In December, Alley Cat Allies Founder and President Becky Robinson traveled to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to learn about an exciting development in the veterinary world for shelter animals, and present to the professor and students pioneering it.

Bob Weedon, DVM, MPH, a clinical assistant professor at the University of Illinois’ College of Veterinary Medicine, is spearheading a new shelter medicine program. Shelter medicine is a blend of large-scale healthcare and individualized care for shelter animals. Shelters need special veterinarians who understand their unique healthcare needs, and provide crucial services like spay and neuter and vaccinations. The program prepares veterinary students for a career caring for those animals who have long gone without sufficient care—including community cats.

“Having a shelter medicine specialty allows us to establish what is required for a decent quality of life for companion animals while they are in shelters, and develop standards to ensure that quality of life,” said Dr. Weedon.

The discipline was once small, and many veterinary schools still lack a full shelter medicine program. When Dr. Weedon first came to the University of Illinois in 2011, there was only a shelter medicine rotation at the local Champaign County Humane Society, where he worked part-time. In 2013, he approached the University of Illinois to pitch a full program.

 The mobile unit, where cats are spayed or neutered.

The mobile unit, where cats are spayed or neutered.

Now shelter medicine is growing fast and is officially recognized by the American Board of Veterinary Specialties. Dr. Weedon’s program is also going strong—setting an important precedent for veterinary schools and preparing students to enter a widely needed field.

The shelter medicine program provides low-cost spay and neuter services and weekend spay/neuter clinics specifically for community cats, and works with shelters to implement TNVR (Trap-Neuter-Vaccinate-Return) programs. Weedon and his students are improving animal welfare in local shelters; providing consultation on health protocols and helping them raise their standards.

A mobile spay/neuter unit, funded by a grant from PetsMart Charities in 2013, helps the program serve more animals and provides students ample hands-on experience with surgeries. With students learning so quickly, future shelter veterinarians will be able to help more animals, and be an important part of the TNR cycle. Many students are already bringing their services to small shelters that cannot afford a full time, in-house veterinarian.

“The students have learned the importance of giving back,” said Dr. Weedon. “Many of them have done that by working with their local shelter or in local TNR programs.”

Dr. Weedon’s long-term goal is to expand the shelter medicine program, and spread awareness of the importance of shelter medicine. We look forward to seeing the program grow, and to more veterinary schools adopting shelter medicine programs of their own.

Come Meet Alley Cat Allies at the North American Veterinary Community Conference!

Alley Cat Allies will be attending the North American Veterinary Community (NAVC) Conference in Orlando, Florida from January 16 through 20! Come visit us at exhibit booth #120 at the Gaylord Hotel and get a chance to win a Spay Pack provided by Universal Surgical Instruments. For a donation, you can receive a tote bag, t-shirt, or a copy of Becky Robinson’s new book: The Evolution of the Cat Revolution.

Don’t miss Dr. G. Robert Weedon at our January 17 presentation at 5:30 p.m in the Gaylord Hotel! Dr. Weedon will be speaking at our “TNR: Using HQHVSN and Pediatric Sterilization to Maximize Impact” session and talking about how high-quality, high-volume spay/neuter clinics and pediatric spay/neuter can create a more effective Trap-Neuter-Return program.

We hope to see you at the NAVC conference!