University of Florida's HAARTS Program
Enhancing Veterinary Student Surgical Training

October 7, 2014
by Meredith Montgomery, MS, UF College of Veterinary Medicine Class of 2015 

HAARTS Student Surgeon
A student surgeon at University of Florida’s Veterinary Community Outreach Program performs a mass removal on a HAARTS patient. Thanks to the HAARTS Program, students gain valuable surgical experience and previously unadoptable, homeless animals gain the care and home they have needed.     Meredith Montgomery

Ladybug was surrendered by her owner at Alachua County Animal Services in Gainesville, FL. A young, shy mixed breed, Ladybug was withdrawn in the shelter environment and needed out, quickly. Unfortunately, a previously untreated femoral fracture had resulted in an angular limb deformity and severely medially luxating patella, excluding her as an adoption candidate. Shelter staff contacted Dr. Natalie Isaza, director of UF’s Veterinary Community Outreach Program and co-founder of HAARTS (Helping Alachua’s Animals Requiring Treatment and Surgery). With funding from HAARTS, Ladybug, now known as Emma, received corrective orthopedic surgery and was fostered by a veterinary student until her adoption by a loving, local family.

The HAARTS Program has been able to provide similar happy outcomes for over 1,500 community animals since its inception in 2009. By providing medical and surgical treatment of at risk sheltered animals, the program enhances the surgical training of University of Florida veterinary students. Sheltered animals deemed treatable though unadoptable at Alachua County Animal Services due to medical and surgical conditions are given a second chance through the HAARTS program. The animals are provided ongoing foster care until adoption through cooperating community animal adoption agencies. Students are able to participate in surgical and medical treatment including amputations, cystotomies, cherry eye repair, enucleations, mass removals, treatment of demodectic mange, heartworm disease, embedded collars, and starvation. Shelters in the southeast face the challenge of frequently diagnosing, preventing, and treating heartworm disease. Because treatment for heartworm disease costs hundreds to thousands of dollars, shelters and adoption agencies are often unable to provide treatment. HAARTS provides treatment at a very reduced cost as well as providing students with the experience of treating and managing heartworm disease as part of their Shelter Animal Medicine clinical rotation. Furthermore, as a result of this program, many students serve as fosters for local adoption agencies, encouraging their participation in shelter medicine outside of the classroom and hospital.

As a sophomore student, fourth year Jeanne Thompson agreed to foster Mal, a heartworm positive dog saved and treated by HAARTS:

HAARTS students with dog
SCASV’s HAARTS student committee takes a break to pose with Marlowe, a HAARTS patient in foster care after correction of a malunion fracture using external fixation. Marlowe thanked signed autographs for supporters at HAARTS Cymplify Food Truck Rally in May.Mountain Park.        Meredith Montgomery
"[Mal] was picked off the street by Alachua County Animal Services in 2012 and found to be heartworm positive. His charming, relaxed personality won over the entire shelter staff, but his heartworm status gave him a poor prognosis for being saved. Because of the HAARTS program, shelter staff and UF’s Veterinary Community Outreach program were able to reach out to the student body for a last chance foster before euthanizing him. I responded to that email and he went from the euthanasia floor to the floor of my kitchen…I never intended to keep him, but it only took a couple days for him to become my best 'foster failure' ever."

Jeanne and Mal have continued to foster other dogs, puppies, and kittens after his adoption for multiple local adoption agencies.

HAARTS is funded entirely by private donations. This spring, the University of Florida’s Student Chapter of the Association of Shelter Veterinarians teamed with Cymplify and Katie’s Locker to raise funds for HAARTS, and also community awareness of pets in need in our community. As part of Cymplify’s First Friday Food Truck Series, HAARTS was able to raise over $12,000 in private donations. Billed as a kid and pet-friendly event, guests and their furry and non-furry family members enjoyed live music, food trucks, specialty coffee, local brews, carnival games, a doggy photo booth, a silent auction, and raffle. Teaming with local, civically-minded businesses with a strong community following, UF’s SCASV aimed to reach people with a message of decreasing euthanasia of healthy and treatable shelters dogs and cats in Alachua County. Students talked with families about the importance of adoption and our responsibility towards the community’s animals both owned and unowned, and the human-animal bond.

Meredith Montgomery

Meredith Montgomery is a veterinary student (Class of 2015) at University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine. Before veterinary school, she worked as a biologist and earned her MS in Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences. Introduced to shelter medicine through fostering and volunteering with UF’s SCASV, she will complete her Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program Certificate this fall. After graduation, she plans to pursue an internship and career in shelter medicine to pursue her interests in targeted HQHV spay and neuter, infectious disease control and sanitation, behavioral enrichment in shelter animal populations, and geriatric medicine.