April 5, 2024

Social Work for the Animals

If you’ve ever watched someone say a final goodbye to a loved one, you’ll know how heartbreaking that is. The emotions often reserved for airports and hospital rooms are strikingly similar to those witnessed every day by the OHS admissions team. After all, pets are our family. Saying goodbye to a beloved pet is like saying goodbye to a piece of ourselves.

As confusing and stressful as it can be for a pet to enter a shelter, we know it can be just as hard for their person. This is just one of the heartbreaking situations we see every day: Owners who come to the OHS over and over, desperately searching for their lost pet. Owners struggling to find a way to keep a beloved family pet, who may not be aware of the resources available to them. Those who need help to accept a decision that saying goodbye is the best option for their pet. And then there are those who we must contact, to tell them that their pet has been found, deceased.

While we have many compassionate staff and volunteers dedicating their time to care for and comfort the animals at the OHS, we know that helping more animals means helping their people, too. The past years have seen the OHS step up to fill the need: dropping surrender fees to remove barriers from what is already a heartbreaking situation; launching a pet food bank to help keep pets with their owners; and continuing our popular pet loss support groups, recognizing the grief we experience when we lose a creature who has been so important in our lives. But the need continues to grow with greater urgency than ever. The time to do more is now.

Today, I’m proud to announce our next step in supporting our community’s animals and their owners: the introduction of a veterinary social worker to our team.

Social workers have played a critical role in the research and understanding of the human-animal bond for decades, but the move to incorporate social workers into shelter settings is relatively new (and absolute genius).

At the OHS, our veterinary social worker, or “VSW”, will help the OHS focus on where it can best apply its resources to support the human-animal bond and prevent pet relinquishment – from developing an OHS emergency pet housing program to creating a network of resources for frantic pet owners. Where relinquishment cannot be avoided, the VSW will be a resource for our teams and the clients they are serving, to help make the most difficult situations just a bit more bearable.

Just as importantly, our VSW provides a support to all our staff, who so fiercely and tirelessly work to help every animal, but who all too often risk the compassion fatigue that accompanies this work. A VSW can help us to design programs to ensure we’re protecting our teams, and helping them to remain resilient, so they can continue to be here to meet the need.

This is the start of a new tomorrow – and a better one, for the animals and our community.

Sharon Miko
President & CEO