Anyone who has enjoyed the love of a pet knows how important pets are to our physical and emotional well-being. People who live with pets cite reduced stress and anxiety when their pets are around them. These sentiments are supported by numerous peer-reviewed medical studies showing that pets are effective adjuncts to medical therapies for severe post-traumatic stress disorder, improving sleep, social reintegration, and overall life satisfaction. . In fact, 97% of physicians surveyed in a study conducted by the Human-Animal Bonding Research Institute said they saw positive benefits from owning a pet in the patients they treat.
I suggest that, for some, pets can even serve as a way out of homelessness. Although it may sound absurd, I can assure you that having practiced veterinary medicine for nearly 30 years, I have witnessed the incredible strength of the human-animal bond and how it can support the health of humans and pets. As a Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Fellow and a 16-year veteran of another public health charity, Save Their Smiles, I am interested in harnessing the power of this connection at the intersection of human health and animal to improve the culture of health and housing. outcomes for homeless people in Seattle and beyond.
It is for this reason that I founded Seattle Veterinary Outreach (SVO), a mobile veterinary “clinic” that provides free veterinary care to pets of people living without homes and offers links to health, housing and social services.
The model works! In January alone, while our veterinarians cared for 175 pets, our resource navigator made 804 social service referrals to pet owners, and our team facilitated 143 COVID vaccines. in the arms. Analyzing these numbers, we found that 47% of people presenting to our clinics for veterinary care requested assistance in finding food, housing and/or health care. Think about it. Nearly half of the people who come to our clinic for pet care also need care for themselves, care they might not be getting if they hadn’t come forward for help. veterinary care for their pet.
It is certain that this approach will not work for all homeless people; you have to have a pet to seek veterinary care, and it might be difficult for people to learn about the service without this introduction. That said, the model is valuable in that it reaches a subset of people who may be missed by — or resistant to — government outreach due to historical trauma. And while the project does not make a large or rapid dent in homelessness, each affected individual is one more person with the opportunity to live a full and healthy life, which every human being deserves.
Creative models like SVO are needed to reach truly disenfranchised individuals in society as a whole. These non-governmental, on-the-ground, agile and efficient models need government funding to be sustainable in the long term. I offer funding approaches like these to reduce health and housing disparities.
Seattle has tried more standard approaches. Maybe it’s time to call the pets!
Hanna Ekstrom, DVM, is the executive director of Seattle Veterinary Outreach.
Learn more about Seattle Veterinary Outreach, including clinic dates and locations, at https://seattlevet.org