Pet Connections Article - Dr. Morrow Introduction

August, 2020

Hello Pittsburgh animal lovers!  I am so excited to be a new member of the Pet Connections team and to add a unique, shelter medicine and animal rescue point of view.  After graduating from Ohio State, I did what most new vets do, and entered private practice.  Even after settling in, that just didn’t seem like the right fit for me.  I needed to keep learning new things and expand my skills and knowledge while still earning a living (those loans don’t pay for themselves!) so I began teaching in higher education.  I quickly learned how to integrate my veterinary experience and love of animals into the curriculum by teaming up with other professors to design service-learning experiences.  I got introduced to high quality high volume spay and neuter (HQHVSN) through our community partner in a service-learning project.  Up until that point, I had no exposure to shelter medicine other than visiting a couple of shelters during veterinary school.  Within a few years, I ended up not only working at the spay/neuter clinics but becoming the president of the organization. 

Not long after my initial exposure to this one facet of shelter medicine, was I completely submerged in the field.  Through serendipity, I became involved in a cruelty investigation of enormous proportions.  At this point I had to learn about another aspect of shelter medicine – veterinary forensics.  Our team of four, a former humane agent, animal rights advocate, psychologist, and myself, gathered enough evidence to allow the raid of Tiger Ranch, and the rescue of hundreds of cats, as well as several dogs, horses, chickens, and a goat.  Because animals are considered to be evidence as well as victims of crimes, if the evidence is not documented properly, the animals could be returned to their abuser.  I found myself in an exceedingly difficult situation, performing the initial examinations and providing treatment for hundreds of animals, while being careful to document everything thoroughly for the courts. 

Just two weeks after the rescue, I was left in charge of the medical care and forensic documentation of all the cats from Tiger Ranch that were being held in a vacant shelter building an hour away from me.  I spent the next year and nine months traveling to the shelter on my days off from my full-time teaching position and guiding the care remotely on the other days through constant communication with my amazing vet techs.  I performed postmortem examinations on most of the deceased cats found on the property and all of those that could not be saved.  Ultimately, we were able to save the majority of the cats even though they had rare, life threatening conditions due to a multitude of infectious agents.  I wrote 455 reports for the court and testified for over 5 hours on the stand.  The defendant ultimately pleaded guilty to animal cruelty and the animals were safe from further abuse.  It was at this point that I had another decision to make.  We found homes for around 100 cats (and all the other species), but there were still dozens more that were going to be scattered throughout shelters in Pennsylvania after the temporary shelter was closed in a couple of months.  Rather than let that happen, we found a house for the cats and started the non-profit Frankie’s Friends Cat Rescue. 

Since that time, I have continued to tie my academic and shelter medicine worlds together.  My students assisted in finding out what infectious organisms were causing the severe illnesses and death of the afflicted cats and we published the results to help others learn.  I have had hundreds of students gain understanding into the world of animal rescue, especially the plight of community cats and Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR).  I even collaborated with another professor to model the success of TNR and to visualize the benefits of performing TNR colony by colony (“Targeted TNR”).  Along with teaching, I continued my journey into lifelong learning by expanding my knowledge and skills of molecular biology to help in diagnosing and treating infectious diseases.  I also received formal training in veterinary forensics and shelter medicine through the University of Florida, earning two graduate certificates and a Master of Science.  I am still actively volunteering at Frankie’s Friends as the president, medical director, and veterinarian, providing low cost spay/neuter and medical care to community cats, fighting animal cruelty, and helping shelters and rescues in Western Pennsylvania to provide care to their animals. 

So, I guess you could say that I did not actually choose shelter medicine, rather, it chose me.  I remain completely submerged in the field.  No regrets.

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