9 Questions We've Always Wanted to Ask a Shelter Vet

9 Questions We’ve Always Wanted to Ask a Shelter Vet


We asked the Chief of Veterinary Services, Dr. Louisa Poon, at the Denver Animal Shelter to answer some questions we’ve always wanted to know about working at an animal shelter. If you’re just as curious as us, grab some tissues and read on, a few of these answers will give you some serious feels.

1. How do shelter veterinarians differ from those who work at or run a private practice?

Shelter veterinarians are tasked with “herd health” which is essentially infectious disease control in a large group of animals. On any given day, Denver Animal Shelter will have 150-300 animals in our care. Also, shelter veterinarians commonly will do up to 30 surgeries per day which is quite uncommon in a private practice.

2. What does high-quality care mean in a shelter setting?

When thinking about high-quality care in a shelter setting, we think of the “5 Freedoms”. The “5 Freedoms” are:

  • Freedom from hunger and thirst (food and water)
  • Freedom from discomfort (shelter)
  • Freedom from pain, injury, and disease (medical care)
  • Freedom to express normal behavior (exercise)
  • Freedom from fear and distress (love and understanding)

3. What areas of expertise are employed by a shelter vet?

As the Chief of Veterinary Services, I focus on: infectious disease control (herd health); high quality, high volume spay/neuter surgeries; and routine examination and diagnosis of sick and injured animals.

4. Why do shelters need a veterinarian?

Many stray animals come into the shelter with injuries and without a veterinarian at the shelter, the sick and injured animals would not be able to receive timely diagnostics and treatment. Shelter veterinarians also provide spay/neuter surgeries to intact animals prior to adoption.

5. What is the biggest comeback in an animal’s health you’ve witnessed?

A cat with a severe injury to the head after being hit by a car. The cat had sustained so much trauma that the left eye was pushed out of the socket, the hard palate was fractured down the middle, and the lower jaw was fractured. It took a while for the cat to recover but after six weeks of care, the cat was adopted!

6. Have you yourself rescued an animal that you’ve treated?

Yes definitely, sometimes it is hard to let go. Besides working full time at the shelter, I foster for a few different rescue groups as well. I adopted a little terrier that came to the shelter after being attacked by a large dog. I fostered this little terrier for 3 weeks and fell in love. Now he is a member of my pack.

7. Historically animal shelters seemed more like processing centers, where animals were either adopted or euthanized within a few days. But now, with no-kill shelters becoming more and more popular, how do you keep up with the large number of animals coming in that need treatment?

It is very fortunate that I live and work in Colorado where all the rescue groups and shelters work closely with one another. We help each other by providing expertise, equipment, and other resources to make sure each animal gets the best care and outcome. Without the support of our partners, we would not be able to save as many lives as we do. Another big part of our success is due to the generosity of our volunteers and donors like Buckley. Resources are always limited but with our volunteers and donors, we are able to help so many more animals.

8. Now that the weather is starting to heat up a bit, what are some precautions I can take for my dog in hot weather? How do I know if my dog is dehydrated and what should I do if they are?

When the expected temperature exceeds 80° F, it is best to exercise during the early morning or in the evening, when it is cooler. Always have water available for your dog. Just like with people, certain individuals are more suspected to heat stroke. So if your dog is a puppy, elderly, sick, or overweight, your dog will be more susceptible to overheating. Certain breeds such as English bulldogs, French bulldogs, and other breeds with a “flat face”, overheat and suffer from heat stroke very easily. If you are concerned that your dog is dehydrated or is panting heavily due to overheating, seek veterinary care immediately.

9. How do you detach from the emotional stress of your job when you go home?

Processing the negative emotions that come up with the job can be very difficult and to be honest, I am not always successful. My veterinary staff is amazing and we provide each other a lot of emotional support. After all, the people that are “in the trenches” with you are the people who understand the situation the best. WIthout their understanding and never-ending support, I don’t think I would be able to handle the stresses of this job. Another thing that helps me to detach from the emotional stress of my job when I go home is a balanced home life. I love to spend time with my dogs and my spouse. I am very active and love to exercise. Without other interests and hobbies in my home life, I would constantly be thinking about work and that would be super stressful!

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We are in awe of the passion and dedication it takes to work as a veterinarian in an animal shelter and we are so thankful for all of their hard work. Thank you again to Dr. Lisa Poon from the Denver Animal Shelter! Stay tuned for our follow-up blog: Ten Questions We’ve Always Wanted to Ask a Shelter Sargent.