Teaching Veterinary Medical Students Surgical Skills Through the Shelter Medicine Program at Tuskegee University College of Veterinary

The Tuskegee University College of Veterinary Medicine (TUCVM) is taking this opportunity to clarify our surgical policies and practices and emphasize our shelter medicine program, which have come under scrutiny by members of the animal-rights community.  The TUCVM is committed to upholding the highest standard of animal welfare while providing students with experiences, which improve their understanding and enhance their skills to deal with animal welfare issues including pet overpopulation and the care of animals in shelters.  For more than 15 years, the college has partnered with area animal shelters where our students gain surgical skills and provide veterinary services – and we continue to expand those partnerships each year as part of our outreach mission. 

Accordingly, TUCVM has expanded our current shelter medicine program by adding additional animal shelters allowing students to improve surgical skills and provide veterinary services through a Spay/Neuter program to the community.  The animals are returned to the shelter and made available for adoption.  The TUCVM also has an ambulatory veterinary service to go onsite to the shelters to perform spays and neuters.  Other veterinary services provided to the animal shelters include vaccinations, physical examinations, diagnostics, and wellness checks.  If animals are sick or need more advanced veterinary procedures, a referral is made to the local veterinarian or to the TUCVM Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital (VMTH).  

The TUCVM veterinary medical curriculum was modified to provide third-year veterinary students the opportunity to develop basic surgical skills using models as pictured below in preparation for their live-animal survival spay/neuter experiences with animals from animal shelters. 

Tuskegee University College of Veterinary Medicine students use models in preparation for surgical training 

The TUCVM is not only committed to providing our students with a competency-based veterinary medical education as career-ready veterinary medical graduates, but also committed to developing partnerships with animal shelters and other animal rescue programs to provide veterinary care for animals in need, and to educate the public about animal welfare matters that impact the veterinary profession.

Unfortunately, every year in the U.S., approximately 6.5 million dogs and cats enter U.S. animal shelters.1 Of this number, approximately 1.5 million shelter animals are euthanized (670,000 dogs and 860,000 cats)1.  The TUCVM is playing an integral part in helping to curb the pet overpopulation and give our students opportunities to perform spays and neuters to gain surgical skills, anesthesia and recovery experience. 

Society demands medical care, rather than euthanasia, for shelter animals with treatable conditions—according to veterinarians in the field of shelter medicine.2 Over time, this call for veterinary care during animals’ stay at shelters presented an opportunity for veterinarians to provide their services to the betterment of sheltered animals. 

As a result and years of advocacy, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) formally recognized shelter medicine as a veterinary specialty. In response to this need and in alignment with the AVMA recognition of shelter medicine, TUCVM developed partnerships with animal shelters over 15 years ago, and recently increased the number of partnerships to expand our shelter medicine program that conforms to accepted standards of veterinary practice and the Principles of Veterinary Medical Ethics of the American Veterinary Medical Association to sheltered animals.5  One such partnership is with Greater Birmingham Humane Society, the oldest humane society in the Southeast United States, in an effort to expand the shelter externship program for our veterinary students.  Other partnerships include Elmore County Humane Society, Prattville-Autauga County Humane Society, Bullock County and Montgomery County. 


  • The college adheres to all rules and regulations by the Tuskegee University Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC). This federally mandated committee provides regular updates on its practices and procedures to federal agencies that include the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the United States Public Health Service (USPHS).
  • Our clinicians and students strictly adhere to the federal Animal Welfare Act, actively considering the alternatives, reduction, replacement and refinement during review of Animal Use protocols.
  • All animals including dogs received on campus are kept according to USDA’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service/Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (APHIS/OLAW) regulations. These regulations cover transportation, handling, socialization, feeding, health care and housing.
  • The Tuskegee University IACUC reviews animal use protocols and stringently enforces those protocols that are in use. The Committee is under strict supervision from USDA.
  • The university does not acquire sick, injured or underage dogs from the shelter. Any animals that become ill or sustain injuries once in a university veterinary medicine facility are treated as required by USDA/OLAW regulations.
  • All USDA/OLAW guidelines regarding the use of animals in institutions can be found online at: www.aphis.usda.gov/publications/animal_welfare/2014/fsc_research_oversight.pdf

The TUCVM is committed to saving lives both human and animal. Everything that society touches, eats, drinks, as well as the medications prescribed, veterinarians have played a part in it.  Veterinary medicine is very important for society as a whole because veterinarians support national security in protecting our food supply as well. As an institution of higher learning, we here at the college take our commitment to animal welfare and advancing science to improve lives seriously and are focused on continuing our mission of preparing career-ready veterinarians.

The TUCVM’s commitment to training our veterinary students in partnership with animal shelters and rescue groups with supervised surgical training utilizing spays and neuters, in conjunction with various animal training models, will continue to be impactful in surgical training and animal welfare.

For additional information, please contact Tuskegee University’s Communications Team:  Mike Tullier, APR, Office of Communications, Public Relations and Marketing (mtullier@tuskegee.edu) and Anissa Riley, Director, College of Veterinary Medicine’s Office of External Affairs (ariley@tuskegee.edu).


  1. https://www.aspca.org/animal-homelessness/shelter-intake-and-surrender/pet-statistics
  2. https://www.avma.org/javma-news/2006-11-15/evolution-shelter-medicine
  3. https://www.aspcapro.org/shelter-veterinary-medicine
  4. https://www.tuskegee.edu/programs-courses/colleges-schools/cvm/cvm-small-animal-shelter-medicine
  5. https://www.avma.org/policies/avma-guidelines-veterinarians-working-animal-control-and-animal-welfare-organizations

Other Research

  1. http://www.dvm360storage.com/cvc/pkc2014/Janeczko,%20Stephanie/Update%20on%20a%20board%20specialty%20in%20shelter%20medicine.pdf
  2. https://www.avma.org/News/JAVMANews/Pages/140601a.aspx
  3. https://todaysveterinarynurse.com/articles/15-years-a-brief-history-of-shelter-medicine/
  4. https://www.avma.org/News/JAVMANews/Pages/040501l.aspx