The Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals is increasingly aware of the connection between animal welfare and human welfare. In the best circumstances, animals and people thrive in a shared environment. In other instances, pet welfare issues may help to identify abuse or neglect occuring in the home, the need for additional support, or additional issues such as stability, mobility, and independence. In homes where there are limited resources and social services is involved, pets may be overlooked or not considered relevant to the challenging work addressing the health and welfare of the people at risk. We began our Helping Pets and People in Crisis program because we see the importance of recognizing animals in an at-risk environment.
Since 2006, the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals has been responding to calls for help regarding pet owners facing domestic violence, illness, homelessness, and other serious crises. By assisting in more than five hundred individual cases, the Helping Pets and People in Crisis program has compiled important resources, information, and promising interventions that can help people, along with their pets, during the most challenging times in their lives. Our toolkit has been created to help social workers and human service organizations incorporate pet welfare into their work.
Disclaimer: This toolkit does not serve as an all-inclusive review of available options or resources when dealing with people and their pets in crisis. It is a suggested list of resources, research, assessment tools, and promising practice intervention techniques created as a reference guide for social service professionals. Much of this information is geared to those in New York City, but can be modified for different communities.
Where to Start?
Today, more individuals and families than ever before are welcoming pets into their homes. Therefore, it shouldn’t come as a surpise for social workers, visiting nurses, and other home visitors to notice that the families they work with also have animals in their homes. According to the American Pet Product Association (APPA), 68% of US households, or more than 82 million homes, have a pet. This number rises each year. Pet owners fall into every demographic, every socio-economic bracket, and every location in the United States. The growing research in the field also suggests that human-animal interaction often improves the health and welfare of pet owners. Overall, pets can impact the health and welfare of their owners in a positive way by reducing depression. lowering stress, and increasing the desire to exercise and socialize with others.
What Social Workers and Their Agencies Can Do
The following examples are some of the ways social workers and their agencies can integrate pet welfare into their work:
- Recognize the presence of a pet in the home and engage the individual/family with questions about the pet
- Develop a “Pet Page” for every pet-owning individual/family to be included in client charts
- Assess the pet while assessing the client
- Offer pet welfare education
- Address pet retention if there is a risk or need to relinquish a pet
- Link pet owners to services in the community