Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Diary of a shelter medicine veterinary intern: late fall

I seem to have spent two months with no time to blog. What in the world was I doing?

The last you heard from me, dear readers, I was in the first week of our month-long shelter consult. The first week we digested a lot (a LOT) of data from the shelter. The second week we wrote up what we thought about that data. How many dogs did this shelter take in over the last few years? Cats? Are there changes in intake? How many of each species were euthanized? Why? What is the average length of stay for each species? Are pit bull type dogs treated differently? Etc.

The week after that, we were on site, crawling all over that poor shelter. That was a very busy week; in the evenings we were scrambling to write up everything we had seen and photographed during the day. On the last night of the consult, we generated our exit report, which was an overview of our findings. What did we think were this shelter’s greatest strengths? Its greatest challenges? What did we think they should address first? How? What was our five year plan for them?

The week after that, we were back on campus, writing, writing, writing. The complete consult report is traditionally quite a long document; in previous years it has been hundreds of pages long. The shelter medicine residents (the veterinarians who are specializing in shelter medicine) worked on the report for another week after that, but we interns were released after just one writing week.

After that, I spent two weeks at a truly lovely limited admission, adoption guarantee shelter about an hour and a half from home. I shadowed the shelter vet some of the time, and worked on my own some of the time. I did a lot of physical exams and surgeries! I also helped one day to select animals from the local municipal shelter (lots more animals, lots more euthanasias) for transfer to the adoption guarantee shelter. Our truck was almost full of animals when shelter staff pointed out an ancient, arthritic collie mix and asked if we might consider taking her. I argued against it, saying she was too old and decrepit to be adoptable. But in the end we felt sorry for her and took her (another dog had to ride on my lap on the way home to make room). Then I felt too bad for her to put her in the shelter kennels — her arthritis was so bad and she seemed so depressed. So I took her back to my room for the night. And the next night. And home over the weekend. And hung on to her my second week in the shelter. I officially adopted her on the last day. Her name is Rosie.

In mid November, I spent two weeks on campus, working with veterinary students as they learned how to spay and neuter animals. I am getting more and more confident in my own spay/neuter skills, but teaching still feels scary. Will I be able to tell ahead of time before someone does something wrong? I also got to amputate a badly broken leg off of a kitten. My first amputation! Terrifying. There are big arteries in there.

After Thanksgiving, I was on campus again for our shelter behavior course. This was a blast. A lot of reading about behavior (one of my favorite things to do), and a surprising amount of hands on work. We learned about different temperament tests for dogs and tried them out, both on shelter dogs and on our own dogs. We visited some different shelters in the area and talked about how they handled their dogs, and at the end of the two weeks we spent two days at one shelter, getting hands-on helping some of their dogs: setting up play groups, putting up cage barriers for those dogs who were over-stimulated by their surroundings, hanging treat buckets, etc.

Now I am in the hospital on the dermatology service. Skin problems are really, really common in shelter animals, particularly in the South. Flea allergies! Pollen allergies! Allergies allergies allergies! Also mites.

And that brings me to today. I finish up my dermatology rotation next week and head on to another week in the emergency room. And that is what I have been up to. I have been quiet, but I have not forgotten you guys.


  1. We love hearing from you! Please keep posting when you have time; your work seems very interesting. Congrats on Rosie!

  2. Your Rosie story made me smile. I'm happy to hear about your experiences!

  3. Good on you for doing so much stuff that's really helpful but difficult!

  4. I hate skin issues. I used to complain when I was working in a practice in Central Oregon about constantly removing "cheet grass" (wild grass seeds)from the ears all summer, but we had NO fleas. Now I know the horror and monotony of treating FAD cases 8 months out of the year.

  5. Thanks all for your comments! I'll keep posting about my experiences as an intern.

    Hi, Austin! Yes, I hear you about fleas in different parts of the country. I had no experience with fleas at all as a vet student in New England. I didn't even know that my dog Jack, who I'd had for 10 years, was allergic to them. In the South, fleas seem to be a huge part of both general practice and dermatology, and I very quickly discovered just how itchy they made Jack. What are you up to now that you are treating flea allergies?