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Courses in Shelter Medicine

MSMP faculty teach 3 core shelter medicine courses, Introduction to Shelter Medicine, Companion Animal Welfare, and Advanced Shelter Medicine. In Spring 2020, Dr. Berliner co-taught a new 1 credit Veterinary Forensics course with Dr. Mcdonough (Cornell University CVM). Over the summer of 2020, MSMP faculty joined the Cornell vet school's effort to teach the 11-week online intensive Transitioning to Clinical Practice Course for 4th year veterinary students who were not allowed to meet for clinical rotations in person due to NY State COVID-19 restrictions. A section of Introduction to Shelter Medicine also became available online in Spring 2020, along with the first Veterinary Forensic Medicine and Pathology course at the college.

During the 2019-2020 academic year, 64 hours of lecture were provided to 219 students by MSMP faculty. Plans are currently being made to add an online Disaster Response Course in Spring 2021. 

Introduction to Shelter Medicine (VTMED 6425)

Spring. 0.5 credit. Letter grades only.

Prerequisite: VTMED 5400. Highly recommended prerequisite: VTMED 6734. Enrollment limited to: third- and fourth-year veterinary students. This is the second course in a three-course sequence.

 L. DeTar (E. Berliner, E. Henry)

The course covers 8 hours of lecture on very basic shelter medicine principles, including the history of sheltering and humane organizations, issues with pet overpopulation and free roaming companion animals, animal cruelty, preventive medicine and population health in shelters, sanitation and disinfection, and population management. 

Advanced Shelter Medicine (VTMED 6434)

Spring. 1.5 credit. Letter grades only.

Highly recommended prerequisite: VTMED 6425. Enrollment is limited to: fourth-year veterinary students. 

E. Berliner ( L. DeTar, E. Henry)

Advanced Shelter Medicine covers more advanced topics in shelter medicine practice: management of common infectious diseases, facilities and housing, quality of life and humane euthanasia, behavioral programs, high quality high volume spay neuter, veterinary forensics and pathology, shelter neonates, community cats, safety net programs, and regulatory matters affecting shelters and shelter practice.

Companion Animal Welfare Issues (VTMED 6734)

Spring. 1 credit. Letter grades only.

E. Henry (E. Berliner, L. DeTar)

Companion animal welfare issues have become a major concern for many American communities. Precipitated by the changing status of companion animals, communities are considering a broad range of complex, animal-related issues. These include companion animal homelessness, the role of humane euthanasia, accessible veterinary care the breeding and production of pets, animal fighting, re-evaluation of practices such as cat declawing and dog ear-cropping, management of community cats, international animal welfare, and the role of the veterinarian in each of these areas. This course will address these and other issues while providing a sense of history of humane movements and animal law and policy, and explore how we define adequate welfare for companion animal species. The objective of the course is to provide information for veterinary students enabling them to assume leadership with regards to these issues in their future communities. 

Animal Management in Disaster Response (Online)

Spring. 1.5 credit. Letter grades only.

E. Berliner, R. Radcliffe (L. DeTar, E. Henry, S. Childs)

This 8-week course (available SPRING 2021) is intended for 3rd and 4th year veterinary students. Students will complete 24 hours of asynchronous online modules consisting of recorded lectures and readings accompanied by engaged activities, small group or paired. Synchronous meetings and discussion groups with faculty will take place once a week, along with a weekly 2-hour lab. Discussions and labs focusing on small animals and large animals will also be included in this course. 


Students will:

  • Know basic principles of animal management in disaster response.
  • Better understand the roles veterinarians play in responding to disasters.
  • Problem-solve the challenges of responding to disasters; be exposed to several models for this work.
  • Be better able to access information, forms, and other pre-existing materials related to disaster response.
  • Complete several modules necessary to deploy with national organizations and/or SART/CART programs.
  • Be better served to engage in serving their communities and its animals when disaster occurs.

Independent Study:  Veterinary Forensic Medicine and Pathology

Spring. 1 cr. Graded S/U (Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory) with 70% successful completion required for an S.

E. Berliner, McDonough (L. DeTar, E. Henry, Bradler)

This is a 4-week course (first offered Spring 2020)

  • Week 1 - Animal Cruelty and The LINK
  • Week 2 - Forensic Pathology Case Studies
  • Week 3 - Forensic Pathology and Toxicology Case Studies
  • Week 4 - Crime Scene Investigation and Testifying in Court

Introduction and Background The public care deeply about animal welfare and demand that perpetrators of animal cruelty be held accountable.  Animal abuse cases take on added importance when one realizes that animal cruelty is but one facet of interpersonal violence.  More than 70% of battered women who own pets report that their batterer threatened, injured, or killed family pets as a form of revenge or to psychologically control the victim. Further, 75% of these acts of violence toward animals occur in the presence of children.  In response to citizen concerns, the legislature of the State of New York increased the penalty for aggravated animal abuse to up to two years in prison (Agriculture and Markets Law, 353-a, eff. Nov.l1, 2005).  In order to enforce animal cruelty laws, veterinarians must take a leadership role in the investigation of animals suspected to have suffered abuse or neglect. Although forensic medicine and pathology rely on the same basic principles and methods used for conventional veterinary medical investigations, the analytical framework and purpose differ significantly; if the investigation does not meet the needs of the court, the effort is wasted. In addition to determining the cause of the disease or death, the veterinarian might also be asked to address the timing of injuries, determine the degree of suffering or estimate the time since death. In order to form a valid opinion, the veterinarian must review the police report, statements of any witnesses and persons of interest, evaluate the crime scene photographs and any other forensic testing that may have been performed, such as a necropsy, radiographs or toxicology.  The veterinarian must prepare a detailed report and maintain a rigorous chain of custody of any evidence collected.  Testimony may be required at a grand jury and if the case goes to trial, the veterinarian must be prepared to testify as an expert witness.  Effectiveness as an expert witness requires extensive consultation with the district attorney.  Thus, forensic cases require considerably more time and effort than a typical case. 


The fundamental goal of the course is to provide veterinary students advanced training in forensic medicine and pathology to support the legal system and meet public expectations that perpetrators of animal cruelty will be held accountable.

  1. Train veterinarians in the evidence-based approach to forensic medicine and pathology to allow them to competently participate in medicolegal investigations.
  2. Communicate using clear and concise language that conveys the significance of the findings and can be understood by interested parties who have little or no training in science.
  3. Develop the ability to formulate and communicate balanced and reasonable expert opinions on the cause of illness, injury or death and related medicolegal issues.

Individualized Independent Study in Shelter Medicine

MSMP faculty are available to provide individual mentorship to Cornell veterinary students on specific areas or projects relating to the field of Shelter Medicine. Example: In Spring 2020, Dr. Berliner mentored a 2 credit Independent Study in Shelter Consultations for Renee Staffeld, a 4th year veterinary student who went on to a shelter medicine internship at Denver Dumb Friends League for 2020-2021. 


Additional Courses

Transitioning to Clinical Practice Course (TCP) - Summer 2020

The disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic reduced the length of the in-person clinical year for Cornell's class of 2021. TCP was an 11 week virtual summer course provided to fourth year Cornell veterinary students bu CU CVM faculty (from all specialties) in place of the regularly offered summer of 2-week rotations on campus, which were not possible due to COVID-19 levels in the region. MSMP faculty participated as student cohort mentors, focusing on teaching professional competencies. Each faculty member mentored a group of 5-10 students assigned for the duration of the course. Faculty helped students navigate the professional skills portions (i.e. record keeping, financial skills, evidence-based practice, communications/collaboration, clinical reasoning) of this course with a focus on reflection, integration, and expert-level thinking.