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Animal Care and Adoption Centers – Boston

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Helping Pets and their Families
Stay Together

Neal Litvack, MSPCA-Angell President

Technological advancements have pushed the bounds of veterinary care to new heights. Angell’s 1.5 Tesla MRI and 80-slice CT scanner can show small lesions previously left undetected, orthopedic surgery has been transformed by precise planning software and 3D printing, and the new frontier of hemodialysis and toxic plasma exchange now gives hope to previously hopeless cases.

Angell interns, residents and specialists have diagnostic equipment and surgical tools that can dramatically transform a patient’s prognosis and quality of life. However, if a client doesn’t have the financial means to access care, veterinary expertise and advancements are meaningless for their ailing family member.

Providing Access to Care

The MSPCA-Angell has worked hard to balance embracing advancements with providing access to care. Since 1990, our Pet Care Assistance program has helped thousands of families cover veterinary expenses. In 1996, the Shalit-Glazer Clinic at the MSPCA-Angell opened its doors to help low-income families spay or neuter their pets. In 2016 and 2019 the Angell at Nashoba and Angell at Essex clinics opened to provide veterinary assistance training programs and to serve as routine-care veterinary clinics offering discounted care for qualified, low-income families.

In the past year, we have ramped up our efforts more than ever to serve those in need with the opening of the MSPCA-Angell Clinics. Modelled after Angell at Nashoba and Angell at Essex, the MSPCA-Angell Clinic in Boston was formed and in January 2020 treated its first case. We have since opened clinic locations in Methuen and Centerville.

MSPCA-Angell Clinics

The vision of the MSPCA-Angell Clinics is simple yet powerful: provide affordable veterinary care that helps keep pets and families together. By providing subsidized, low-cost, veterinary care, the clinics provide a new pathway for disadvantaged families and help them avoid the painful choice between euthanasia, surrender, or bringing an animal home against medical advice. One hundred percent of MSPCA-Angell Clinic clients rely on public assistance programs or receive a family income below poverty guidelines.

When Felicia Mercado and her son Miguel rushed Mimi, their seven-year-old Italian greyhound, to Angell, they thought they were going to lose her. Mimi was diagnosed with a pyometra. Their funds depleted from initial exams, tests and medication, Felicia was devastated that they couldn’t cover the surgical costs to save Mimi. Fortunately, Mimi was referred to the MSPCA-Angell Clinic in Boston where she received the surgery she needed without incurring additional cost. The family was elated to welcome Mimi back home where she recovered beautifully and resumed her favorite post in Felicia’s lap.

These vital services for Mimi and others like her were particularly crucial during the hardships brought on by COVID-19. The clinic services function in tandem with our MSPCA-Angell Community Outreach program that provided over 1.2 million pet meals in 2020 and transported animals in need of medical services. Donations and full-pay Angell referrals from alumni like you have made these programs possible and granted critical access to veterinary care to underserved families and their pets who previously had limited options.

As we nurture this new generation of future technicians and doctors, we The MSPCA-Angell Clinics provide spay/neuter services and acute, outpatient, medical and surgical care to pet owners who financially qualify and are referred by their primary veterinarian. Referral forms and details on locations, financial qualifications and medical procedures performed are available at angell.org/clinics.

More Pets, Less Vets
Staffing through the Perfect Storm

Ann Marie Greenleaf, DVM, DACVECC, Chief of Staff

A spike in demand…

The veterinary industry was lucky to avoid the crushing revenue nosedive of many businesses this past year. However, as more and more people welcomed animals into their families during the pandemic, the existing shortage of veterinary specialists and technicians became more painfully pronounced. While these families sought initial wellness and vaccine appointments, many more people worked from home and monitored their pets’ health more closely, and the demand for veterinary care spiked.

Weathering the storm

Veterinary staffing shortages have percolated for years, but COVID-19 brought the perfect storm: more pets, pandemic safety protocols impacting efficiency, general practices working at decreased capacity, a growing scarcity of veterinary specialists and technicians, and stress on clients and staff magnified by the “new normal” of life during COVID-19.

Even during these precarious circumstances, it is no surprise that those who comprise a profession of compassionate caregivers banded together to make it work, creating new ways to streamline efficiencies and treat animals in need. Parking lot concierge service became the norm, eventually evolving into lobbies with social distancing stickers, plexiglass barriers and Zoomed exams. Nonetheless, despite all the ingenuity, burnout was inevitable, particularly without a surplus of staff to provide relief.

To really get to the root of the staffing shortage, one has to look back to prepandemic days. In the last five years, experienced technicians have become the holy grail of the veterinary industry. Not enough colleges are offering veterinary technical training, so demand is outpacing supply. This shortage was compounded by the recent surge in pet ownership, spawning increased competition among hiring hospitals. Technicians are an integral part of hospital operations; patient care, client communication and manageable workloads (and stress levels) for veterinarians are all directly tied to technician staffing levels.

A hospital lacking technicians can deter veterinary specialists who have also become harder to hire due to the increase in specialty practices across the country. Specialists in emergency/critical care (E/CC), diagnostic imaging, surgery and anesthesia have been in especially high demand during the pandemic to support the influx of emergency cases.

Finding solutions

To address these staffing challenges, Angell cast a wider net, hiring candidates from as far away as California. In addition, we built training programs within Angell to create career paths and increase staff retention. Meanwhile, opening the Angell at Nashoba and Angell at Essex clinics in the past few years has been a long-term strategy to foster interest in veterinary careers for a new generation through vocational training programs.

As we nurture this new generation of future technicians and doctors, we remain grateful for past generations who have graduated from Angell. We have always valued connections to our alumni, and now more than ever, the investment in so many talented clinicians has paid off. The internship and residency training program at Angell has been crucial to our success, allowing us to keep more of our well-prepared trainees on staff and recruit back those who have completed residencies elsewhere.

Of course, creating a welcoming workplace with amenities ranging from a veterinary social worker to pancake breakfasts and a bring-your-pet-to-work policy all help the recruitment process, but perhaps the lessons in patience, flexibility, and ingenuity learned while surviving the pandemic’s upheaval will turn into the most valuable recruitment assets for our future.

Alumni Director’s Message: The Pandemic One Year Plus

Douglas Brum, DVM

The pandemic has taken its toll on millions of people. It has affected our lives in so many ways, some totally expected and yet some with unforeseeable consequences. For veterinary medicine, the past year and a half has been one of the most difficult times in recent memory. No one expected what the virus would bring to the lives of veterinarians and how it would alter practice. Everyone has been greatly impacted — from the veterinary staff to our clients to our patients. The rules of practice have changed and we have evolved rapidly with it in order to continue our role in the community. It has not been an easy transition.

In the beginning, we did not know what to expect. I remember walking down the empty halls of Angell, looking for the groups of people gathering for rounds, discussing cases or just socializing, and finding no one. It felt so hollow. Even though the staff was in the hospital, they were nowhere in sight. Everyone was in their office, waiting, uncertain about the future and feeling isolated. The words “social distancing” came into being. The hospital doors were closed for everyone except true emergencies. Doctors that were not seeing appointments were given new tasks. Some of us stayed home and answered phone calls from worried clients. Others wrote papers, prepared lectures, and tried to keep productive (I actually cleaned my office one day…not sure I ever did that before). One of my scariest jobs was “phone triage.” This was when we took a shift answering the phones and talking to clients waiting on the other side of the glass doors. Then we would decide if their animal was to be seen or we could help them just by giving advice and sending them home. It gives you a very different perspective on practice.

We did not have enough masks, gloves, or protective gear and we saved them for the times that they were essential. We donated our ventilators to human hospitals and would not be able to ventilate animals for months. That first month of uncertainty, the caseload obviously plummeted and there was talk of taking furloughs and lay-offs. So much was just unknown. With all the people out of work, afraid of going outside, and the poor economic outlook, it seemed that veterinary medicine was also going to see difficult times. As we all know now, veterinary medicine did experience difficult times but not the kind we were expecting.

People started staying home and their pets became a bigger part of the daily routine and much more important in social enjoyment. With the public lacking leisure activities, owning a pet became a big part of their social life and adoptions of new pets went up….way, way up. Shelters were empty, and dogs were brought up from the south to fill the void. More dogs were bred and everything “doodle” that could be sold, was sold. Hundreds of families would apply for just one dog. The demand far exceeded the supply. And one thing was bound to happen…we now had a ton of
new pets, and the same number of veterinary hospitals trying to figure out the best ways of getting patients seen. Hospitals were doing their best, but with new internal hospital systems, and people needing to isolate or illnesses occurring, the capacity to see patients was reduced, forcing some hospitals to stop accepting new clients or sometimes to have to close down temporarily. Still the pets kept coming and hospitals were soon seeing more animals than ever.

What that meant for Angell was that after that first month, we went from “phone triaging” people away to having a parking lot full of people waiting hours to be seen. I have been at Angell for 35 years and it has never been busier. We have appointments booked out for weeks to months and the busiest emergency case load ever. Two years ago, 5 cases waiting on ER would have sparked emails asking people to help and get the cases in sooner… now it is not uncommon for there to be 15-20 cases waiting to be seen. Everyone now will “help on the list,” even if it means taking them in between appointments. At the beginning of the pandemic, clients would be grateful that we were at least open, but now with the “new normal” people are getting tired and more frustrated. They need to wait longer times to get seen, and then procedures for non-urgent cases also get delayed just due to the numbers of cases coming into the hospital. It is understandable, but does not make things any easier.

Everyone at the hospital is working harder, and many doctors are coming in earlier and leaving later each day. I often tell people, it is like working at a MASH unit now. Too many sick animals, but we are trying our best. In fact, I am shocked at how well we actually are handling things. When ultrasound is booking out for weeks, and an urgent case comes in, it gets done… if all the oxygen cages are in use, nasal catheters are placed… if something needs to see a specialist, we find ways of getting them to see the specialist… when a surgery needs to get done, it somehow is squeezed in…

The hospital has never closed. Most of us have been at work every day during the entire pandemic.

A new committee was formed. “The Angell COVID Task Force.” This group consisted of doctors and administrators whose job it was to keep everyone safe and informed while still helping as many animals as we could. They also provided comfort and assurance to us as individuals when we needed it. Their work is probably the biggest reason that the hospital had such a low number of cases and was able to function and remain open for the past year and a half.

The interns have been working tirelessly and our residents have been providing much needed support to all aspects of the hospital’s functioning. When I think about it, I am truly awed by what we have been able to accomplish and how well we have adapted to the new pressures in the profession. As probably the most senior doctor in terms of years, I can honestly say that I have never been more proud of what we have accomplished and how the staff has worked together to do the best we can for the animals. From what I hear about other practices in the area, the work load and stresses during the pandemic have been similar to Angell. It is a tough time, but as veterinarians we should all be proud of the fact that we are getting through this and doing our part in helping people and animals in need. The hard times are not over yet, but we’ll figure it out.

Looking Back: An Intern Year in Review

Molly Graham, DVM (Class of 2021)

I remember the day that I learned that I matched to Angell Animal Medical Center for intern year. I had so many emotions. I was excited and scared and worried at the same time. The Angell internship is known for its fast pace, diverse caseload, and steep learning curve. I kept a running loop of questions in my head like; am I good enough, am I smart enough, and, God help me, am I tough enough to endure what would be the foundational year of my career?

Thinking back, I’m sure every experienced physician can remember the feeling of free falling and hoping to find your wings on the way down, destined to repeat the successes and failures of those who went before. It has been no different for the class of 2021. Our journey, however, had the additional stressors of a global pandemic, social isolation and weeks of imposed quarantine. I don’t think any of us quite understood the additional sense of responsibility of being an essential employee. We thought it was just a sticker affixed to our badge!

Navigating the complexities of being a new doctor during the pandemic has been nerve wracking. Stepping into the clinical practice field as a new graduate at a time when the world was trying to understand the rules around social distancing and minimize client contact has been daunting. My fellow interns and I have created a strong network of support and encouragement. We have become a mostly functional — albeit sometimes dysfunctional — family. We have celebrated each other’s wins, talked each other off the ledge a time or two, laughed, cried and eaten so much junk food that we think pizza is part of the food pyramid.

It was a little off-putting to be told that my work space was referred to as a “hole.” I already felt like I was in the trenches. One wall of the beloved “intern hole” has been dedicated to uplifting photos from our experiences over the past year. On bad days we look at those pictures and remember some of our unique or gratifying cases. On good days we add to the collage. A quote wall tradition that was passed down from the class before us lives on. We’ve captured quotes, phrases, and thoughts from our internmates that sum up our daily lives and keep a lighthearted feel in the office.

We have been fortunate enough to continue to work despite the lockdowns, quarantines and ever-changing regulations regarding social interactions. Despite the current healthcare crisis, beloved pets continued to require both routine and emergency healthcare. In fact, we have been operating full throttle for the past year. One curious phenomenon of the home quarantine is that more people than ever sought to adopt, care for and nurture animals. I’m certain this has contributed to the surge in our patient numbers.

The government regulations limiting social interaction among people posed an additional barrier to effective communication with clients. Emotions have been heightened due to the circumstances requiring pets and owners to be separated. Embracing the fact that veterinary visits are equally stressful for the clients as they are for the pets has helped hone our empathetic skills. It can be a challenge to be emotionally supportive in a physically distanced world. The veterinary community has truly stretched its resources and stepped up over the past year. I am proud of the work, the outcomes and the sense of community that has contributed to my own growth during this internship.

Like all those before us, we survived. Angell has made us the confident, compassionate, and well-equipped practitioners we are today. I have no doubt that our intern class will go on to do amazing things.

Looking back on the last year, I think about all of the experience I have gained. Through the quick days and long nights, we’ve seen everything from spunky sugar gliders to feisty turkeys and newborns to geriatrics. It has been a whirlwind of triaging patients, running codes, making decisions, second guessing those decisions and making the best of every situation. This experience would not have been the same without the incredible work ethic of my fellow interns and the support of experienced mentors. I wish only the absolute best for my internmates in their future endeavors!

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