News Item | PAWS Chicago

The Emerging Role of Shelter Medicine in No Kill Sheltering

by Julie Mazzola | May 01, 2010

PAWS Chicago a Leader in Innovating Best Practices

‘Shelter medicine’ is a relatively new phenomenon that has become the latest emerging field among top veterinary colleges. Although animal shelters and veterinary medicine both have long established histories, the specialized veterinary field of shelter medicine only arose with the advent of No Kill sheltering in the mid-1990’s. 

Traditional kill shelters operate under a system of herd management, where sick cats and dogs and the pets housed in direct proximity are killed before they can contaminate the rest of the shelter population. Pets with injuries or those who are deemed too young (litters or others not yet eight weeks) or too old (often only at six years of age) are classified as “unadoptable” and killed because they require too much time, care and resources to be ready for adoption. 

No Kill shelters, like PAWS Chicago, utilize a case management veterinary system where every single pet is treated as an individual and given the nurturing, treatment and rehabilitation needed. Euthanasia is only reserved for pets irremediably suffering, in which medical treatment cannot alleviate their condition, or for vicious dogs who pose a threat to the public. 

By integrating state-of-the-art proper facility protocols (such as high quality air ventilation systems, cleaning protocols and shelter design) to prevent disease transmission and extensive medical procedures to treat shelter animals with a large variance of illnesses and injuries, PAWS Chicago has become a national model in sheltering and is helping sick pets to get well quicker and to be ready for adoption faster. These protocols and procedures, with the goal of preventing healthy pets from getting sick and helping sick pets get well to be ready for adoption, differ from private practice veterinary medicine. For shelters to accomplish their mission of placing as many homeless pets as possible with new families, the need for shelter medicine studies and veterinarians who are trained to care for animals specifically in a shelter environment is critical.


Maddie’s Fund Leading the Way 

Credit for the burgeoning field of shelter medicine is due entirely to the work of Maddie’s Fund, established in 1999 by PeopleSoft and Workday Founder Dave Duffield and his wife Cheryl. With the goal of creating an adoption guaranteed (No Kill) nation, Maddie’s Fund has established ground-breaking programs within existing veterinary colleges and provides grants to collaborating shelters through its Shelter Medicine Grant Program. 

Maddie’s established the nation’s first comprehensive shelter medicine program in 2001 at UC Davis, which resulted in the first shelter medicine residency program and the nation’s first shelter medicine web site. Currently, Maddie’s Fund has active grants at 13 colleges of veterinary medicine at institutions including Purdue University, University of Florida and Cornell University. 


Shelter Medicine at PAWS Chicago 

Purdue University’s School of Veterinary Medicine, with shelter partner PAWS Chicago, received the second largest shelter medicine grant from Maddie’s Fund in 2008. This funding has enabled PAWS Chicago to expand and evolve its shelter medicine program, the first of its kind to be integrated at the shelter level, and has provided an opportunity for the organization to lead the way in innovative best practices. 

“PAWS Chicago is a pioneer in recognizing the value of preventative medicine for shelter animals,” said Dr. Laurie Peek, DVM, Veterinary Program Director for Maddie’s Fund. “They are one of the leaders in the industry for demonstrating the implementation of shelter medicine practices to improve the health and well being of homeless dogs and cats and have embraced this for each and every animal in their care.” 

Purdue University and PAWS Chicago are working to conduct in-depth studies to better understand animals that are housed in a shelter setting, and to provide real-life educational experiences to students and licensed veterinarians in shelter medicine. Currently, four studies are being conducted that will help to improve efficiencies and maximize limited resources of shelters, looking at: 


  • Puppy/kitten responses to antibiotics and their cure time based on their health at intake 
  • Which antibiotics have the greatest impact on increasing cure time of population animals 
  • The true health requirements of cats with FIV as compared to that of healthy cats 
  • Measuring antibodies in dogs and puppies to determine timing of parvo and distemper vaccinations and to reduce time to adoption 

From an educational standpoint, PAWS Chicago offers applied experience through an externship program for fourth-year DVM students, a certified vet tech externship program and a fellowship program in shelter medicine for licensed, experienced veterinarians. All programs take place on-site at PAWS Chicago’s Rescue & Recovery Center. 

“Shelter medicine is truly transforming sheltering by raising awareness about this specific need among future veterinarians and vet techs by providing an opportunity to experience what it is to work in PAWS Chicago’s state-of-the-art shelter,” said Dr. Annette Lister, DVM, director of Purdue University’s Maddie’s Fund Shelter Medicine Program. “Our goal is to inspire our students to take the best practices learned and employ them at other shelters so that they too can guarantee the life of all healthy and treatable animals.” 

According to Dr. Peek, the great majority of shelters that have veterinarians on staff utilize them primarily for spay/neuter surgeries. They do not take full advantage of the doctor’s skill set to provide holistic care to all animals in their care. Dr. Peek underscores that both preventative surgery and preventative medicine must be in play together. 

Impressed with PAWS Chicago’s commitment to make Chicago a No Kill city, Dr. Cynthia Crawford, DVM, University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine, noted the hallmarks that sets the organization apart. “We are pleased with the fact that PAWS Chicago has two separate centers – the Rescue & Recovery Center and Adoption Center – each with its own focus to eliminate euthanasia. We also believe that their partnership with Chicago Animal Care and Control, combined with enrichment programs for animals and a commitment to strive for improvement in their programs are great steps in saving the lives of homeless cats and dogs.” Though in its infancy, shelter medicine is already saving lives.