News Item | PAWS Chicago

Putting Shelter Medicine into Practice

by Julie Mazzola | Nov 01, 2012

“Because so many animals originate as strays, we see a wide variety of disease and injury associated with living on the streets, including burns, poison, broken bones, ringworm and fleas and mites. It is also common for us to treat parvo in dogs, panleukopenia in cats, dental disease, skin infections including mange and other orthopedic issues. I’ve seen more disease in the animals who enter PAWS Chicago than I did in 20+ years in private practice.” Dr. Barbara Hanek, DVM PAWS Chicago Shelter Medicine Veterinarian

PAWS Chicago integrates shelter medicine into animal care at its Rescue & Recovery Center – the first stop for homeless animals when they come from the city pound or are given up by their owners. The PAWS veterinary team provides each animal with all medical care needed, regardless of the pet’s health condition. While many pets are healthy and are able to be “fast tracked” (spayed or neutered and transferred to the Adoption Center within three days), there are many others who have major, yet treatable, illnesses or injuries and need extensive care for before they can be cleared for adoption. PAWS Chicago’s shelter medicine and foster program provides for wellness and preventative care, supportive and critical care, internal medicine, diagnostic testing, dentistry, and surgery. 

In traditional sheltering, euthanasia has long been the remedy to disease management. In the No Kill model, shelter medicine has become the foundation to saving lives on a massive scale. PAWS Chicago has consistently achieved better than a 96% save rate throughout its history. In PAWS’ formative years with only a few hundred adoptions each year, external veterinary clinics were utilized for illness at a very high medical costs per animal. With PAWS Chicago’s growth after opening the Adoption Center in 2007, that outsourced model would have limited the number of animals that could be taken in, healed and adopted to new families. 

The creation of an internal shelter medicine program that provides medical treatment and care for each individual animal while establishing medical protocols that optimize the treatment of highly contagious and deadly diseases has been essential to ensuring a continuous flow of treated, healthy animals to the Adoption Center. With growing demand for PAWS Chicago animals, more than 5,000 animals will flow through PAWS Chicago’s shelter medicine program in 2012, and that number is expected to grow each year. 

But shelter medicine has not only helped get more animals treated and healthy for adoption quicker – it has shortened the treatment cycle and improved medical care. Shelter diseases are not always common in private veterinary clinics, so there is improved care for the animals that come through PAWS Chicago today. Not only does PAWS have the capability to treat immediately upon detection, but there are better results for saving animals with virulent disease. Partnering with Purdue University and Maddie’s Fund, PAWS Chicago has been able to develop best practices in medical treatment and care that maintains the health of the shelter population and is able to turn healthy animals through the system to maximize adoptions. 

“We use the information and research that is available, along with the resources from our partnership with Purdue, and put it into practice at the shelter level so that we are able to look for the best options for each pet and continue to evolve our treatment protocols for those who are sick or injured,” said PAWS Chicago Executive Director Rochelle Michalek.

Treating Dillinger

Dillinger, a one-year-old German Shepherd, was mauled by another dog. His face had been torn up during the altercation and became infected, killing some of his skin. The city pound provided initial treatment before he was transferred to PAWS Chicago, where veterinarians performed reconstructive surgery to remove the dead tissue and to treat the infection. Dillinger was given time to heal in a loving foster home and is now currently available for adoption at PAWS Chicago’s Adoption Center where he has begun the search for his new home.

Treating Aye

Aye, a beautiful six-week-old kitten, was transferred to PAWS Chicago from Animal Care & Control with his five littermates. Aye was suffering from an upper respiratory infection that resulted in a severe eye infection, causing it to swell to three times its normal size. Aye’s life was in danger and PAWS Chicago veterinarians had to rush him into a high-risk emergency surgery. Due to Aye’s small size, weight (only 11.5 ounces) and age, the veterinarians had to modify their anesthesia equipment, including borrowing a tube specially designed for small birds from a specialty clinic, and using a surgical glove to create a small opening for the mask. The surgery also had to be performed in a minimal amount of time so that he could survive the surgery. Aye was touch and go throughout the surgery, but pulled through thanks to exceptional work of the shelter medicine veterinarians. Aye fully recovered and today, is loving life in his new home where he is greatly loved.

Treating Diamond

Two-year-old Pit Bull mix, Diamond, came to PAWS Chicago from the city pound after being given up by her owner who could no longer care for her severe skin infection, demodex mange, which had spread all over her body. PAWS shelter medicine veterinarians provided this sweet girl with medication and care to improve her condition and gave her time to regain her health in a foster home as mange can take several months to heal. Diamond is on the road to recovery and will soon be available for adoption.

Treating Puppies and Kittens

Puppies and kittens have the weakest immune systems and the highest risk of contracting highly contagious and deadly diseases. The shelter medicine program at PAWS Chicago is saving 1,000 of these babies each year, providing them with the significant medical care they need.

Treating Rock Star

When 17-week-old Rock Star arrived at PAWS Chicago, he was suffering from a broken leg, likely after being hit by a car. Injured pets like Rock Star are often the first to be euthanized at traditional “open door” shelters or simply left on the street to suffer alone. At PAWS Chicago’s Rescue & Recovery Center, veterinarians set and cast his leg and gave him back the use of all four legs. Rock Star healed perfectly and lives up to his name as a happy, frisky kitten in his new home.