What is Shelter Medicine?
Shelter Medicine is a field of veterinary medicine dedicated to the care and needs of underserved animals. At Tufts, the Shelter Medicine Program works with underserved animals such as community cats, shelter animals and animals belonging to pet owners in need, while teaching students practice-ready skills. A host of area partners work with the school to provide opportunities for students to observe and gain experience working in shelters in Massachusetts.
The Shelter Medicine Program also affords veterinary students with the distinguished knowledge and skills to positively impact the medical and behavioral health of sheltered animals in the communities around them, as well as to increase shelter lifesaving and to promote public health.
While private practice veterinarians concentrate their efforts on the individual animal with an owner, shelter veterinarians combine their focus on both the individual animal and general population care. Shelter veterinarians may face such obstacles as little-to-unknown health histories of the animals, neglect and/or abandonment factors and potential exposure to disease, which may present much higher risks for infectious diseases, when in a confined, communal setting for these animals.
Shelter veterinarians also specialize in the behavioral care of shelter animals. Confinement, combined with living in a large group of animals, can create a stressful and challenging environment for the animals, requiring the Shelter Veterinarian to understand how to best provide high quality behavioral care to optimize a lifetime of wellness. Supporting the Shelter Medicine’s endeavors in this area, The Center for Shelter Dogs initiative at Tufts focuses on science-based research dedicated to improving the welfare and successful placement of homeless dogs cared for by humane organizations, animal control facilities and rescue groups through the effective dissemination of results through the education of shelter professionals, veterinary students and graduate students.
Although general medicine and surgery play a large role in Shelter Medicine, Shelter Veterinarians must also have a thorough understanding of epidemiology, preventive medicine, infectious disease control, policy development, facility design, public health, animal behavior and veterinary forensics. Shelter Veterinarians must be innovative and possess the knowledge and skills necessary to adapt traditional medical protocols to meet the special demands encountered in shelters.
A veterinarian with experience in Shelter Medicine may work in shelters caring for animals and/or developing protocols and policies, or could work in private practice, but with shelters part time. An American Board of Veterinary Practitioners (ABVP) specialist in Shelter Medicine would potentially assume a leadership role in shelter management, manage a team of veterinarians, work for a national animal welfare organization or teach Shelter Medicine at an academic institution. Others under the umbrella of Shelter Medicine focus on a more specific area, such as veterinary forensics and animal cruelty investigations, high quality, high volume spay neuter or infectious disease outbreak investigation.