Merial shelter medicine clerkship gets grant


Angelica, a mixed breed dog.

Angelica is a mixed breed dog that was spayed through a grant to the Merial Shelter Medicine Clerkship program at UF.

“Do you want to donate $1 to help a homeless pet today?” We’ve all heard that request after filling up our shopping cart with goodies for our own four-legged friends, and as the generous animal lovers that we are, most of us say yes more often than not. The Merial Shelter Animal Medicine Clerkship at UF is now the beneficiary of some of that generosity through a $4613 grant from PetCo Foundation.

“Bully Breed Bailout” is a project aimed at providing free spay-neuter surgery for adult dogs belonging to local animal rescue agencies. The project targets dogs that have the physical appearance of a “bully breed” – mixed-breed dogs that resemble Labrador retrievers, mastiffs, boxers, bulldogs, Staffordshire terriers and the like. Dr. Brian DiGangi, a clinical assistant professor of shelter medicine at UF, said he applied for the grant because he recognized there was a specific need in the community.

“In animal shelters across the country, bully breeds are at a much higher risk for euthanasia as compared to other types of dogs,” he said. “We also know that veterinary expenses, particularly spay-neuter, are one of the biggest limiting factors for rescue groups in moving more animals through their adoption programs. We hope that by taking these costs out of the equation, more of these great dogs will be selected for adoption by local rescue groups and ultimately fewer of them will face negative outcomes in the sheltering system.”

Although the past couple years have seen tremendous enhancements in the life-saving capacity of our county shelter, those sentiments hold true right here in Alachua County, DiGangi said.

“Bully breeds represent only about 25 percent of all shelter dog intakes but nearly half of all canine euthanasias,” he said. “In addition, while the vast majority of dogs are saved by transfer to local rescue groups, only about 30 percent of the dogs transferred out represent these breeds.”

In only its first few weeks of operation, the program has already begun to make a difference.

“This grant has allowed us to take in more bully breed dogs with the knowledge that we can obtain free and quality spay-neuters,” said Susan Benson, president of the Williston Animal Group, which receives services from the Merial Shelter Animal Medicine Clerkship Program. “As a result, we were able to rescue two dogs recently and have already adopted one out to a great new home. Programs like these are crucial to rescue groups who rely on volunteers and donations to save and re-home thousands of dogs.”

Plenty of Pitbulls is another all-volunteer rescue group out of Gainesville that has benefited from the program.

“Since we are supported entirely by donations and small fundraisers, cost is a major limiting factor in our ability to help dogs,” said Anna Peterson, a group volunteer. “We rely heavily on the Shelter Medicine program. The PetCo grant will make a difference in our decisions and enable us to take in dogs that we could not help without this extra support.”

The program will continue until all the grant money is spent.

“We are hoping to see a 25 percent increase in the number of adult bully breed dogs that present to our service for spay-neuter surgery,” said DiGangi, who estimates that the grant will provide enough funds to spay or neuter about 100 dogs. “So the next time you wonder if that last minute, check-out line donation will really make a difference, rest assured that it does, and it is doing so by saving lives right in your own backyard.”

The Merial Shelter Animal Medicine Clerkship is an elective clinical rotation for junior and senior veterinary students at UF that seeks to assist veterinary students in developing their basic surgical skills through service learning and community outreach. Services are limited to animals under the care of local animal rescue groups.

 Editor’s note: Dr. Brian DiGangi contributed significantly to this story.

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May 2013

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UF veterinarians use team approach to save breeder’s prized Dachshund and her puppies.

Angelica, a mixed breed dog.

Merial shelter medicine clerkship gets grant

Program gets grant to pay spay/neuter costs of rescued “bully breeds.”

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Rachel DiSesa, an administrative assistant to Dean Glen Hoffsis, was selected as FVMA’s Citizen of the Year.

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