Module 9: The Role of the Shelter Veterinarian

Setting the Stage for Success: Shelter Medicine Behind the Scenes

Dr. Stephanie Janeczko speaks from experience when she says she has a firm belief that “a holistic approach joining the medical and operational sides of sheltering is vital to our success.”

Dr. Janeczko completed a Shelter Medicine residency, was in the first group to become a boarded specialist in shelter medicine, practiced as medical director at NY City Animal Care and Control, is a Certified Animal Welfare Administrator, and currently holds an executive position with the ASPCA as Senior Director of Shelter Medical Programs. In this blog, she explains how the relationship between managers and veterinarians can evolve to advance shelter operations.


The Emerging Role of the Shelter Veterinarian

Portrait of Stephanie Janeczko
Stephanie Janeczko

Traditionally, small animal veterinary practice has focused on the individual patient. Most of veterinary school does not prepare you to think about a ‘herd health’ approach to caring for dogs and cats. The focus is implicitly on that one cat or one dog, living in a home, maybe with another furry friend or two, or maybe even three… but certainly not two or three hundred! Yet it is that consideration of caring for animals in groups that is at the very core of shelter medicine. As shelter veterinarians we have been trained to take a different approach from traditional small animal practice—one that emphasizes the health of the population while still ensuring individual animal welfare and considering the needs of the larger community.

Despite having this broad frame of reference, some take a narrow view of the expertise shelter veterinarians can share with an organization, seeing their value only in terms of how many spay/neuter surgeries they can perform or cases they can treat. I have actually heard executive directors say they wish their veterinarians would stay in surgery and out of operations! And at the same time, I have heard shelter veterinarians say they don’t want to have to think about anything but treating the animal in front of them.

Now don’t get me wrong—the ability to provide humane, efficient and effective veterinary attention to the animals in our care is a critical skill. It is absolutely integral to our ability to save lives and isn’t one that can be delegated to others. But this is a pretty limited view of what shelter veterinarians can provide. And it often comes at the risk of focusing on reactive measures rather than proactive, preventive strategies. There are many, many aspects typically considered to be operational that are so intertwined with the health and well-being of animals where shelter veterinarians can lend assistance – including shelter facility design, population level housing, nutrition, sanitation and behavioral care, and resource management and risk analysis, just to name a few.

— Dr. Stephanie Janeczko



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Integrating Veterinary Medicine with Shelter Systems Copyright © 2020 by University of Florida is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.