What is Veterinary Social Work?
Veterinary social work is a subspecialty of social work which focuses on supporting the needs of the human side of relationships between people and animals. Veterinary social work recognizes that the human-animal bond is a meaningful part of the human experience. As such, it deserves the acceptance and study that the social work field gives to all the other aspects of the human experience.
Dr. Elizabeth Strand, director of the veterinary social work program at the University of Tennessee (UT), came up with the term “veterinary social work” and established the four main areas which comprise the field:
- Animal Assisted Interventions
- The Link Between Human and Animal Violence
- Compassion Fatigue
- Animal-Related Grief and Bereavement
See veterinary social work in action
Green Chimneys School is a therapeutic school in which animal-assisted interactions form the basis of healing for children with severe behavioral challenges.
People and Pets Living Safely (PALS) Project at the Urban Resource Institute is NYC’s first ever co-sheltering program which allows domestic violence survivors to live with their companion animals in shelter.
Compassion fatigue, also known as moral stress, vicarious trauma, secondary traumatic stress, or burnout, is of urgent concern in the veterinary community. Many veterinarians are suffering, and suicide in the veterinary community is disproportionately high.
The American Veterinary Medical Association is just one professional organization trying to tackle this problem, and veterinary social workers are part of the solution.
A growing number of veterinary hospitals across the country staff full time social workers to support their clients and staff in issues pertaining to companion animal loss, trauma, and decision making. Some hospitals and animal welfare groups run pet loss support groups so that grieving pet owners can combat some of the isolation that frequently follows the death of a pet.
How does the Human-Animal Bond Project fit in?
My practice provides a space where animal lovers can feel that their priorities are valued. I also do this work as a way of honoring our companion animals and their contributions to our lives. Primarily, I serve clients who are experiencing animal-related grief and bereavement or clients who are anticipating a loss. I include in this category people who are experiencing other animal-related stress, such as caring for a pet with behavioral issues or special needs. My other role is to help veterinary professionals cope with the stresses of their jobs in a world that does not always appreciate the emotional impact of the work they do.