veterinarian, Howard Hutchins, she attended Essex North Shore Agricultural & Technical School, an alternative high school, for animal science and moved into its veterinary technician program. That’s when Morrell began working with Hutchins in the clinic as both a kennel assistant and a veterinary assistant.

While she was in high school, Morrell was diagnosed with a spinal condition that turned her world upside down. Forced to wear a full back brace for twenty hours a day, she was certain she’d never be able to become a veterinarian. “I couldn’t walk or bend,” she explains. “I thought, there was no way I was going to be able to work with a dog if I had to wear a brace.” But, as fate would have it, Hutchins, too, wound up in a back brace due to a spinal procedure, and he acted as Morrell’s guiding force. “He kept encouraging me through high school, saying it’s going to get better and that I could still be a veterinarian with this condition.”

Her confidence restored, Morrell attended undergraduate school at UMass Amherst and earned her pre-veterinary degree. She was disappointed when she wasn’t accepted into veterinary school on her first try. But Morrell discovered a different path when she began working at the shelter to which she had donated all those birthday gifts. “That kind of reshaped my view of the veterinary profession and the veterinary world, because there was a lot of abuse and a lot of neglect,” Morrell says. She wondered how else she could help animals—and found Cummings School’s Master’s in Animals and Public Policy (MAPP) program.

“I thought, with this degree, I could work on both preventing abuse from the legislative side, but then I could also take a step back once I have a veterinary degree and be able to physically help the animals that are affected by abuse,” she says.

At the advice of her advisor, Emily McCobb, V00, VG02, the director of Cummings School’s Shelter Medicine Program, Morrell opted for the MAPP program’s research track. She’s now completing a research project on feline dental care—going to shelters to assess how they’re able to perform dental care on cats under resource stress. “I thought it was just perfect for me because I love cats and I’ve worked with shelters for so long.”

On the clinical side, Morrell worked in the Luke and Lily Lerner Spay/Neuter Clinic’s community cat clinics and also shadowed McCobb whenever she had the chance. With a well-rounded year of experience from the MAPP program under her belt, Morrell recently was accepted to veterinary school at Midwestern University in Glendale, Arizona. “The program has definitely gotten me to where I need to be today,” Morrell says. “Dr. McCobb has had a really big impact on my life; she’s been an incredible teacher.”

Morrell’s time in the MAPP program hasn’t been without its challenges though. She suffered a relapse of her back condition. Throughout her MAPP year, she went to physical therapy two to three times a week and got another back brace. “I’ve done a lot of work to get where I am now. I don’t have to wear a brace at all anymore,” she says. “I think you can always get to your dream and get to your goal, as long as you persevere—you just have to find it within yourself to get through it.”

In the future, Morrell hopes to utilize both her M.S. and D.V.M. degrees as a medical director at a shelter. She envisions a world without the need for animal shelters, however.

“I hope that there will come a time where people won’t be abusing their pets anymore, or at least there will be such a repercussion that pets won’t end up in situations where they’re homeless or abused and tossed out on the street.” It’s fitting that Morrell’s first pet at the age of five was a kitten she rescued from the streets. Eighteen years later, she intends to dedicate her future to protecting other animals in need.