Shelter dogs get second chance at Penn Vet

Animal shelters are often pressed for resources as they work to find homes for as many pets as possible. That means when a shelter animal has a medical problem that requires specialty care, the facility might not have the time, money, or staff to address that need—putting the animal’s life in danger.

A new project at the School of Veterinary Medicine, supported by a donation from the Richard Lichter Charity for Dogs, aims to provide a safety net for some of these animals. The gift will enable shelter dogs at risk for euthanasia to receive the care they need through Penn Vet and Ryan Veterinary Hospital.

“It’s an exciting opportunity to have this kind of commitment to shelter animals,” says Brittany Watson, director of shelter animal medicine and community engagement at Penn Vet. “It’s a luxury you don’t get very often.”

Watson’s team selects dogs for the program by working with their community shelter partners to find animals that have no other options. After being discharged from the hospital, the animals live with a foster family and are made available for adoption. The Richard Lichter Charity for Dogs will provide for the care of approximately 25 dogs per year.

“We choose animals that have a great prognosis in the long-term,” Watson says, “meaning if we can just get them over this hump, they can have a nice, long, full life.”

That “hump” could entail a broken bone, an infection, a congenital abnormality or, as was the case with the first four puppies treated in the program, a severe vaccine reaction.

Earlier this month, Watson and colleagues worked with the Animal Care and Control Team of Philadelphia to rush four pit bull mixes to Ryan’s Emergency Service. The puppies had responded poorly to routine vaccinations and were vomiting and having seizures. Veterinarians at Penn were able to provide fluids and medications, and closely monitor the dogs for two days, at which point they were healthy enough to go into foster care and await adoption—all but one, which made enough of an impression on a Penn Vet technician that he was adopted.

“Clinicians in the hospital were really supportive and flexible and excited about the program,” Watson says. “We’re all so glad we have the opportunity to give these animals a second chance.”

Shelter Medicine