Shelter medicine is tough. It can be like herd health medicine, which we usually think of with cattle and pigs, but instead with small animals. The hours are long, the pay is often below average, and decisions that shelter veterinarians sometimes have to make can be heartbreaking, because they are based on practicality and cost, versus purely medicine. Sure, that puppy with parvo might be able to be saved, but he’d need a foster home or else may face euthanasia, because a dog with an extremely contagious and often fatal illness can put the other 15 puppies in the shelter at extreme risk of getting sick. We want to save everything, but that can be a very difficult challenge in a shelter environment where a dog may be considered unadoptable because of some issue ranging from behavioral problems to a medical condition like hip dysplasia.
During my shelter rotation at a local shelter, I asked the veterinarians there why they chose shelter medicine instead of private practice. They all agreed it was the chance to do the most good and give back to both the animals and the community. Rather than focusing on the animals they could not save, they focused on the countless dogs and cats they were able to help, as well as how they were helping their local community. I thought that was a wonderful way to look at their unique veterinary positions. It made me more grateful than ever that there are kind and caring people who are willing to do such a tough job and do it with such a positive outlook.