Giving pets shelter
New veterinary medicine grad found her calling in shelter medicine
By Sarah Carey
At 18, Lauren Rockey, D.V.M., signed up to volunteer at her local animal shelter. She fostered neonatal kittens and cats with upper respiratory infections, exercised and performed basic obedience lessons with dogs, and visited the local farmer’s market every weekend with dogs and cats up for adoption.
It was during that year when she decided she wanted to become a veterinarian — but only if she could focus on shelter medicine.
“I absolutely became addicted to being at the shelter and wanted to do what I could to decrease the excessive number of euthanasias our shelter was required to do,” said Rockey, who graduated from the UF College of Veterinary Medicine in 2012. “We had no staff veterinarian, and I thought ‘Wouldn’t that save lives, having a vet here to manage disease outbreaks and do life-saving surgeries?’”
At the time, there wasn’t really a field for training shelter-oriented veterinarians, but that changed when UF became, as Rockey puts it “a powerhouse for shelter medicine.”
During the past five years, thanks to funding from Maddie’s Fund, UF’s Shelter Medicine program has grown significantly, supplementing the shelter medicine clerkship program with additional community and statewide outreach opportunities that benefit students and professionals already working in the field.
Rockey came to UF for undergraduate studies in 2004. She soon began volunteering with Operation Catnip and in the research lab of Julie Levy, D.V.M, where she worked on projects involving shelters, disease prevention and population management.
“I can’t believe how amazingly it worked out,” Rockey said. “I wanted to be this ‘thing’ called a shelter vet, and here was the strongest shelter medicine program in the U.S. at UF. Dr. Levy became my mentor and has fostered my career path from day one.”
Rockey’s efforts resulted in her receiving the Grevior Shelter Medicine Award and the Maddie’s Award for Excellence in Shelter Medicine during the college’s senior banquet. Now that she has finally finished veterinary school, Rockey is headed to the Oregon Humane Society in Portland, Ore., for an internship in shelter medicine.
“I know I will learn so much,” she said. “After that, I’m not sure what happens, but my dream would be to be a medical director at a shelter in Colorado. But who knows.”
Rockey said she would be forever grateful to the “amazing doctors and mentors” she worked with at UF, including Levy, Natalie Isaza, D.V.M., and others.
Rockey praised the shelter medicine certificate program, saying it had provided resources she needed to become successful in the field. The Maddie’s Certificate in Shelter Medicine program now has 45 students enrolled — the largest number of any certificate program at the college. Rockey is one of five students who received their certificates this year and one of only seven who have ever received it.
“I’m used to seeing puzzled expressions when I mention what I want to do after veterinary school,” Rockey said. “Some people say I will grow out of it, get tired of it or get bored. I think this just means they have never spent an entire day in a shelter.”