The Shelter Medicine Program partners with the community to reduce pet overpopulation, enhance veterinary education, and improve the lives of dogs and cats.
Tremendous growth in grass-roots sheltering efforts over the past several decades has saved the lives of millions of homeless companion animals. Meanwhile, the science and body of knowledge involved with shelter medicine has progressed to the point where the discipline is now recognized by the American Board of Veterinary Specialties, with the first certifying examination in 2015.
The goal of the Shelter Medicine Program at Illinois is to develop a talented pool of veterinary graduates who are well-versed in the tools available to improve the care of shelter animals and help reduce animal overpopulation. The program is actively engaged in the teaching, outreach, and research missions of the College of Veterinary Medicine and the University of Illinois.
The mission of the Shelter Medicine Program at Illinois is to reduce animal overpopulation and to improve the health and well-being of animals in shelters through the advancement of the discipline of shelter medicine among veterinarians and veterinary students.
The Shelter Medicine Program at Illinois engages students during all four years of the veterinary degree program.
First- and second-year veterinary students may gain exposure to shelter medicine during a weeklong clinical rotation. Fourth-year students who take the basic shelter medicine rotation spend two weeks at Champaign County Humane Society and at other rural shelters in central Illinois. During that rotation, each student sterilizes more than 50 animals, on average.
In the classroom, first-, second-, and third-year students can take “VCM 626 Shelter Medicine I,” an introductory elective course that uses the Association of Shelter Veterinarians Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters as the textbook. Third-year students who want a more in-depth look at the discipline can take VCM 657 Shelter Medicine II, which focuses on sanitation, infectious disease prevention and control, and animal population control, important areas for veterinarians working with shelters.
The Shelter Medicine Program at Illinois makes a significant impact on the lives of animals in central Illinois. We have experienced rapid growth in the number and locations for sterilization procedures. We spay and neuter shelter animals and owned animals brought to rural shelters that offer low-cost sterilization programs to people who cannot afford to have their animals sterilized. We also offer weekend community sterilization clinics for feral and free-roaming cats.
Academic Year Number of Animals Sterilized Locations 2011-12 1,003 Champaign County Humane Society 2012-13 2,157 CCHS + 3 other shelters/programs 2013-14 3,810 CCHS + 5 other shelters/programs
As we help people with limited resources get their animals sterilized, we also educate these owners about proper health care for their pets and suggest that they follow up with a local veterinary practice for continued care and booster vaccinations. More than eighty percent of the animals we see have never been to a veterinarian, so this work presents an opportunity to educate owners about proper health care for their pets.
The Shelter Medicine Program at Illinois has a tremendous opportunity to gather health-related data on the hundreds of animals we encounter. Projects looking at infectious disease detection, diagnosis, and treatment have the potential to help shelters better deal with these significant problems.
One ongoing project is looking at student experiential training and how surgery time decreases as students complete more surgeries. This project will quantify the effect of surgical training on student performance. It will be the first scientific evidence that student experiential training improves performance by decreasing intraoperative time.
Resources for Shelters and Veterinarians
Oftentimes, veterinarians are asked to help out shelters that do not have the resources to employ a veterinarian. As the discipline of shelter medicine has evolved, and the body of knowledge has grown, resources for veterinarians have increased.
Here are some links for veterinarians interested in working with shelters:
Resources for Feral and Community Cats
According to statistics, more than 70 percent of cats who enter our nation’s animal control pounds and shelters are killed. Progressive shelters are recognizing that feral cats should not even enter a shelter in the first place. There are a number of programs nationwide to sterilize, vaccinate, and return or relocate (Trap, Neuter, Vaccinate, and Return—TNVR) cats that are unadoptable.
The Shelter Medicine Program at Illinois is happy to work with shelters to develop and implement a TNVR program. Relocation of unadoptable cats should be a last resort. However, when an unadoptable cat cannot be returned to its original environment, then relocation is a possibility.
Here are some links to outside organizations with information on management and relocation of community and feral cats:
Professional Education for Students and Veterinarians
Courses in the Illinois Veterinary Curriculum
- VCM 626: Shelter Medicine I, Introductory Shelter Medicine
Exposure to the field of Shelter Animal Medicine is intended to create a pool of well-informed veterinarians that will become an important resource for shelter managers nationwide. It is also hoped that this course will foster veterinarian participation in community service and encourage personal responsibility in the area of animal welfare.
- VCM 657: Shelter Medicine II, Advanced Shelter Medicine
The goal of this course is to develop an advanced appreciation for the discipline of shelter medicine, and will include topics such as sanitation, infectious disease prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. A significant portion of the course will be devoted to animal population control, including High-Quality High-Volume Spay Neuter and pediatric sterilization techniques.
- VM 601/VM 606: Year One and Year Two Shelter Medicine Rotation
The Year 1 and 2 students will be paired with Year 4 students, shelter staff and volunteers, and will participate in the intake, medical and behavioral evaluation, necessary diagnostics and treatment, sterilization, and adoption of shelter animals as part of a team. Students completing this rotation will observe and perform restraint, handling, and physical examination of shelter animals, including sample collection for diagnostic evaluation.
- VM 612-616: Year Three and Year Four Shelter Medicine Rotation
The Shelter Medicine Rotation takes place at Champaign County Humane Society, and other rural shelters in Central Illinois on the mobile sterilization unit. The rotation is designed to give students an overview of the function and operation of an animal shelter, as well as experience in the practice of shelter medicine. Students completing this rotation observe and perform restraint, handling, and physical examination of shelter animals, including sample collection for diagnostic evaluation. A significant part of the rotation is devoted to animal population control, and as such, students get experience with surgical preparation, basic surgical techniques important in the practice of shelter medicine, and post-operative patient management.
- VM 617: Professional Development (Advanced Shelter Medicine Rotation)
The Professional Development Module will allow students the opportunity to train in advanced shelter medicine procedures, notably High-Quality, High-Volume Spay-Neuter (HQHVSN) techniques and pediatric sterilization techniques that are necessary for students interested in pursuing the discipline of shelter medicine.
Visiting fourth-year veterinary students can spend two weeks in the Shelter Medicine Program taking the VM 612-616 shelter medicine rotation.
Private practitioners interested in learning more about shelter medicine and High-Quality, High-Volume Spay-Neuter, and pediatric sterilization, can spend time with the Shelter Medicine Program learning those techniques.
Illinois Student Chapter of the Association of Shelter Veterinarians
The Illinois Student Chapter of the Association of Shelter Veterinarians is a student club at the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois dedicated to getting students involved in shelter medicine. It is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.
- VCM 626: Shelter Medicine I, Introductory Shelter Medicine
G. Robert Weedon, DVM, MPH
Clinical Assistant Professor
Dr. Weedon has worked in the sheltering community since 1999, starting as a volunteer in Wilmington, N.C. His involvement led to a year-long training program at the School of Public Health, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, called The Management Academy for Public Health. This program involved training in various areas of public health, as well as the development of a business plan to design, build, and implement an onsite surgical facility to sterilize animals prior to adoption at New Hanover County (N.C.) Animal Control Services. Dr. Weedon’s experience at the Management Academy for Public Health stimulated his intellectual side and prompted him to enroll in the Public Health Leadership Program, which culminated a master of public health degree from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in 2005.
Dr. Weedon really enjoys teaching. He started teaching undergraduate students at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, and now enjoys training veterinary students in shelter medicine. He received his bachelor of science and doctor of veterinary medicine degrees from Purdue University.
Animal population control is one of Dr. Weedon’s passions. He serves on the Board of Directors of the Alliance for Contraception in Cats & Dogs, and is a certified Zeuterin Master Trainer.Michaela Orwig, VMD
Shelter Medicine Intern
Dr. Orwig received a Bachelor of Science in psychology from Washington State University before pursuing a career in veterinary medicine. She spent a few years working as a veterinary assistant in a small animal private practice prior to attending the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, from which she graduated in May 2015. She discovered her interest in shelter medicine while volunteering for the Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society low-cost spay-neuter cat clinic on weekends during veterinary school, which is also where she cultivated a fondness for teaching. Dr. Orwig’s primary interests are population control through High Quality High Volume Spay-Neuter, providing medical care to animals in shelters and part low-income families, and helping veterinary students develop their surgical skills.