While in veterinary school at UC Davis, Kate Hurley had to pass a herd health class to proceed with her studies. Her professor assigned a production plan, which students generally understood in terms of helping livestock produce more wool, meat or milk, helping dogs produce larger litters of healthy puppies and the like. But this assignment confounded Hurley. Though she loved a cozy wool sweater or a bouncing healthy puppy as much as anyone, she couldn’t get excited about a plan to make more animals after working in an animal shelter for six years. Instead she decided to craft a production plan that would result in fewer unwanted animals in a community.
On a yellow legal pad she explained her rationale: If a shelter adopted out sick animals, people wouldn’t adopt from there — distrust and eroding support would follow. A shelter that vaccinated and practiced good cleaning and adequate housing would have healthier animals, retain quality staff and improve its reputation, likely increasing volunteers and donations, thereby improving outreach. That would lead to fewer animals coming into the shelter, which meant staff could take better care of each animal and keep all of them healthy and adoptable. The cycle would continue.
“I wrote this all out and thought, dang, that’s a good idea!” Hurley recalls. “Someone should actually do all this. I ran to my professor, ‘Look at this! I think I cracked the code!’” This was in 1997, before she had ever heard the words shelter and medicine uttered together; the main role she’d heard of for veterinarians at shelters was to spay and neuter. There was no advanced training in shelter medicine, no textbook to turn to, no shelter medicine conference to attend or website to research. So Hurley hit a dead-end.
While her path wasn’t easy, Hurley eventually achieved her goals and now directs the Koret Shelter Medicine Program at the CCAH. Hurley — who grew up all over, including Colorado, California, Idaho, New York, Japan and England — graduated from the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine in 1999. She immediately took a job at an animal shelter that had recently committed to stop euthanizing healthy animals — a goal close to Hurley’s heart — but, unfortunately, without a sufficient plan to make it a reality. The facility soon became overcrowded and infectious disease ran rampant. Quelling the constant crises grew overwhelming. The crowding and illness undermined the very goal the shelter had set of saving more lives. Frustrated, Hurley called Dr. Niels Pedersen, then-director of the CCAH.
Pedersen told her that the CCAH was about to receive a grant for shelter medicine and in 2001 Hurley returned to Davis to become the first in the world to undertake a residency in this discipline; she completed her Masters in Preventive Veterinary Medicine and Residency in 2003. Hurley has since advanced the quality of life for animals in shelters throughout the country through preventive medicine, disease management, and humane care and housing. She helps shelters achieve their goals of euthanizing fewer pets, saving more lives, and making their communities better for all animals and people.
Among her proudest achievements she lists co-authoring guidelines for standards of care in animal shelters, and co-founding the Million Cat Challenge, a campaign to save a million cats in North American shelters over five years. She co-edited the textbook, “Infectious Disease Management in Animal Shelters” and co-chaired the committee that led to the establishment of a boarded specialty in shelter medicine in 2014.
In Hurley’s downtime, she’s fond of unusually short dogs and ballroom dance. But she finds her true joy in her work.