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Tufts OpenCourseware
Author: Paul Waldau

Veterinarians are constantly being asked by clients, their communities, and even the media to weigh in on issues surrounding companion animals, shelters, and dangerous pets. The goal of this lecture is to provide students with an understanding of how companion animal issues reflect complex societal values. At the same time that the public is fascinated with their own companion animals (with 99% of people referring to them as “family members”), shelters are given responsibilities far beyond their financial means. All too often, shelters are forced by financial or other practical problems into situations in which some animals must be killed. How do these complex realities affect veterinary practice? What can veterinary medicine do to alleviate these problems?

1. Readings

  • Overview of Shelter Medicine - Click here for PDF

  • Edward Duvin 1989, “In the Name of Mercy”

  • John Katz 2004, “Poor Little Rich Dog”

  • Mackie 2000 on Fibannacio’s 70 percent rule

2. Reflection Journal Assignment

Due at beginning of next session

Looking Back — Dr. Rauch told this story to me after this class session in 2005. She had recently given a lecture in the third-year lecture class where shelter medicine was a principal topic. At the conclusion of the lecture, one of the third-year students came up to her and said, “I have long been puzzled over what I will do when I leave vet school. I’ve been working hard, true, and in a general way I really love veterinary medicine. But, honestly, I haven’t been able to find my niche. But after hearing you today, I recognize that shelter medicine gives me all the elements I need to fulfill my desire to help animals. Thank you so much.” (Would that all of our lectures proved so helpful ….) Dr. Rauch, after telling me this story, suggested that a helpful topic on which to write would be compassion fatigue because, in her experience, that phenomenon can be a problem throughout veterinary medicine. She thought a good practical exercise would be to write on this question—What advice and/or suggestions would you give to those you manage in your veterinary office or lab or shelter in order to minimize the stress they will experience from handling such weighty matters as euthanasia, sickness, family grief? Feel free to do this briefly, and you can even do it in the form of policies you’d put in place. The spirit of this assignment is simple—think about, and then write about, communications or policies you think would help the people around you in veterinary medicine cope with the inevitable stress of the work you will do.

Looking Forward —Of the times you’ve seen or engaged wildlife, what two experiences are the most memorable? And why?