by Victoria DeMeo, LVT, ALAT
Shelter medicine is rapidly becoming a recognized field in veterinary medicine as well as a link in the One Health initiative championed by the CDC combining human, animal, and environmental health globally. Gone are the days where shelters were repositories for unwanted animals or a stomping ground for dog catchers. While animal sheltering does offer a means for homeless animals to find new families, the greater message is to maintain current family bonds by offering support to enable pet ownership. For some that is free or low-cost vet care, food, or training. Other families may seek legal intervention in cases of domestic violence, tenant law, or disaster relief. While the idea behind dog catching still exists, it is only to remove public health and safety dangers to other animals and humans. The so-called dangers are now evaluated and possibly rehabilitated. This might mean euthanasia for some, depending on dangerous dog laws or severe illness. However, for many, it can be population control in the form of Trap Neuter Release/Return, transfer to wildlife agencies, health services and then adoption, or further behavior modification through fostering and rescue groups to better individualize care. Shelters have the unique position of seeing both the individual creature in the greater fabric of the shelter population and within the tapestry of the communities they serve. Shelter professionals do all this and more while battling higher than average odds that compassion fatigue, a secondary trauma akin to PTSD, will affect their work performance and lives.
Veterinarians can now be recognized as specialists in shelter medicine. While credentialing for veterinary technicians across North America is a contentious subject due to the varied titles bestowed in the profession, NAVTA, the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America, offers a deeper scrutinizing service for technicians wishing to specialize. While only 12 of the 48 states that recognize credentialing for veterinary technicians offer title protection (Utah and Connecticut do not have stipulations for any veterinary professional outside of doctors), a VTS or Veterinary Technician Specialty, can only be offered to an elite population of professionals. Most academies, the founding bodies which offer the VTS title in a specific field or related field, require at least the following for additional credentialing:
- Graduation from an accredited AVMA program or reciprocal licensure/registration/certification from a state approved pathway.
- A determined amount of expertise immediately preceding, or within a certain amount of inactive years, the candidate’s application. The standard is a minimum of 3-5 years of full time work (hour amounts to be disclosed by the academy).
- A determined amount of case studies with a selected few demonstrating the proficiency of the technician in carrying out the workload. The standard is 50 cases and the ‘highlight reel’ as needed.
- A board exam highlighting principles of the chosen field (a sort of specific version of the VTNE – Veterinary Technician National Exam).
The organizing committee members, who create the skill lists and tests needed of the VTS, are further inspected by the Committee on Veterinary Technician Specialties and should demonstrate an even greater understanding of the field and also pass the exam they themselves create. An organizing committee member should be 7-10 years in the field with teaching, research, presentation, or other expert knowledge and at least 40 hours of field specific continuing education.
While we can’t speculate on what this means for the proposed shelter medicine VTS, we know that they will join the ranks of Emergency and Critical Care, Dental Technicians, Internal Medicine, Anesthesia and Analgesia, Laboratory Animal, Behavior, Clinical Pathology, Clinical Practice (canine/feline, avian/exotic or production animal), Dermatology, Equine Nursing Technicians, Physical Rehabilitation, Nutrition, Ophthalmic, Surgical, Zoological Medicine, and Diagnostic Imaging Veterinary Technician