It’s kitten season: recommendations in the face of COVID-19*

  • Healthy cats and kittens are not an emergency warranting intake into your shelter. Only sick and injured animals, or animals in imminent danger, should be admitted to animal shelters at this time.
  • Shelters should strive to keep all healthy kittens and cats out of shelters by enlisting their community in the solution.
  • Get strategic now.
    • Launch a “Don’t kit-nap kittens” campaign so people understand to leave kittens with their moms. Toolbox here, including media materials and talking points for shelter staff.…/ngstwb…/AAD08hh7yjUrqFXjYXHShZjEa…
    • Build your “foster on deck” program now so you have homes ready to receive fosters. Have supplies ready or already delivered to waiting foster homes.
    • Have foster volunteers complete online training, even if they don’t have kittens yet. See resources below.
  • Enlist your community in the program.
    • If finders do end up with a litter of kittens, turn the finder into a foster home. Have supplies delivered to them, and provide virtual support.
  • For sick and injured, foster care is still an option with experienced foster care providers.
    • Shelters are encouraged to create a streamlined process for exams and treatment at the shelter and move them into foster care ASAP.
  • Continue to enforce social distancing while enacting foster care solutions.
    • Establish a non-contact system for transferring kittens between the public, the shelter, and foster care.
    • Creative solutions include using Uber or Lyft delivery services, and vestibule/cage transfer systems between shelter staff and the public.
    • Empower your foster coordinator to work from home with everything they need to help people make connections.

*did anyone notice that except for the last bullet point, this is exactly what we always recommend?


Maddie’s Fund COVID-19 Emergency Fostering Course

Maddie’s Fund Foster Care Flash Classes

COVID-19 Specific Recommendations for Animal Shelters

Interim Guidelines from the AVMA and CDC regarding shelter intake for COVID-exposed animals, a summary*

At this time, there is no evidence that companion animals, including pets, are involved in the transmission of COVID-19 to people. Whenever possible, animals should be left in the care of their owners unless circumstances such as hospitalization and lack of a caretaker require admission of the animal to the shelter.

General Principles:

Removing animals from COVID-19 affected homes:

  • Whenever possible, companion animals should be kept with their owners. This serves to support the human animal bond as well as to protect against overwhelming animal shelters and compromising humane care in shelters.
  • If animal care workers need to enter an infected person’s home to recover animals, they should follow the most up-to-date guidance from health departments and the CDC.
  • If animals need to be removed from the home, minimal contact between people should occur.

Intake into the shelter:

  • Reusable, washable PPE is advised over garments (cloth labcoats, coveralls) along with gloves for performing standard intake procedures.
  • Hands should be washed with soap and water after removing gloves.
  • Standard disinfectants should be used to sanitize spaces
  • There is no need to bathe animals due to COVID-19 concerns.
  • At this time, there is no evidence that the disease spreads through fur. However, use precautions including minimal handling, hand-washing, and not having close contact with animals during intake procedures.

Housing and care in the shelter:

  • Double-sided housing is strongly recommended to minimize daily handling during cleaning.
  • Enclosures should be spot cleaned when needed.
  • Animals from COVID-19 exposed homes should be housed in a species-specific ward separate from other animals. This is being done out on an abundance of caution for human and animal health, but at this time the risk of these pets to people and other animals appears very low.
  • Standard PPE (washable coveralls, boots, gloves) should be worn when cleaning these housing areas. Reusable, washable PPE solutions are advised over disposable to preserve PPE.
  • Frequent hand-washing is advised.
  • Dogs should be walked regularly and provided with enrichment, but in an area separate from other dogs.
  • Staff handling should be limited and not involve close or prolonged contact.

Returning pets to owners:

  • Reunions should occur as quickly as feasible.
  • Animals should be housed for 14 days prior to transfer to a new home.

COVID-19 testing for animals

  • Neither the CDC, USDA, nor AVMA recommends routine testing for COVID-19 for animals. If there is a question regarding testing for a companion animal, it should be directed to the state public health veterinarian or designated health official.

*the full document can be found here :

Transport and movement of animals during the COVID-19 pandemic (4/1/2020)

Transport and movement of animals during the COVID-19 pandemic

The University of Wisconsin-Madison Shelter Medicine Program, University of Florida Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program, University of California- Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program, Cornell Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program, Humane Canada, The Association for Advancement of Animal Welfare, Association of Shelter Veterinarians, Ontario Shelter Medicine Association and the Association Vétérinaire  Québécoise de Médicine de Refuge endorse the following statement and recommendations for animal movement by shelters, agencies and rescues during the COVID-19 pandemic.*

NOTE: Every exception to social distancing decreases its efficacy.

Implement social distancing in effort to decrease the rate of human patients in need of hospitalization and critical care. The key request coming from our governments and health advisors is for people to stay at home and limit travel, with exceptions made only for the minimum needed to carry out essential functions.


  • Discontinue travel outside of your community  for routine transport.
  • Transport should not be utilized as a means to continue non-emergency shelter intake. All shelters, including transport source shelters, should limit intake to only emergency situations (e.g. sick, injured, dangerous, or endangered).
  • Transport should only be considered when a source shelter lacks the capacity to provide appropriate care for an animal that has been admitted on an emergency basis.
  • Before transporting animals, makes sure all opportunities to find care for them within the community have been exhausted. Transfer between shelters in the same community and delivery for foster care or adoption is encouraged because it promotes live releases while maintaining recommended social distancing guidelines.
  • If local options have been exhausted, transport partners should observe the same precautions for maintaining social distancing and limiting personnel exposure as have been developed for release of animals to adoption, foster etc.
  • DO NOT transport to states or communities that have specific travel restrictions. Be respectful of COVID-19 related orders in each state and municipality.
  • Not every service or function of a shelter is essential. It is our obligation to reduce our activities.

When intake is decreased to emergencies only, the capacity to find a lifesaving outcome within the community is increased. This is why it is so essential to follow NACA guidelines for intake reduction and call response.

*This is a summary of a document that can found in full at

For additional resources on responsible transport for emergency situations, refer to


An open letter to friends in animal welfare and veterinary medicine about what is “essential”

Dr. Elizabeth Berliner, Director of Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at Cornell University.

The running “joke” in my family is I will undoubtedly meet my demise responding to an animal in need.  A few months into dating, my husband witnessed his first event: I threw myself out of the driver’s seat and into the middle of a dark, curvy two-lane road to save a juvenile Great Horned Owl I had hit with my car. That event was soon followed by equally harrowing reactions to a hawk on the side of a highway, a deer in need of euthanasia in the snow, and any number of stray dogs and cats that frequently caused me to screech my day, and his, to a halt. (He married me anyway.) As a shelter veterinarian, I pretty much make daily choices that prioritize animals over people, even while I know the two cannot be detached in our culture and in our work.

In the face of COVID-19, guidelines are coming out from various animal welfare, veterinary, and public health groups, all working incredibly hard to use limited science and policy to make overarching recommendations.  Many of these recommendations go against our practices of more “normal” times – stop performing spay/neuter, stop transporting animals, stop TNR/SNR of stray cats, stop having vaccination clinics. (Whatttt?) Most of these recommendations make ALL of us uncomfortable and unhappy.  As someone who always prefers to mitigate risk rather than follow tight rules, I find myself constantly attempting to parse out exceptions. I know many of you are doing the same.  We want to keep saving animals in the face of tremendous human suffering, and we are often willing to put ourselves and others in harm’s way to do it.

For many regions of the country, including right here in Upstate NY, the pandemic is not at its peak yet. People in animal welfare see this as a call to keep pushing.  I’ve heard many animal care personnel comment they don’t really see the risk or need for a change in current practice in their community – and meanwhile the numbers of COVID-19 cases (and deaths) in our rural areas continue to rise. In Central NY we lie only a few hours from the epicenter of the pandemic, and our neighbors are dying.

Here’s the thing: there is no perfect way to “win” at this situation. And a portion of our truly essential work inevitably puts us at risk, in spite of all of our mitigation. However, the vast majority of activities we continue to do in the name of life-saving in shelters and practices are not truly emergent.  Spay/neuter can be delayed until after adoption. Vaccination boosters are not urgent for animals in stable and safe foster homes. Stray cats doing well in the community can continue to be supported in the community. Every animal entering a shelter creates another point of daily care and puts shelter personnel at risk. And most of the animals are doing very well right where they are, as long as it is not in an overcrowded and understaffed shelter facility.  Undoubtedly, suspending many of the activities we’ve utilized to improve animal welfare in our communities means we have challenging work ahead of us (read u.g.h. kitten season) when it becomes time to “recover” from this event. We will meet that challenge, as we always do.

My ultimate guiding principle for how to keep people safe during this pandemic is this: if performing a procedure or treatment requires a compromise in social distancing AT ALL, for any of our humans (including ourselves), that procedure or treatment must represent an urgent situation which is causing or will cause immense pain or suffering or loss of life for an animal who could otherwise be reasonably saved.  If it does not represent that level of intervention, then I need to reconsider doing it.

I’m trying to hold myself accountable. You should too.

Be safe, my friends.


as always, #ThankstoMaddie

Responding to COVID-19 concerns in the animal sheltering community  

Our Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program has been inundated with requests from veterinarians and animal shelters looking for reliable information for their humane organizations and communities.  Although the COVID-19 situation continues to rapidly evolve, there are good sources for policies, protocols, and practices that provide for greater human safety without sacrificing humane care. Many industry sites provide reliable and sound information for your community’s companion animal health professionals.   In this challenging time, we recommend:

  1. Consulting a reliable industry resource for general information on COVID-19 for animal shelters. We really like this one:
    • Animal Sheltering: – This site provides facts about the virus and transmission, up to date stats, and a link for online foster/volunteer training from AAWA.
  1. Shelters performing animal control duties should prioritize only essential ACO functions:
    • National Animal Control Association: – Animal control functions need to be focused on only the most essential tasks. They should suspend all low priority/non-emergency activities (non-aggressive stray animal pickup, barking, leash law, nuisance, community cat, and conflict mitigation complaints), reduce shelter intake (emergency animals only, return to owner vs. impound, owners keep ill pets at home), and wear PPE in homes where someone has symptoms. A protocol for intake for ACOs is included.
  1. Reducing the intake of cats into the shelter through all humane means possible:
  1. Learning how to safely provide care for animals exposed to SARS-COV2, including intake procedures:
  1. Being open to all ideas. Agencies will likely need to release unaltered pets from shelters during this pandemic. Here’s why.
  1. Increasing the capacity of foster care programs. This is essential to reducing in-shelter inventory of animals and minimizing risk to shelter staff from COVID-19 exposure.  It also provides better welfare for shelter animals to be in a home environment, even if it is temporary.
  1. If possible, continue to provide pet food pantries for owners in need. Do this is the safest way possible:
  1. Pulling out all the stops to manage intake and support keeping pets in homes.
  1. Following veterinary specific sites for reliable information about the virus and quickly evolving science. The following  provide animal shelter kits, checklists, guides, and advice for veterinary professionals:

If you need help applying new information to your shelter’s particular challenge, please reach out to our shelter consultation service:

Event recap: Our 1st shelter medicine mini-conference was a success!

Our 1st biannual shelter medicine mini-conference was a success! On the afternoon of Friday, November 22nd, the 2019 Fall Cornell Maddie’s® Shelter Medicine Mini-Conference took place at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca, New York. Organized by Sarah Nickerson, MSMP’s Program Coordinator, this half-day workshop brought together over 40 staff members and volunteers from 12 different regional shelters to discuss “Sheltering by Numbers: Using Metrics to Save Lives”.

Shelter Medicine faculty, along with MSMP Program Founder, Dr. Jan Scarlett, each led 45-minute presentations on different topics relating to metrics and the use of data in shelters. Dr. Berliner (Director of Shelter Medicine) opened the workshop with a presentation on the importance of one day in the shelter for an animal, and ways to move them through shelters faster while still ensuring they have all they need in the process. Next, Dr. Lena DeTar (Assistant Clinical Professor) guided attendees through simple formulas to identify where shelters might be stretched (staffing, surgical budget, capacity for care, etc.) or have the ability to provide more. Dr. Jan Scarlett (Founder of Cornell’s Shelter Medicine Program) followed Dr. DeTar, sharing her knowledge of what reports matter in the shelter setting, and why they matter. She focused on metrics that can be most influential in monitoring and helping to improve the health of shelter animals. To wrap up the afternoon, our newest faculty member, Dr. Erin Henry (Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Instructor), talked about the importance of organizational charts, getting attendees up on their feet to create and describe the org charts for each of their organizations. As can be seen in the photo below, this was a crowd favorite with personnel from each organization working together to map out the structure of each of their organizations. Way to go Team MSMP at Cornell!

Attendees of the 2019 fall Cornell Maddie's Shelter Medicine Mini-Conference work together to create their org charts.

Attendees of the 2019 Fall Cornell Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Mini-Conference work together to create their org charts.

Our 2nd mini-conference is scheduled to take place in the Spring, on April 3rd, 2020. Be sure to save the date! We will be discussing adoption outcomes. Registration for this event will open in early March. If you would like to be added to the CU Shelter Med Mini-Conference mailing list, please email Sarah Nickerson (Shelter Medicine Program Coordinator) at

(Story and photos provided by Sarah Nickerson)


Summer Recap!

The summer is flying by! We have been busy running spay neuter clinics, providing consultations to shelters, bringing our 2 new interns into the swing of things, and preparing for the start of a new round of Spayathon for Puerto Rico, the start of the new academic year here at the college, and our new Cornell Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Mini-Conferences that are scheduled to start this Fall. Here is a brief recap of our summer.

2019 Shelter Medicine Ineterns, Wesley Cheung and Sarah Ericksen at TCSPCA_JUL19

Drs. Wesley Cheung and Sarah Ericksen    (2019 interns) at the Tompkins County SPCA, July 2019

In July, we hosted the 16thannual ASPCA Cornell Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Conference, providing high-quality education to improve the quality of life for animals. This was the first year the conference was held in the newly renovated Schurman Hall here at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. The facilities were perfect and nearly 500 veterinary, animal shelter, and spay/neuter professionals were in attendance. Thank you to Maddie’s Fund®, ASPCA, and Cornell!

We have been busy providing spay/neuter for community cats of Cornell University faculty, staff, and students through our CornellVetCares Community Cat Clinic. We served 16 cats at our August 2 clinic with all hands on deck! Three Cornell veterinary students volunteered their time with us and even our Shelter Medicine Program Coordinator, Sarah Nickerson, joined in, providing support in recovery and help with records. Our next clinic will be held on August 23rd. We are already almost at capacity for this clinic, with 21 cats already registered! We will hold 3 more clinics in 2019 on September 20th, October 18th, and November 22nd.

The first of our new Cornell Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Mini-Conferences is scheduled for the afternoon of November 15, 2019. These half-day workshops are open to all shelter staff, veterinarians, technicians, management, board members, etc. Registration for the Fall 2019 conference will open soon.


November 15, 2019      (12:00pm to 4:30pm)

Fall 2019 Cornell Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Mini-Conference

Sheltering by Numbers: Using Your Data to Save Lives
Location: Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, Ithaca, NY

Hosted by Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at Cornell. #thankstomaddie


If you have any questions or comments about infromation, feel free to email Sarah Nickerson, Shelter Medicine Program Coordinator, at

Enjoy the remaining weeks of summer and keep your eyes out for exciting announcements coming soon from Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at Cornell!


Sarah Nickerson
Program Coordinator
Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program
College of Veterinary Medicine
Cornell University

On the road again: MSMP provides onsite consultation services for regional animal shelters

Drs. Henry (Shelter Medicine Instructor), Gallegos (2019 MSMP intern), and Fischer-Daly (2019 MSMP intern)

Drs. Henry (Shelter Medicine Instructor), Gallegos (2019 MSMP intern), and Fischer-Daly (2019 MSMP intern)


On the road again….

Drs. Henry, Gallegos, and Fischer-Daly are on the road this week, providing consultation services to a regional animal shelter who has invited them to better manage their population and increase life-saving. They will spend several days onsite, reviewing everything from animal flow-through, adoption methods, to touring facilities and interviewing staff.

Before our team even arrives at a shelter for an onsite consultation, we ask managers to fill out an in-depth set of questionnaires. This information aids our veterinarians in getting to know the struggles, questions, capabilities, and individual characteristics specific to each shelter. It also helps us target specific problem areas and make the best use of our time while there.

Drs. Henry, Gallegos, and Fischer-Daly will present their preliminary findings to shelter staff and the shelter’s board of directors. Then, back in their offices at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, they will write up a comprehensive report with all of their findings and recommendations for the shelter. Shelters can use these reports to help secure grants, make policy or protocol changes, and design optimal sheltering facilities for the populations they serve.

To learn more about options for consultation with MSMP at Cornell, visit our website .

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Sarah Nickerson, Shelter Medicine Program Coordinator, at . Thank you!

What’s next?: Outgoing ’19 MSMP intern, Dr. Mackenzie Gallegos, plans to return home to help care for Houston’s homeless pets!

Dr. Mackenzie Gallegos ('19 MSMP intern) completes a puppy's medical chart at a Spayathon for Puerto Rico clinic.

Dr. Gallegos completes medical records for a puppy at a Spayathon for Puerto clinic.

Dr. Gallegos discussed records with CU vet student, Renee Staffeld ('20)

Dr. Gallegos discusses records with CU veterinary student, Renee Staffeld, at a Schuyler County Wellness Clinic led by MSMP at Cornell.

Dr. Gallegos ('19 MSMP intern) performs a solo spay surgery at a CornellVet Cares Community Cat Clinic.

Dr. Gallegos performs a solo spay surgery during a CornellVet Cares Community Cat Clinic led by MSMP at Cornell.








As I reflect on my year with the Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at Cornell, I think of my “last minute” decision to apply for a shelter internship after seeing Dr. Elizabeth Berliner speak at the annual ASPCA Cornell Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Conference. After listening to her lecture, I knew I needed to learn everything I could from Dr. Berliner. Luckily, I was accepted to this internship and was able to learn from the entire MSMP team and the amazing staff at the SPCA of Tompkins County. Before the internship, I could talk shelter medicine; now, I actually understand the concepts that encompass this diverse field and know how to apply them to any shelter I walk into.

Through the internship, I became a confident surgeon and clinician. Working at TSPCA each day allowed me to understand not only the medical side of sheltering, but experience the management and operations on a daily basis. My favorite aspect was participating in shelter consultations throughout New York State. Consulting with other shelters allowed a glimpse at the diversity of shelters out there. It also allowed critical thinking, problem solving, and the ability to improve the lives of animals and people in the sheltering world. Ultimately, working alongside extraordinary mentors, teachers, and friends made the internship an unforgettable experience.

Next, I am heading back home to Houston to work with various shelters in the area. Like many shelters in the southern United States, Houston struggles with a large population of homeless animals and a variety of infectious diseases. I feel well equipped to handle these challenges and hopefully can make a positive impact on this community that is near and dear to my heart.

– Dr. Mackenzie Gallegos (2019 Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Intern)

What’s next for Dr. Fischer-Daly?

2019 MSMP Intern, Sabine Fischer-Daly DVM, talks about her internship experience and plans for the future

Sabine Fischer-Daly DVM ('18 Shelter Medicine Intern) examines a dog at a Spayathon for Puerto Rico clinic

Sabine Fischer-Daly DVM (2019 Janet L. Swanson Intern of Shelter Medicine) examines a dog at a Spayathon for Puerto Rico clinic led by MSMP at Cornell.

My internship year with Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at Cornell brought me so many unique learning opportunities and experiences. Thanks to a wonderfully supportive team, the internship provided me the tools and experience to effectively and efficiently manage care of individual shelter animals and the shelter population as a whole. I had the opportunity to participate in a variety of outreach programs, in communities as far away as Puerto Rico and as near as our neighboring counties here in New York’s Southern Tier. I was able to travel to animal shelters throughout the Northeast to participate in comprehensive shelter consultations led by MSMP at Cornell, providing strategies for improvement of shelter management and animal care. Being able to visit a variety of shelters, large and small, rural and urban distinguished this internship and made for a remarkable learning experience.

Next I am headed West to work as the Community Wellness and Shelter Veterinarian at the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region, in Colorado Springs. There I will provide care for animals at the shelter, conduct public spay and neuter, and provide wellness to pets of low-income owners via a mobile unit. I look forward to applying what I’ve learned as a Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program intern to this exciting work.

Last but not least, I must add that the MSMP faculty provided exceptional mentorship. With apparent ease, they provided appropriate support along the way and challenged my intern mate, Dr. Mackenzie Gallegos, and I to sharpen our skills. I cannot thank them enough for this year of growth as a shelter veterinarian.

– Sabine Fischer-Daly DVM (2019 MSMP Shelter Medicine Intern)