Veterinary Social Work … Huh?

05/13/2010VTS: Internal Medicine vs. Clinical Practice

05/05/2010 - The Rat (or Hamster) Race

04/29/2010 - Discovering Needs

This past weekend, I was fortunate to attend the second Veterinary Social Work Summit hosted by the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine and College of Social Work. I did not know exactly what to expect, and I was surprised by the variety of topics this Summit addressed. The four subcategories of veterinary social work include: the link between human and animal violence, grief and loss, animal-assisted therapy, and compassion fatigue management. The audience was an interesting mix of social workers, both those who work now at veterinary colleges and those who use animal-assisted therapy with their clients, and a handful of people from the veterinary world. One in particular was a credentialed veterinary technician at the college who worked in the large animal department. Her sidestep into social work leads me to believe that this is yet another career path for a veterinary technician or other veterinary professional. Indeed, you have to be a real “people-person,” but you get to help people through animals, which is in reality the foundation of our profession. 

There was also a focus on the welfare of therapy animals, which was comforting. As animals perform their important work helping to soothe seniors, socialize mentally challenged adults, or provide physical therapy for challenged children, attention must be paid to the animal’s well being. We reviewed symptoms that may indicate that it’s time for the therapy animal to take a “vacation” from work, or perhaps retire altogether.

We must always remember that these animals are sentient beings in and of themselves, and we should not benefit without regard to their physical and emotional needs.

We discussed animal hoarders, and the danger of those people who deem themselves “rescue workers” who instead acquire animals they simply cannot care for properly. There are many veterinary professionals who engage in rescue and provide a needed haven for animals, yet we must always be mindful of the boundary between providing a proper living condition for an animal versus saving them from euthanasia at all costs. Some animals end up being kept in abusive or neglectful conditions, bringing to the surface the issue of quantity of life versus quality of life. Even as hospice expands in our profession, there are those who are mindful of the emergence of “hospice hoarders” who have no governing body to ensure they are not harming the animals more by trying to save them.

Finally, the link between human and animal violence is well documented. We can look at the oppressed in our society and realize the similarities of beings that suffer at the hands of those more powerful. The perspective that must be found is the realization that by helping and healing animals, we help to heal our society and the people who surround us. The human-animal bond is important in so many ways, and the emergence of veterinary social work will cement the manner in which we can help each other and our world.

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