Dane County Friends of Ferals "Spay/Neuterathon" Events
An Invaluable Community Service and Amazing Opportunity for Veterinary Students

By Kimberly Shaffer

The veterinary curriculum teaches students how to recognize, diagnose and treat complicated medical conditions using technology and sophistication that rivals human medicine. Yet the leading cause of death in dogs and cats is euthanasia due to the overcrowding of shelters with homeless pets and the overpopulation of free roaming and feral cat colonies—a problem that has no easy answer, diagnosis, or treatment.

Student spays cat
Univ. of Wisconsin veterinary student, Kimberly Shaffer, spays a community cat at one of DCFoF's monthly spay/neuter events.
Kimberly Shaffer

While there is no magic solution to control the population of community cats (a newer, more accurate term for free-roaming and feral cats), Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) programs have proven to be one of the more successful options and carry the added potential of creating healthier community cats. During my first year in veterinary school, I received an email asking for veterinary student volunteers for the Dane County Friends of Ferals (DCFoF) Spay/Neuterathon, a monthly TNR event held at a local veterinary technician college. I jumped at the opportunity to actually touch a live animal, and—even better—to neuter a cat!

Dr. Susan Krebsbach, an HSVMA veterinary consultant, started the DCFoF more then ten years ago in her garage, and it has been growing ever since. Monthly Spay/Neuterathons began soon after the DCFoF was started, and each event initially sterilized 10-15 cats. When I started volunteering with the DCFoF in 2009, we sterilized an average of 50 cats per event. In the last few months, I have been involved with a group of veterinarians, technicians, and students who have the goal of streamlining the events to increase efficiency. By adding spay boards to transport cats, adjusting the anesthetic protocol so that cats recover faster, and organizing volunteers into “assembly line” groups with specific tasks, the number of sterilizations has increased to 80 cats per event, with the goal of 100 just within our reach!

At the DCFoF Spay/Neuterathons, veterinary students use their physical examination skills to quickly assess whether cats are healthy enough to be anesthetized, learn to estimate the weight of cats for drug calculations, learn to calculate and draw up the drugs to be given to cats, and the most exciting part for new veterinary students—neuter the male cats. Once third-year veterinary students complete the Junior Surgery Course of the veterinary curriculum, they are then offered the unique opportunity to join the volunteer veterinarians in the surgical suite and perform ovariohysterectomies under the watchful eyes of the experts.

Students are involved with the entire process, from receiving cats to sending them back with their caregivers. While newer students may focus on learning a figure-eight knot to tie off the spermatic cord or honing handling and restraint skills of scared and fractious cats, it is the goal of the program and the values of TNR that will leave a lasting impact on students’ future careers as veterinarians, including my own. While my involvement with the DCFoF Spay/Neuterathons started as a way to escape hours of sitting in a lecture hall, my current dedication and commitment to the program has become centered on the ultimate goal of decreasing the community cat population and helping both individual cats and the human community.

Recently, I took on a leadership role of organizing and training the new veterinary student volunteers for the DCFoF Spay/Neuterathons. The number of students volunteering grew each month with the promise of what the program provides to veterinary students—the coveted hands-on opportunity to work with live cats, while also giving back to the community. There is a distinct feeling that remains with you at the end of each event—a feeling of accomplishment and a feeling that you have actually contributed to society and made the lives of several cats just a little better. Veterinary school is long, demanding, and time consuming. Volunteering for community programs, such as the DCFoF Spay/Neuterathons, provides a glimpse of the light at the end of the tunnel; a purpose for putting yourself through such a rigorous and challenging program.

I have one and a half more years in veterinary school and I do not yet know what path I will choose to follow, but I do know I will always continue to volunteer for TNR programs. I cannot think of a better way to use my veterinary degree than to help a population of animals that may lack a human family but still deserves the same care and consideration given to every family pet.

Kimberly Shaffer
Kimberly Shaffer

Kimberly Shaffer is a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine, class of 2013.