The presence of a pet in a home can offer insight into how a person views herself. For instance, the person may say they are a pet rescuer, a caretaker, or a “pet parent.” Social service workers may benefit from recognizing any pets in the home as “part of the family,” particularly if the caretaker sees it that way. Discussing a pet is a good way to get your foot in the door in terms of engaging the individual or family. People may be resistant to talking about issues they are having, but they may be open to telling stories about their pet and what their animal means to them.
For example, you might consider asking:
1. When did your pet come into your life?
2. Why did you adopt/purchase your pet?
3. Tell me about your pet. What does your pet like to do?
4. How has your pet helped you?
5. Find out if the pet has a name.
These questions offer an opportunity to see the person differently and potentially provide insight into how they view and solve problems. For instance, you may find out a person is struggling financially, or you may find that a pet is the link to a support network within the community.