In my last blog, I shared information about the Veterinary Social Work Summit. Now, the event has happened, so I wanted to give an update. In my humble opinion, it was a great success!
Why? Well, attendance has grown by roughly 30 to 40 percent, and best of all, there was a great mix of people from both areas of expertise, veterinary medicine and social work. That resulted in greater collaboration and mixture of topics presented. They had numerous presentations on each one of the four basic cornerstones of Veterinary Social Work:
- Animal-assisted therapy (for "humans”)
- The link between animal and human abuse
- Pet loss and grief
- Compassion fatigue
Of course, my area is veterinary medicine, but I wanted to touch on the two most "non-veterinary” cornerstones to give you a glimpse into this special program.
Just briefly touching on the first cornerstone, most of us are familiar with animals that provide "therapy” to certain groups of people. It’s important to know that there are different types of therapy, and therefore different types of training, needed from different animals.
There are the sweet-tempered dogs who visit nursing homes, all the way to the highly trained dogs who assist people with a specific disability. Discussion at the Summit revolved around those different areas and the different training required by the animals … even the species of animal to choose! One perspective I learned at my first Summit is the necessity of a focus on the animal’s wellbeing while providing this help to humans.
The humans using animal assistants acknowledge that just like veterinary professionals can become weary of helping and the emotional and physical ramifications of doing this work, the animals need to be assessed and monitored to see what type of work is the best for them to provide based on their personalities, when they need a break while doing the work, and when they need to be retired. Physical and behavioral signs are recognized by social workers who work with animals.
Next, The Link (between animal and human abuse) has been widely documented; if someone abuses an animal, they are likely to also abuse humans (granted, this is very basic statement because my knowledge on the topic is simply superficial). So discussions revolved around issues such as: how to remove an animal from a home where women/children may be suffering from abuse and have been relocated, and where can that animal stay (with the family in a facility, or boarded elsewhere?); when animal abuse is suspected, who should the veterinary professional inform so that the family is checked to be sure human abuse is not happening (keeping in mind there are laws in some states that will need to be adhered to, regarding the responsibility of the veterinarian in this situation); when a social worker works with a client who is determined to have suffered abuse, should they or how would they ask about any pets in the home who may be victims as well; and other scenarios that can involve The Link.
Hopefully that helps you to know a little more about what this Master’s program in Veterinary Social Work is all about. We’ll look at the other two cornerstones in more detail, in the next two blogs.
For more information about the Veterinary Social Work Summit, click here.