UF Shelter Medicine Program Elevates Practices for Grad Student in Cambodia 

Shelter Medicine online graduate student Martina Mayr serves animals in need at her shelter, Animal Rescue Cambodia, in Phnom Penh.
Shelter Medicine online graduate student Martina Mayr serves animals in need at her shelter, Animal Rescue Cambodia, in Phnom Penh.  
 

There is a rising global need for skilled veterinarians and shelter professionals to tackle the health and welfare challenges in animal shelters. Living in Cambodia’s capital city of Phnom Penh, UF Shelter Medicine graduate student Martina Mayr answered this call by founding her own animal shelter to bring life-saving care and support to urban animals.  

“I went to Cambodia 10 years ago for a different job in a completely different field before I found a very neglected dog,” Martina said. “I realized there was so much more to do in terms of animal welfare in Cambodia, so I decided to quit my job and start my own organization.”  

This May, Martina graduated with her Master of Science in Veterinary Medical Sciences with a concentration in Shelter Medicine from the University of Florida. Given the limited training resources available in Cambodia, Martina wanted to develop a deeper understanding of shelter medicine and its best practices. When she discovered the online Shelter Medicine program at the University of Florida, she knew it would provide new opportunities for her shelter, Animal Rescue Cambodia. 

“Cambodia doesn’t have many animal welfare organizations or professionals that have an animal welfare background,” she said. Martina is originally from Germany and has lived across the world in nations like the UK, Canada, and Japan, and moving to Cambodia provided her with a stark reminder of global realities.  

Martina Mayr in surgery setting.
Martina Mayr’s experiences in the University of Florida’s online Shelter Medicine graduate program helped her define shelter medicine best practices with her team. “It changed everything for me, my staff, and the animals we take care of,” she said.

Martina and her professors learn from one another, creating an open dialogue to discuss the unique challenges different countries face in shelter medicine. Her presence in Cambodia presented new hurdles to professors as she faced issues typically unheard of in the U.S., like difficulties obtaining supplies and the absence of common practices like medical waste management due to the lack of infrastructure.  

The UF Shelter Medicine program helped Martina recognize the life-saving significance of differentiating shelter medicine from standard veterinary practices. “I realized that shelter medicine is not like private practice in veterinary medicine, it’s very different,” Martina said. For example, the young cats in her shelter frequently fell ill if staff followed standard veterinary medicine practices for vaccination. Cats are typically vaccinated at eight weeks old, but if they arrive at a shelter at just one month old, they may become sick before receiving the vaccination. To address this problem through the lens of shelter medicine, staff members now administer vaccinations immediately at four weeks old. This change, combined with improved cleaning protocols, has significantly reduced the transmission of potentially fatal infections among shelter animals.  

The Humane Euthanasia Practices for Animal Shelters (VME 6817) course also played a pivotal role in Martina’s shelter career. In Cambodia, humane euthanasia is rarely considered as an option for animals. Yet Martina views humane euthanasia as a neutral act, one that may even provide a better outcome rather than prolonging an animal’s suffering. The course bolstered Martina’s confidence to openly discuss this important aspect of shelter medicine, which helped her and her colleagues to make tough decisions more efficiently. 

For success in the online Shelter Medicine program and the post-graduate professional journey, Martina advises her peers to connect with a shelter, preferably through substantial involvement rather than casual volunteering. While it may not be feasible for everyone, she found that consistent engagement in shelter work transformed her learning experience. Daily involvement with the shelter empowered Martina to immediately apply practical lessons from her online coursework. This blend of theoretical learning with real-life application enriched her overall educational experience and informed her shelter medicine practices at Animal Rescue Cambodia.  

After graduation, Martina is eager to use the knowledge she gained from UF’s online Shelter Medicine program throughout her career. “I felt so empowered and inspired because I had access to the top of the top shelter medicine professionals,” Martina said. “The idea of shelter medicine being different than veterinary medicine is quite new. There are not many programs in the world that have shelter medicine, so it was a very special thing for me to do. It changed everything for me, my staff, and the animals we take care of.” 

Cats in adoption room, six kennels, comfortable furniture, cat tree,
Martina’s nonprofit Animal Rescue Cambodia focuses on spay and neuter programs, vaccination, safety net programs, affordable care, and veterinary education.
Annant Whalen posing with student Martina Mayer
UF Shelter Medicine student Martina Mayer (left) met Annant Wahlen, Academic Support Services manager for UF’s Office of the Provost, in spring 2024 at her Cambodian shelter.

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The UF Veterinary Shelter Medicine online program offers a Master of Science in Veterinary Medical Sciences with a Concentration in Shelter Medicine, an online graduate certificate in shelter medicine, and continuing education courses. The program allows students to interact with the content in an asynchronous, online-delivery format on their schedules while encouraging students to reflect on prior experiences in shelter medicine. Students learn best practices and broaden career opportunities in this rapidly growing field where there is a high demand for well-trained professionals to address the health and welfare issues unique to animal shelters. Explore programs and apply easily online

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