Episode 93 – Dr. Nellie Goetz

Dr. Nellie Goetz has held several positions across the animal welfare industry and learned from some of the best. She has found her passion and enjoys teaching students. She is dedicated to not only the animals but people as well. She and her husband share their lives with an assortment of cats, dogs, and two guinea pigs named Grace Potter and Jean Luc Picard. She enjoys traveling with her husband, cooking, gardening, and identifying the various Arizona desert wildlife that live in the backyard.

Welcome to the Professionals and Animal Rescue podcast, where goal is to introduce you two amazing people helping animals and share how you can get involved with animal rescue. This’ll Podcast is probably sponsored by do bert dot com. Do Bert is a free website designed to connect volunteers with rescues and shelters and the only site that automates rescue relay transport. Now on with our show. Dr. Nellie Gets is a clinical assistant professor of shelter medicine, Ed Midwestern University’s College of Veterinary Medicine in Glendale, Arizona, and she consults for J V R Shelter Strategies. She received her D. V M from the Ohio State in 2005 and her master of public health from John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in 2017. From 2012 to 2014 Dr Goetz was the medical director of the National Spay Neuter Response Team at the Humane Alliance in Asheville, North Carolina. Doctor Gets is a member of the Development Committee for the Association of Shelter Veterinarians, the veterinary special interest group of the American Public Health Association, and it’s an advisory council member for the Native American Humane Society. Hey, Doctor, nearly welcome to the program. Thank you. I’m really happy to be here today. We’re super excited to have you as well. So tell us your story and kind of how you got into all of this. Sure. So I went to veterinary school at Ohio State. I don’t I don’t say the Ohio State not actually from okay, but I went to Ohio State for veterinary school in my clinical year. So my fourth year in veterinary school was actually the first year that we had a shelter, medicine and surgery rotation. We did our rotation at Franklin County Animal Control, which was just dogs. There were no cats at that time, and at that point, I had been on a track to do large animal medicine. I had horses growing up. I competed with my horses and I was going to be a call ex surgeon, which basically means I was gonna do surgery on horses that had intestinal issues. So those are typically emergency surgeries. I enjoyed sort of the fast pace nous of emergency medicine and critical care and things like that. And so that was really where I was headed throughout my whole undergraduate and veterinary career. And so when I got into my clinical year and took my shelter medicine rotation, it was a required rotation for us, and I don’t think I actually would have taken it had it not been required. It was mind blowing to really the feeling that I got from. And it was. It was a very simple, straightforward rotation. It was two weeks, was very well constructed. The first week we basically switched back and forth. So half of us the first week would d’oh medical exams in take exams, any sort of infectious disease testing treatments, et cetera, et cetera. And in the second week we would switch groups and we would be in surgery for a week. Okay, I found that I really I really had a knack for surgery and I’d always enjoyed surgery. And so that’s one of the reasons I thought it was sort of a natural combination to put horses, horse surgery, all that sort of stuff together. But I had minimal experience in small animal surgery and extra, especially in a shelter environment, and so I enjoyed it so much I actually took it again as an elective, took a required course and he’s not gonna do this again. I did. I did, which of course, blew everybody’s mind, right, because it’s like, this is the horse girl. Why is she coming back for another round of abuse and small? But I loved it so much that the instructors that I had at the time they actively tried to convince me to switch career fields. Unfortunately, and you know everything that you experience in life makes you who you are today. So it turned out, I think, for the best. But unfortunately, I had already accepted an internship at an equine practice after I graduated. And so I thought, you know, I’d always wanted to be a veterinarian ever since I was a little kid. But for about like, two weeks in high school, I thought maybe I would be a lawyer. And so I thought, Maybe this is the same thing. You know, it’s something where I’m in clinics, and this is a cool experience that it’s fun, and it gives me the warm fuzzies to see that we’re doing good things for these dogs and getting them out to homes and helping them in the ways that we can help them And so I was like, Maybe this is just a passing fancy and I shouldn’t throw away 9 10 years of ah dedicated study to being, ah, horse doctor and then just go off the deep end and go into shelter Medicine. I thought this probably isn’t the best idea. So I stayed the course and I did too equine oriented internships and then got a large animal surgery residency at Oregon State. I started my residency in CIA, graduated from med school in 05 So I started my residency in 2007 and unfortunately, that timed really, really well with when the economy tanked when we had our big recession. So the case is that we were seeing by about halfway through my residency, we’re not They weren’t good cases, and I’d had this sort of nagging feeling in the back of my mind the whole time. That, like, this just isn’t really It isn’t what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m good at it. I could do it for the rest of my life, but I just have this feeling that I’m not doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m not giving back the way I’m supposed to be giving back. So I had kind of ah ah, life crisis. Because this was the thing that I was driving towards my whole career was finishing this residency, getting board certified, becoming a large animal surgeon, doing colic surgeries. And now I’m considering not doing it s It was pretty traumatic. Imagine. Unfortunately, I met my husband at A at a similar time, so I was kind of having this life crisis about halfway your residencies. Three years, and so it’s kind of having this crisis. About halfway through my second year on Dhe, he and I met at sort of the beginning of my third year of my residency. So about six months after I started having this crisis and he eventually, once he and I got together and started dating, he was gonna be moving to North Carolina. So I thought, OK, maybe I’ll move with him. I’m from Massachusetts originally, so, you know, go back, be closer to friends and family will move with him. I’ll find a job just doing regular equine practice, you know, driving around with the truck and doing farm calls and things like that. And maybe that’s what I need to do. Maybe I don’t need to go full crazy and, you know, jump off the deep end and go into small animal medicine. But maybe just sort of massage myself into something different. Why? Couldn’t find a job? Oh, no, because it was the recession. And so really, the only jobs that were available were in corporate veterinary medicine in small animal. So I thought, OK, I’ll try it out. I mean, I just did a three year large animal surgery, residency and a lot of the small animal surgical procedures are pretty similar. I don’t do orthopedic, many orthopedic surgeries at all. I don’t Orthopedics is not my jam. I like soft tissue surgeries and intestines and bladders and things of that nature. So I thought, OK, I can I can do this. I can hang with us. Well, corporate veterinary medicine was it was not for me. I am not a income driven person, and at that point it was very the structure of corporate veterinary medicine is was different than that it is today. And it was very sort of hammered hard on you to have the highest average pet charge you could possibly have one of my superiors at the time actually admonished me for not sending a patient home with anything and I said, I don’t I don’t understand what you mean. And this person said every animal should go home with a shot and a pill. Wow, Right? And I went away. Yeah, it’s like not on my watch. No corporate, I thought. Okay, and I explain the situation. I said. So this is a six month old dog that just came in for a 14 day recheck after its pay its current on Khorram prevention, its current on all of its vaccines, that it needs its current on flea and tick prevention. What am I supposed to give it? A shot and a pill off? What am I supposed to send it home with? And this person couldn’t really give me an answer. And it was kind of like, Well, you know, you could put him on this heartworm preventive. That’s an injectable instead of this one. That’s a pill. And so I really found myself questioning what I was doing in general is a veterinarian, which I think a lot of us get to at some point in our careers when you haven’t found the right place. And so I was looking for something to inspire me. And I found an ad for a high volume spay neuter surgeon at a clinic in Greenville, North Carolina, and I thought, I don’t even know what that means. First of all, I didn’t even know that that was a thing. My sort of idea of what shelter veterinarians was was was it was very different then what shelter veterinarians actually are today. And so I had sort of a misconception at the time about where shelter, medicine, Woz, and again didn’t really understand what a high volume spay neuter surgeon was. But I thought, I like surgery. I like space and neuters. I’ll go interview and just see what happens. Okay, so I went and interviewed, Um, and they really liked me. They like the fact that I had done a residency even though it was large animal, because a lot of the surgical skills, tissue handling, his tissue handling, and so a lot of the surgical skills, even though they were, you know, in goats and cows and horses and alpacas, they’re pretty similar across the board, and so we talked a lot about those different experiences, a lot about what I was looking for, and so we decided that it would. It would be a good idea for me to take that job. They offered me the job. I took it. I started and immediately thought I’d made a huge mistake. Oh, no, A catastrophic couple of years for me. So what high volume spay neuter surgery is is it basically is a concept where you it’s similar to a human doctor who does a lot of the same surgeries over and over again. So one of the reasons that, for instance, LASIK surgeons are so good at what they dio is because they literally do the same thing over and over and over and over and over. And so they have developed a lot of these high efficiency techniques safety models, things of that nature that really help the patient to be the safety, safest, help the techniques to be the most efficient, and it allows you to do a large number of spay neuter surgeries in a short amount of time. So our goal is 5 to 7 surgeries an hour over six hours, so typically you end up doing between 35 45 surgeries a day. So when I first started at my spay neuter clinic, I could do 10. And I like your way below. Yes, and they knew that coming in. They knew that I was not trained in these high efficiency techniques, but they thought that I would potentially pick it up quickly with training. But for the 1st 2 weeks before I went and had training, I was miserable. I I had no idea how I was ever going to get to 35 surgeries a day because I could barely get 10 to 12 done. And I thought, Oh my gosh, what have I done? I have moved, you know, my husband out. You know you’re not well. We weren’t even married at the time, were really I think we were engaged when we moved, but we weren’t married. It was like, Oh, gosh, I have moved him out, You know, to this it’s a college town because Eastern Carolina University is there. There’s not like there’s not a ton of stuff to do there unless you’re Andy. See you fam eso. It’s like Good Lord. We moved to this. So we moved to this town that we don’t know anybody in. And, you know, he took this job, and now I’m taking this job and I don’t even know if I like this job. I don’t even know if I’m good at this job. And so it was traumatic. For the 1st 2 weeks, they set me to train Humane Alliance, which is now Theo A S P. C. A. Has taken over that particular training program. But it is basically a high volume spay neuter training program. So they do those surgeries themselves there. But they also trained veterinarians in these particular efficiency techniques. So I went there to train, came back, and within three months I was hitting 35 to 40 surgeries safely, easily and confidently. And I loved it, absolutely loved it. I loved the surgical aspect of it. I loved the team aspect of it. Our clinic was in a double wide trailer, but it was great. Um, I had a wonderful team of assistants and technicians. I had a great receptionists and front desk staff, and everybody got along really, really well. So I stayed there for about a year. Interestingly, when I went to training Humane Alliance, They they offered me a job. When I went to train on, I said I I just took a job. Things like Everybody wants toe, have you on their team? At that point, I was I was a little blown away because I thought, This isn’t even what I do yet. I mean, I just started doing this and like, this is the pinnacle of high volume spay neuter. And they’re asking me to come work here so flattered, flabbergasted all of the above and at that point turned it down because again, I said, I just started a job and I can’t I can’t in good conscience leave that job and come work for you. So I stayed where I was for a year. Like I said had a tremendously, tremendously successful time there. We were able Thio do a lot of good and do ah ah, high number of surgeries We did, if I remember correctly, we did between six and 7000 the year I was there, which is about you’re supposed to do between five and 7000 with the one doctor clinic. So we were We were not the higher level of where we needed to be. But after I had been there for a year, one of the things that really enjoyed about my residency was the teaching aspect of it. I really, really enjoyed teaching, and that comes from my dad. He was a math, science and social studies teacher for 30 years. That part of it I really missed. And because Humane Alliance has a training program, I thought, you know, maybe I should contact that Maybe I should see if they were serious about offer me. It’s Auber if they were just kind of being nice and they said that everybody. So we had been in Greenville for about a year, and neither one of us was really happy with the area and humane alliances in Asheville, North Carolina, which I don’t know if you’re familiar with with North Carolina at all. But Asheville is amazing. And so we thought, Gosh, what an opportunity if they really were serious about hiring me to live in Nashville and toe work at this high volume spay neuter training facility. So I called them up and they said, Yes, we were serious. Why don’t you come out for an official interview. So I came out for an official interview and they offered me the job. So that was great. Then we had to move again. So now we had moved literally from Oregon all the way across the country. And now we’re starting to creep back just slowly. Okay? Yes, Yes. We made a tie, a couple tiny leaps at first, and then a big, huge leap. So we moved to Asheville. I took the job at Humane Alliance, and my first day there, the executive director sat me down and said, So we actually want you to be the medical director of the clinic training program. So basically what? That Waas waas? A training program where people who had high volume spay neuter clinics of their own would come to us for training assistance so we would help them with all of their ordering in terms of what they need to set up a high volume spay neuter clinic. We would help them if they needed help hiring their staff. And then they would come to us with their team for a week and they would train and our facility and then the next week, myself and one. Just one staff member, either an assistant or a technician would go out to their facility and help them implement the techniques that they had learned with us in their own facility. And it was a really cool program. It it’s still going on today. The person who started it is Dr Carla Bresil, and she was my mentor when I first started at Humane Alliance and she was the medical director of this training of this training program when I started there. And so I thought, Oh my gosh, those were massive shoes for me to have to fill and I was overwhelmed and appreciative and just over the moon with the fact that I was going to be able because I had thought coming there I would do some training. But I would also be doing a lot of clinical work and I didn’t realize that I was mainly going to be doing teaching, so that made me extremely happy. S o. I started. I became the medical director of that programme about eight months after I started there. Fortunately, they were kind enough to give me some time with Dr Brussel to really get my feet under me and do a couple of training clinics with her so that I really understood what it was that I was supposed to be doing. And I was in that role for about three years. And then Matt and I decided that we needed Thio move on. It was timeto leave Asheville. And then we went that and then that was our big leap. Then we went Thio Santa Fe Humane Society into Mexico. So we packed up our multiple cats and dogs and our guinea pigs is gonna say you get the whole family. Yes, it was funny because Matt’s not a fan of driving large vehicles like moving trucks, And I used to drive horse trailers all the time when I was younger. So it it’s a live a level of comfort with it. So I said, Well, I’ll drive the moving truck if you take the SUV with all of the cats. I think you got the better end of that. I think I did, too. I agree, because at least, ah, the dog I took the dogs and the guinea pigs with me. No, I just took the dogs. He had the getting pigs and At least the dogs just slept the whole way. They weren’t, you know. The cats were singing the song of their people to him the entire way out there. Wellness. Natural pet food is for pets and their parents who believe, as we do, that good nutrition and healthy food are the building blocks of a long, happy life created by a nutritionist, veterinarians and animal lovers. Wellness recipes provided an ideal balance of nature’s finest ingredients. I won this. Recipes include lean meats, whole grains and fruits and veggies with no wheat, corn or soy, and no edit artificial flavors, colors or preservatives from head to tail. Wellness is nutrition with a purpose. You can learn more at wellness pet food dot com and follow them on Facebook and Instagram at at Wellness Pet Food. I worked in the shelter at New Mexico Humane Society, and he worked in the public clinic for about a year. It wasn’t really the right fit for us, and I was really I was really missing teaching after living, leaving Humane Alliance, and so I thought I’ve been looking at academic positions in shelter medicine, but nothing had really spoken to me and So I saw the Midwestern University, which is the vet school here in Glendale, Arizona. They had an ad for a clinical assistant professor and shelter medicine. And I thought, You know what? I’m gonna go ahead and apply for that. It sounds like an interesting program and, you know, we’re in New Mexico. So Arizona’s not that far away. It’s not like we have to move all the way back across the country again. And we both thought, Gosh, we don’t wanna have to make that drive again. So I applied for that position and was offered it. And so that’s where I am now. So now I’m a clinical assistant professor of shelter medicine at Midwestern Um, I’ve been there since February of 2017. Wow, that is quite the journey, but it sounds like everything is really the universe is kind of lead you to where you are and small his hand in animals away from the from the larger, larger animals and back into teaching as well. Yes, and it’s funny because when I left that school, I I you know, I actually was really funny. I said I made it sort of a goal when I was in my clinical year to never have to express anal glands, cause that is like the grossest thing to me thing. Yes, and I made it all the way through vet school and I never had to do it even when I was in our general practice rotation and there because I made the mistake of saying to the clinician, Gosh, I’ve almost made it all the way through vet school without having to express lands. They said, Well, Hey, guess what? There’s a dog coming in today for an anal gland expression, so you’re gonna do it. And the best part is his anal glands were empty and I didn’t even have to do it. I can’t imagine that is a good part of being event. That’s gonna be one of the worst. No, no, it’s not. And so it was just It was funny that I, you know, I thought, you know my last day. Yea, I’m never gonna have to do this again and then switched in a small animal medicine. A nice So now what is a typical week look like free these days? It’s really varied, and I will say that’s one of the things that’s nice about being in academic medicine is that you get to do a lot of different things. So I may have a lecture, one day meetings with students. I may be giving ah, discussion with students of a particular student club, So I’ve done a lot of work with Native American tribes. And so this particular club, because of the fact that we’re in Arizona and the mobile clinic, that Midwestern has, does a lot of different, a lot of different work with a lot of these different Native American tribes. There are some cultural things that you have to be aware of that are different than what we deal with in our in our day to day environment. Tomorrow we actually have a large scale vaccine clinic that we are doing with Fix it Up Save, which is one of the most amazing organizations in the Phoenix metro area. There’s a lot of really good work, too, help out different organizations with vaccine grants with spay neuter funding with helping animals get adopted. So that’s we have tomorrow next weekend. I have an overnight trip with the students up to Bullhead City. We go up there to do t and R with one of the organizations that we work with up there, and we go about once every six weeks. They’re really, really fun trips. The students love them. Usually when I post the sign ups on our volunteer page, they get the students, grab those sign ups and five minutes. So yeah, so it’s it’s it’s varied. It’s very varied. Yeah, I was gonna say it sounds like I mean and you guys keep your weekends full, just like you keep your week’s full of lots of things. Yes, yes, it’s a balancing act for sure. Wow. So what? What does the future look like for you? What’s what’s the next leap? It sounds like you found your calling. Your teaching. You’re dealing with small animals, but what’s next for you? Well, there’s a couple of things that I’m focusing on with with my colleagues at Midwestern and one of the biggest things with shelter medicine Program is really getting students interested and excited about shelter medicine. So it’s interesting. The American Veterinary Medical Association, which is our sort of governing body over veterinarians they release every year a sort of top 32 top five career choices that students are interested in when they graduate from vet school. And last year was the first year that shelter medicine made it into the top five, and it’s actually tied for second place. First place is general small animal medicine, and I think that always will be because that’s the majority of what students air going into when they become veterinarians. But the fact that shelter medicine made such a huge leap is really, really cool. And I think it speaks to what the profession is looking to do as a whole, which aligns really well with what we’re working on at Midwestern and what I personally am interested in, which is trying to increase access to care, access to veterinary care. One of the biggest issues that we’re facing today and one of the biggest issues that shelter medicine faces in general, obviously is the animals are coming to us for a reason. Either people can’t take care of them, or people find through various situations that they’re in, that they can’t afford care for their pets. And while it’s not a situation where veterinary medicine just needs to decrease their prices in general, because that’s that’s not an accurate depiction of the profession. But we need to find a way to fit in to fit in care for people who can’t otherwise afford it. Just because somebody can’t afford their pets doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have one. Yeah, it’s interesting because that’s a question that I asked the veterinary students. I do a lecture, actually. Try to call it a discussion because lecture makes it sound like I’m I’m doing all the talking. You don’t get to participate, Thanks. But it’s really a participatory discussion about the future of shelter, medicine and where things were going. And so one of the first things I asked them is a show of hands. How many of you feel that if you can’t afford a pet, you shouldn’t own it? And quite a few of them actually put their hands up? And so I say, Okay, I want you all Keep your hands up. Those of you that could afford a 5 to $7000 surgery or procedure without help from anybody else. I want you to put your hands down and very few people put their hands down. And it’s a big realization for them because we think Okay, we’re in veterinary medicine, so obviously we’re good pet owners, and that isn’t always the case, obviously. But it doesn’t mean that just because somebody can’t afford care for their pets that they shouldn’t have them. Because a lot of people, especially these days, air living paycheck to paycheck. You know, they’ve got kids, they’ve got mortgages, they’ve got okay careers. But careers that are barely making ends meet for people sometimes. And so, ah, lot of people, even people who are middle class. So we’re not talking about people who are living in abject poverty. They have a lot of bills and they have a lot of things to take care of and things to deal with. In a lot of times, you don’t save for your pets emergency care, and it’s a really behavioral economics. I think is a really interesting topic, and it’s something that I think the veterinary profession needs to take a closer look at, and the animal welfare field needs to take a closer look at in terms of why people choose to do what they dio with their animals. One of the issues with having such a large animal overpopulation. Problem is the fact that people don’t necessarily think about animals can reproduce at a really young age. And so we get a lot of what we call oops letters, which are. I didn’t I had no idea my dog get pregnant this young. I had no idea my cat could get pregnant this young. And once that animal has that letter of babies, then the push to get it spade is on. But if we could keep it from having that first letter, that first letter is what’s keeping us going an animal welfare in terms of shelter and takes and pet overpopulation and things of that nature. We can get ahead of that oops letter and let people know that it’s better to get your animal fixed early. Then that is going to drastically reduce the number of animals that we have coming into shelters. Yeah, I definitely agree, and I like your approach, that proactive approach and understanding and not judging working with the communities because, as you said, everybody loves animals or almost everybody loves animals. And it’s, you know, when you talk about surrendering that there’s usually a reason behind that. It’s not that they don’t love their animals, that they want the best care for their animals. And if they can’t before to find the best care of there in a resource desert or just not ableto find it, that’s gonna be really tough. I can’t even imagine having to give up your animal because you can’t afford to take care of them like you want to. Absolutely. And and you know, it’s funny because I went to a conference. It’s actually speaking at a conference in New Mexico a few years ago and one of the other lectures that I went to, the person said it was really, really cool. There’s this database called Shelter Animals Count where Basically, it’s a voluntary program where shelters and rescues will post their data so they’ll post their intake data, they’ll post their outcome data, and it basically allows you to sort of look at the other animal welfare organizations in your community and see not necessarily how you’re stacking up, because it’s not meant to be a comparison, and it’s not meant to foster of the US versus them sort of mentality. It’s truly just meant to say, Let’s look at our community as a whole. Let’s see where everybody fits and let’s see what this person is doing versus what that person is doing versus what this person is doing. And so the woman who was heading this particular project, she was talking about it because it was sort of when it was in its infancy. And she said, You know, as someone who started out being very judgmental, she said, You know, we really have to remember She said, You know, when I first started working at shelters, people would bring their animals to us and I oh, you know what a horrible, terrible, awful person that was. How could they possibly turn their dog in or their cat in? She said. And then I thought, You know, we’re judging people for using a resource that is exactly what it is supposed to be here for. This is supposed to be a place where people can bring their animals when they can no longer care for them. And it’s our job to try to give people every resource to care for their animals, to keep them out of the shelter so that the only animals that come in are truly the ones that need to. But I think a lot of times we get judgy on people you know, we say, Oh my gosh, you’re moving and you’re not taking your cat. What kind of excuse is that? Well, I think people forget sometimes how difficult it is to get housing with pets, and especially if you’re dealing with a $400 difference in your rent. If it means you can’t take your cat with you. A lot of people are going to make that decision to take their cat to the shelter. And again it’s like you’ve just said it’s not because they want Thio. It’s because that’s a lot of money and they feel like they don’t have any other choice. No, I absolutely agree. And I think one of things I’m always talking about is that we need to work together and we need to be respectful and we need to be understanding and we need to put the animals first and say What is the challenge? How do we how do we fix that? And I’m really excited to see a lot more shelters across the country focused on prevention of the annals coming into the shelters and trying to work with them to say OK, what is the problem? There’s different resources. There’s different organizations, people that can help you so that you can keep the animal in your home. Because that’s what’s best for the animal. And that’s what’s best for their people as well. Yes, absolutely. We say, uh, the only thing that should separate an animal from its human is abuse 100%. It shouldn’t be cost. It shouldn’t be housing. It shouldn’t be any of those other things. People should be able to keep their pets because you said it perfectly. The best place for that pet is in that home with that person. Yep. Absolutely. Well, Dr Nellie has been so great to have you on the program today. Is there anything to intervention before we wrap things up? I don’t think so. I think we’ve covered everything. Thank you so much for having me on. Yeah, it was really a pleasure to talk to you. And I appreciate it in that you shared about what you’re doing and I hope to connect with the again in the future. Absolutely. Have a great rest of your day. 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