We’re thrilled to chat about shelter medicine today with the woman who wrote the book on it. Literally. A pioneer in the field of animal sheltering, Lila Miller, DVM, is a graduate of the veterinary college at Cornell University and has over 30 years of experience at the ASPCA. A co-founder of the Association of Shelter Veterinarians, Dr. Miller taught the first-ever shelter medicine class at a veterinary college (Cornell, 1999), and lectures extensively on shelter medicine and anti-cruelty topics at universities and conferences. In 2008, she received the American Veterinary Medical Association’s prestigious Animal Welfare Award. And yes, Dr. Miller is the co-editor of the only two textbooks on shelter medicine: Shelter Medicine for Veterinarians and Staff and Infectious Disease Management in Animal Shelters.
Shelters’ Edge: What was your first job as a veterinarian?
Dr. Lila Miller: My first job as a veterinarian was in 1977, working for the ASPCA in the shelter to improve the conditions and medical care for the thousands of animals then under their care.
[Editor's note: From 1894-1994, the ASPCA was contracted to provide animal control services in New York City.]
Shelters’ Edge: Over the years, what’s changed most for animals in shelters?
Dr. M: In addition to better physical conditions at many shelters, most animals have a better chance at leaving shelters alive—the euthanasia rate has decreased substantially over the last 30 years.
Shelters’ Edge: Tell us about your current role at the ASPCA
Dr. M: As Vice President of Veterinary Outreach and Veterinary Advisor, currently my primary role is to provide knowledge about shelter medicine and how to manage animal cruelty to both veterinary and shelter professionals through teaching, writing, advocating and by providing grant money to other organizations and individuals to help educate others.
Shelters’ Edge: In terms of veterinary medicine, what are the two most important things that shelters can do for the animals in their care?
Dr. M: 1. ) Provide timely and routine preventative care (vaccinations, deworming, grooming) that includes attention to their individual emotional and physical needs.
2. ) Respond quickly to medical and behavioral problems that cause illness, pain, distress, anxiety and discomfort.
Shelters’ Edge: You’ve met—and helped to save—so many animals throughout your career! Are there any whose stories still stick with you?
Dr. M: When the ASPCA was performing animal control duties for the City of New York, as an open admission shelter we took in every animal who was brought in. A friendly young female pit bull was brought to us by a family who had lost their home due to a fire, and they needed to leave her with us until they could find a new home. The dog had been burned in the fire and so we undertook treatment for what seemed to be fairly minor burns.
However, new lesions kept surfacing and requiring surgery and treatment, and the dog had to stay in our hospital for several weeks. The staff all fell in love with this good-natured dog and volunteered their time for weekend care for feeding, walking, changing dressings and giving meds. The family had been visiting the dog fairly regularly but the visits became less frequent, and we began to fear they wouldn’t be able to find a new place where they could take her with them. It was a very happy day for us all when they called to say they had finally found a new home where they could also take her. What a joyous reunion when they came to get her and she realized that this time when the family left, she was going home with them!
Shelters’ Edge: What advice do you have for veterinary students interested in shelter medicine?
Dr. M: Try to volunteer at a shelter, especially one that has a veterinarian on staff who can be a mentor, and be sure to join the student chapter of the Association of Shelter Veterinarians. You can also try to get the veterinary school administration to start a shelter medicine program or work with the local shelter, and look for shelter medicine externships.
What are your questions for Dr. Miller? Please type them in the comment box.
Association of Shelter Veterinarians
Shelter Medicine for Veterinarians and Staff
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