Shelter Medicine Program at Illinois
The Shelter Medicine Program partners with the community to reduce pet overpopulation, enhance veterinary education, and improve the lives of dogs and cats.
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.
Olivia Swailes, DVM
Dr. Swailes developed an interest in shelter medicine while volunteering for the local humane society during her undergraduate years at Michigan State University, where she earned her B.S. in Animal Science in 2013. She continued to volunteer at the local animal shelter throughout veterinary school and graduated from the Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine in 2017.
Following graduation, she completed a Maddie’s Fund® Shelter Medicine Internship at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Dane County Humane Society, where she received medical and surgical training as well as experience in shelter consultations and community outreach. Dr. Swailes worked as a staff veterinarian at a non-profit rescue in South Carolina prior to returning to the Midwest to join the Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Illinois.
Her interests include infectious disease management, behavior, community outreach, and shelter consultation work. She is excited to bring those interests to students via the Shelter Medicine electives and the clinical year rotations. While not practicing veterinary medicine, Dr. Swailes enjoys spending time with family, friends, and her rescue Labrador, Ruby, as well as crafting, reading, and traveling.
Anthony Cappa, DVM
Dr. Cappa earned his DVM from the University of Illinois in 2006 before completing a 1-year small animal rotating internship at Texas A&M University. He then returned to the Champaign area and served the local community for 10 years as a small animal practitioner in Tolono before joining the shelter medicine program. His interests include surgery and ultrasonography, along with teaching.
When not at work, he and his wonderful wife stay busy shuffling their two children to various activities. He also enjoys working in his yard and staying active through running and basketball.
Helen Valentine, DVM, MS, DACLAM
Clinical Assistant Professor
Dr. Valentine earned a DVM from Tuft’s Veterinary School in 2008. She completed a residency in Laboratory Animal Medicine and a master’s in Comparative Biomedical Science at Cornell University in 2011. During that time, she enjoyed working in a high quality/high volume spay/neuter clinic on weekends. She became board certified by the American College of Laboratory Animal Medicine in 2012. Dr. Valentine spent five years as a Senior Clinical Veterinarian at the University of Iowa, before joining the University of Illinois in 2016. She has an 80% appointment as Assistant Director/Clinical Veterinarian in the Division of Animal Resources, and a 20% appointment as Clinical Assistant Professor in Shelter Medicine.
Combining a love of international travel, surgery and teaching veterinary students, she volunteers as a DVM instructor or surgeon for World Vets in Nicaragua, and looks forward to future field clinics in other countries. Outside of work, she is always planning her next international vacation. At home, she has two dogs (Honey and Jetta) and three cats (Bugger, Ella, and Kelly).
Eric Ledesma, DVM
Maddie’s® Shelter Medicine Intern
Dr. Ledesma achieved his dream of becoming a veterinarian at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine. He then completed a 1-year small animal rotating medicine and surgery internship at the ASPCA Animal Hospital in New York City. In addition, he has worked as a relief veterinarian at various Animal Care Centers in New York. In the past year, Dr. Ledesma became a Fear Free Certified® veterinarian that works to prevent and alleviate fear, anxiety, and stress in his patients. He has returned to Illinois to work for the shelter medicine program where he now has the honor and privilege to provide for animals in need.
In his spare time, Dr. Ledesma enjoys practicing aerial arts (trapeze, lyra, and silks), cuddling with his two cats Coby and Samurai, and recently has adopted a cute, energetic pitbull puppy named Poppy.
Mónica Ramírez Hernández, MVZ
Shelter Medicine Intern
Dr. Ramírez was born and raised in Mexico City, where she studied veterinary medicine and zootechnics at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). As a student, she enjoyed rescuing and rehabilitating stray dogs and cats, leading her toward a career in shelter medicine. During her time at UNAM she worked at the university’s satellite clinic for reproductive control of dogs and cats and volunteered at a dog rescue sanctuary.
Dr. Ramírez is hoping to return to UNAM as a board certified shelter medicine specialist and to make a difference in Mexico City’s stray animal population.
In her free time, she enjoys volunteering at wildlife sanctuaries, traveling, and spending time with her family and friends. Back in Mexico, her amazing mom is looking after her cats Mayuyo, Mursi, and her dog Prudencia.
Kristen Ragusa, CVT
Shelter Medicine Veterinary Technician
Kristen has always had a special place in her heart for all animals, large and small. She obtained her veterinary technician license from Parkland College in 2009. Her career has led her down many paths, including several years of experience in general practice, critical care, and internal medicine. Throughout her adventure she has picked up many diverse skills such as emergency medicine, clinical pathology, special knowledge in endocrine diseases, as well as animal-handling techniques. She is now happy to have found a spot in the community medicine program offered by the shelter medicine service. She aspires to help other pet owners care for their beloved pets and assist shelter animals along the way, in hopes they will remain healthy as they find their forever homes.
In her spare time, Kristen is a lifelong learner. She is currently studying environmental sciences and hopes to one day help in the conservation of plants and animals alike. When she isn’t at work or being a bookworm, you can find her in the garden, out on a hike with her pups, or looking for another adventure with her family and friends.
Heather Soder, CVT
Shelter Medicine Veterinary Technician
Heather has had a lifelong passion for animals. As a young child, she dreamed of living on a farm with all kinds of pets. In the early 1990s, she attended the Midwest School of Dog Grooming and became an accomplished pet groomer in the Champaign-Urbana area. From there she attended Parkland College for her degree in Veterinary Technology.
Heather joined the University of Illinois team in September 1996 as an imaging/nuclear medicine technician. As her career progressed, she developed an interest in Small Animal Surgery, and trained as a surgery technician.
These days Heather teaches third-year veterinary students aspects of surgical asepsis in the Junior Surgery labs. She also divides her time with the shelter medicine service to provide low-cost spay and neuter services to communities.
In her spare time, Heather enjoys her farm, two horses, and goats. She has an interest in gardening and beekeeping and hopes to add hives to her farm soon.
Mikayla Wrasse, CVT
Shelter Medicine Veterinary Technician
As a child, Mikayla could always be found trying to pet a dog, whether it was at the park or at the neighbor’s house. She found her love for veterinary medicine, especially shelter medicine, at her local humane society where she worked for five years. She graduated from the Veterinary Technology Program at Parkland College in 2016. From there, she spent her first couple of years working in the ICU at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital. In 2018, she decided to follow her passion to help the animals who might not have access to the veterinary care they need. Mikayla now serves as the surgery technician for the high-quality, high-volume spay neuter program.
Mikayla lives with her dogs, Chase and Ollie, and cat, Mia. When she is not working, she frequently takes her dogs to the dog park and on hikes. She, also, enjoys CrossFit, softball, and spending time with her family and friends.