The Seattle Animal Shelter added a new role in February as the team welcomed Dr. Nicholas (Nick) Urbanek, BVMS (Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine and Surgery), as Director of Shelter Medicine. He’s the first full-time staff veterinarian working exclusively with shelter pets and brings great experience and passion for working with these animals. You may be wondering about Nick’s BVMS title as in the U.S., we’re more familiar with the DVM designation. He’s indeed a Yank but went to veterinary school at the University of Glasgow in Scotland, hence the different designation. We’re glad he came back to our side of the pond to practice. Here’s more on Dr. Nick.

What was your path to veterinary life & Seattle?

I obtained my Bachelor’s degree in Animal Sciences from Penn State University. I found my way to the University of Glasgow after meeting a Glasgow grad during a summer internship at the Waltham Center for Pet Nutrition in Leicestershire, England. The opportunity to attend a foreign veterinary school also allowed me to fulfill a desire to study abroad. As I’m from Pennsylvania, I considered the University of Pennsylvania and Virginia Tech, but Glasgow is where I decided to go.

After graduating from the University of Glasgow, I returned to US and did an internship at Wheat Ridge Animal Hospital, outside Denver, CO, which included intense rotations in surgery, emergency medicine, general practice, and internal medicine. People often ask me if I work with small or large animals and now, it’s mostly small. But my classmates who practice in the UK, still do both and are very James Herriot-like where they work with both farm animals and small animals. (James Herriot, University of Glasgow graduate, British Veterinary Surgeon and author of All Creatures Great and Small).

I was working in Michigan for two years practicing shelter medicine and a lot of high volume spay and neuter surgery. Then in 2015, my husband, who is also a veterinarian practicing radiology, and I moved to Seattle area. We picked the northwest for its great quality of life and plentiful outdoor recreation. I started working with the humane society in Bellevue a couple years ago and then moved to the Kitsap Humane Society. I loved working at Kitsap Humane Society, however when the opportunity to be help shape the shelter medicine program at Seattle Animal Shelter came to be, I couldn’t pass it up.

What does building a shelter medicine program entail?

Shelter medicine is about developing and improving policies and practices at the shelter say for example infectious disease control, outbreak management and sanitation and finding ways to do as much inhouse as we can – such as diagnostics and surgeries. Keeping things within our walls helps to conserve resources and improves continuity of care. Right now, we refer out most of our surgeries, other than spay and neuter, and dentistry. Being able to do this work inhouse would save time, resources and support the wellbeing of the animals in our care as we could eliminate the stress of travel to outside clinics. Almost a third of the adult cats I see could use dental work – from cleaning to extractions. Beyond dental, being able to do mass removals or entropion surgery to fix eyelid issues can make a big difference in the life of the animal and can help remove a barrier to adoption as well. People often worry about adopting an animal with medical needs and as we build our shelter medicine program, we can address these challenges at SAS better.

The Seattle Animal Shelter Foundation focused its BigGIVE initiative and some future events on raising funds for a Veterinary Care drive to help buy more medical supplies and diagnostic equipment for your shelter medicine program. What equipment would support the continued build out of the program?

To build out our wellness room, which was funded by generous donors at SASF’s paddle raise at the 2015 Raining Cats & Dogs auction, having an X-ray machine would help us diagnose many conditions including fractures which is especially key when supporting animal cruelty cases. Other items we hope to have in the future are an anesthetic machine, monitoring equipment to check heart and respiratory function, surgical instruments to support laceration repairs and mass removals, a centrifuge for inhouse laboratory analysis, and an ultrasound. All of this would help expand our ability to diagnose and treat animals at the shelter.

How many animals do you see during the week?

My patients are a mix of shelter and foster animals and I typically see 8-15 shelter animals per day and another two to three foster animals. We just launched a new online scheduling tool so foster parents can make appointments and get care at the shelter with me versus seeing an outside veterinarian. We are also doing Animal Care Officer staff training so they can provide triage support and help identify potential issues, and veterinary technicians from the Spay & Neuter Clinic help as well. Most mornings I’m joined by Amanda Tattersall-Craft, the Supervisor of Animal Care, or Tracy Bahrakis, the Manager of Animal Care, and we perform shelter rounds to observe every animal in the shelter and assess their needs.

You see a lot of animals at the shelter, but what about at home?

My husband, Matt, and I have two dogs: Bruno, a Rottweiler, and Spencer, a Jack Russell; two domestic shorthair cats: Mac and Mitch; two fish tanks and a gecko. The dogs and cats are all rescues from Colorado, Michigan or Canada.

Outside of shelter life, what do you like to do?

One of the biggest draws to Seattle was the mild climate and outdoor recreation. I enjoy backpacking, hiking, running and skiing and we just got our sailing certifications. In fact, we just did our first trip without an instructor to Blake Island. We are also getting involved with local sailing clubs and have done some racing to gain time on the water.

Is there anything else you’d like to leave SASF supporters with?

Having an inhouse veterinarian is a really a big step forward for the shelter and the future of shelter medicine here. And SASF supporters have played a big role in this and can continue to do so. As we do more care inhouse, we’re stretching donors’ dollars and investing in the future of the shelter. We appreciate the support and animal care provided by our Seattle-area clinics including West Seattle Animal Hospital, Northeast Veterinary Hospital, Ballard Animal Hospital and Blue Pearl. But our ideal situation is to be able to provide more comprehensive healthcare and surgery inhouse. Not only does this make our animals’ lives less stressful, but we can be involved in the full spectrum of their care on their path to adoption with a wonderful family. And seeing that transformation from their first day at the shelter to their adoption is most rewarding.