New collaboration between UF, Miami-Dade shelter will enhance care for homeless animals

Student Tamara Downs and Dr. Casey Miller

Fourth-year UF veterinary student Tamara Downs, left, performed an externship at the Miami-Dade County shelter this summer. She is shown here with Dr. Casey Miller (’16), who is now employed at the shelter. (Photo courtesy of Tamara Downs)

By Sarah Carey

Homeless animals in South Florida, their caretakers, University of Florida veterinary medical students and Miami-Dade County residents all will benefit from a new agreement that will add faculty and staff to support operations in the Miami-Dade County animal shelter.

The innovative collaboration is one of the first of its kind in the country and creates a means for the UF College of Veterinary Medicine, known for its world-class shelter medicine programs, to partner with a leading government-operated animal shelter. The collaboration will enhance the adoptability of shelter pets in South Florida, while UF lends academic expertise to shelter operations and provides unmatched learning opportunities for veterinary medical students.

Up to six students at a time will be able to participate in a new course, through which they will spend two weeks at the Miami-Dade shelter as part of their clinical training. The students will be supervised by a UF faculty member who will be permanently based at the facility, along with a UF veterinary medical technician.

The expanded relationship builds on an existing student externship program through which UF veterinary medical students have the opportunity to study off-site at various shelters throughout the state.

“We are thrilled at the opportunity to combine what we offer in academic veterinary medicine with the day-to-day needs of the animal welfare community in South Florida,” said the college’s dean, Dr. James W. Lloyd. “Although the pet adoption rates being achieved by the Miami-Dade Animal Care Department are already commendable, particularly for a shelter of its size, partnership with UF will further strengthen its success.”

Lloyd noted that the collaboration was made possible thanks to the efforts of the Miami-Dade County Commission; the county’s mayor, Carlos Gimenez; its animal services department and the South Florida Veterinary Medical Association.

“We all recognize that this important new collaboration will be a win-win-win for all, most importantly the homeless animals, veterinary medical students and ultimately the people of Miami-Dade County,” Lloyd said.

Miami-Dade County Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz, who sponsored the legislation and in whose district the shelter is located, championed the new agreement.

“I am extremely excited knowing that the Miami-Dade Animal Services Department will help provide veterinary medical students with hands-on experience they need,” he said. “This partnership with the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine, the state’s only veterinary college, will help the county achieve its goal of eliminating shelter kills by humanely reducing the pet population through spaying and neutering.”

The shelter medicine program at UF is multifaceted and manifests the college’s mission of teaching, research, clinical service and community engagement through a variety of services. In addition to collaborations with shelters across the state of Florida, UF veterinarians work with local shelters from Alachua and nearby counties to provide spay/neuter and other needed medical and surgical services to homeless pets and provide consultative as well as continuing education and graduate-level training to shelter veterinarians and staff from all over the world.

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