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Pet care can connect people to health and harm reduction services
Liz Highleyman, 2017-05-24 13:10:00
Providing free veterinary care can be a good way to
bring homeless and marginally housed people into contact with health care, harm
reduction and other services, according to a presentation at the 25th International Harm
Reduction Conference (HR17) this week in Montréal.
Individuals who are homeless or precariously housed can face numerous
barriers to accessing health and harm reduction services, including lack of
trust in the medical system or the government. Although pet guardianship can be
difficult for homeless people because most shelters do not allow animals,
having a pet can offer many benefits for this population.
Judy Hodge, a veterinarian with a Master's degree in public health who works
as the One Health operations veterinarian for the Manitoba government,
presented an overview of an initiative to embed human health services within preventive
veterinary clinics. The One Health approach aims to integrate
human, animal and environmental health to address public health threats at
Up to 19% of homeless individuals and
families are pet owners, according to Hodge. In addition to unconditional love, pets also provide motivation to avoid incarceration, hard drug use, and other risk
behaviour, she said.
The Community Veterinary Outreach
programme, based in Ottawa, provides no-cost preventive veterinary care for pets
of homeless and marginally housed people. Programme clients are
highly motivated to seek access to
veterinary care, and once this has been delivered they are often open to
accepting services for themselves,
Community Veterinary Outreach has held clinics at 10 locations
throughout Canada, providing care for a total of 630 pets and 480 people.
Services for pets, provided through local partners, include vaccines,
deworming, microchipping, grooming and pet supplies. One Health services for
people include vaccines, oral health care, smoking cessation assistance, harm
reduction services and primary care. Not all services were available at every
From 2015 to 2016, 63% of programme clients received flu vaccines, Hodge
reported. Just over half (55%) sought oral health care and were referred for
dental care. A similar proportion (54%) received nicotine replacement therapy
to help them stop smoking tobacco.
This model is "a unique way to build trust and provide healthcare
to an often overlooked population," Hodge concluded. "Providing
veterinary care to the pets of those in need can improve the health and welfare
of both animals and those who care for them."