Class of 2013
I first started volunteering with Operation Catnip as an undergraduate student looking for more veterinary experience. The organization provided invaluable hands-on training for me as a student interested in Veterinary Medicine, and was my first experience working with unowned animals. Once I began my veterinary courses Catnip helped develop practical skills, and as I progressed in my education surgical skills were gained through excellent mentorship provided by this organization.
I performed more than 600 spay and neuter surgeries as a veterinary student, and Operation Catnip helped me become a competent spay/neuter surgeon. My positive experiences with Operation Catnip helped guide my education to focus on Shelter Medicine as a career path. I currently work at a large private shelter where we perform thousands of surgeries per year, where my previous spay and neuter experience allowed me to jump right into a busy surgical suite soon after graduation.
Lauren Gray, DVM
Class of 2013
I began volunteering with Operation Catnip as an undergraduate student to gain more hands-on animal experience and to help my community manage its free-roaming cat population. I consider Catnip an invaluable part of my pre-vet training, and that certainly continued throughout vet school.
I was able to perform more than 200 cat spays and neuters as a veterinary student. This made me much more confident in my surgical abilities as a new graduate. I also have been able to implement some of the high-quality, high-volume surgical techniques that I observed, and was a part of as a Catnip volunteer.
I now work as an associate veterinarian at a Humane Society, where we practice TNR for our community cats. Volunteering with Operation Catnip was a very large part of developing my veterinary career path.
Jaime Willson, DVM
Class of 2014
I first started volunteering with Operation Catnip in 2006 as a pre-vet student at the University of Florida. The shelter I had previously worked for ran a small-scale TNR clinic that was modeled after Operation Catnip, so the opportunity to attend the official Operation Catnip was very exciting!
During the monthly clinics, I gained experience as a technician, and after being accepted into vet school I continued to volunteer as a veterinary student doing spay and neuter surgeries. I graduated vet school having performed more than 235 spay and neuter surgeries through Operation Catnip. Getting this amount of surgical experience under the supervision of highly skilled veterinary surgeons was invaluable, and it is rare to have this opportunity as a veterinary student.
Now, as a veterinarian in a large municipal animal shelter, I use the knowledge and experience I gained through Operation Catnip to help our local community cats.
Dr. Brian DiGangi
My experience at the Operation Catnip TNR clinic as a veterinary student was one of the highlights of my veterinary training. I always looked forward to the monthly clinics, not only because of the experience and confidence that I gained in my surgical skills, but also for the opportunity to be part of such a large effort to improve community animal welfare.
I was able to carry many of the lessons learned during my volunteer experience into my post-graduate training through the operation of numerous small-scale TNR clinics during my internship and residency years.
I have now come full circle and often supervise today’s veterinary students when they volunteer their own time and talents at Operation Catnip. I continue to benefit through these efforts but now have the added reward of witnessing my students develop their own skill and passion for elevating the care of community cats.
Lisa & Vince Centonze
We had the idea to start the student spay program at OC (Operation Catnip) in 2002 because we wanted more surgery experience with live patients who actually needed the surgery and wouldn’t be killed afterward (like in our advanced surgery lab).
We approached Dr. Levy about letting students do spays at OC. She replied that the only problem was supervision, since she needed all the available vets to do surgery and not supervise. Vinny applied to SCAVMA (Student Chapter AVMA) for funding (and was approved) and then we approached the surgery residents about paying them to supervise us. They jumped at the chance to earn some extra money.
We were amazed at the response; so many students wanted to participate that we had to initially limit it to people who had participated in OC in the past. It was great for us to get extra surgery experience. The surgery classes and labs at UF are great but there just is not enough experience actually doing surgery before graduation.
The tissue handling, suturing skills, and techniques for controlling hemostasis that we gained doing spays and neuters transferred to other surgeries as well. At graduation, I felt very confident with my surgical skills and was quite proficient at spays and neuters. I credit most of that to my experience at OC (and some during a shelter externship). I’m a huge proponent of spay-neuter and it’s like a mission for me, and a big reason I became a vet.
Vinny, Irene Lee, and I continue to volunteer once per month at the local TNR program in Tampa (Animal Coalition of Tampa). In addition, I’m doing relief work at the Humane Society of Tampa Bay’s spay and neuter clinic and am interested in pursuing shelter medicine.
Dr. Kristin MacDonald
I began participating in Operation Catnip as a second year veterinary student. Now, as a recent graduate and practicing veterinarian, I still attend the monthly spay-neuter clinics as often as possible. Operation Catnip provides invaluable surgical experiences for veterinary students. The participants, however, also witness first-hand the enormous degree to which pet overpopulation exists.
As a student, I personally gained surgical skills and confidence that have helped me immensely as a practicing veterinarian. I also became more aware of the problems and dilemmas that face us in regards to pet overpopulation. Now, as a veterinarian, my continued participation in Operation Catnip puts me in a better position to educate my clients in regards to the importance of spaying and neutering within our community.
In summary, Operation Catnip is an integral part of our community and the benefits gained by the participants (both human and feline alike!) are immeasurable.
To a veterinary student, Operation Catnip means a lot of things. It is a privilege to participate in such a well organized and coordinated response to the global issue of animal overpopulation. The volume of homeless cats being trapped every month as well as the number of people volunteering their time and services is eye opening.
OC brings diverse members of the community together who want to make a difference. The energy of the volunteers is wonderful. It may not be the most glamorous event to be a part of, but it is extremely rewarding and fulfilling. It is a great experience for veterinary students as well as anybody who is interested in the field or simply has a passion for animals and their welfare.
For freshman veterinary students it is one of the first chances to touch a live animal and apply the knowledge recently learned in anatomy. Juniors and seniors are able to improve their spay techniques so they can be more confident when they enter the field.
OC educates the public as well as future DVMs on the stray and feral cat overpopulation problem. I am more aware than I have ever been and am reminded every time I assist at OC. More than anything it is an opportunity to be part of something bigger, to work with the community and the world towards a common goal.
Dr. Monica Gardon
I volunteered with Operation Catnip prior to and during veterinary school. It wasn’t long after graduation that I expressed special thanks to Julie Levy for taking the time to initiate, promote, and sustain the program. Some veterinary school experiences aren’t fully appreciated until time in the “real world” exposes your strengths and weaknesses.
As an associate veterinarian at the Clay County Humane Society Animal Clinic my clinical and surgical caseload is higher than at most private practices. It has been pointed out to me by associates at the practice I joined after graduation that my surgical skills exceed those of most new graduates. This isn’t because I’m an especially talented surgeon! Rather, Operation Catnip afforded me the opportunity to practice surgical skills and tissue handling unaided (always with supervision available), which was essential to my current comfort level and efficiency in the operating room.
As a pre-vet student I performed other duties essential to a smooth-running clinic (anesthesia reversal and recovery, for example). Lessons learned from these tasks have also proven useful in my current position as a veterinarian.
Beyond that, Operation Catnip is a great inspiration to the local community and the animal welfare community at large. Here is a compassionate example of “idealism in action” – a tremendous inspiration for anyone involved in animal welfare – and a role model for other communities.
My experiences with Operation Catnip exposed me to the possibilities within shelter medicine. My career goals have changed to reflect that as evidenced by my current chosen position.
Dr. Irene Lee
The student spay program was started by veterinary students Lisa and Vinnie right before I graduated. Participating in Catnip definitely shaped the way I practice after graduation. It really gave me a good understanding of how important population control is, and also how important it is to contribute to the effort.
All three of us are still actively involved in community cat TNR down here in Tampa, and we are definitely a few of the most devoted vets down here too. I’m glad that I can improve the quality of life for many of the feral cats.