THE HUMAN-ANIMAL BOND
The human-animal bond is a mutually beneficial and dynamic relationship between people and animals that is influenced by behaviours that are essential to the health and well-being of both. This includes, but is not limited to, emotional, psychological and physical interactions of people, animals and the environment.
In some circumstances, a pet is the only constant and comforting companion an individual has in their life. Pets can have a very positive impact on an individual’s emotional well-being, so much so, that they will choose this companionship over accessing much-needed services and/or housing. Caring for their pets maintains a sense of purpose and attachment while the exchange of affection and compassion can soften even the most difficult and vulnerable of circumstances. Understandably, the loss of a beloved pet at any time, but especially during times of crisis, can exacerbate feelings of hopelessness, depression and anxiety.
More and more, social services and animal welfare professionals are recognizing that they cannot help people without helping their pets—and they cannot help pets in a sustainable way if they are not helping their people as well.
• Anti-violence organizations and women’s shelters are now engaging in conversations about how they can better support women with pets who are in violent relationships. These women will often not seek shelter as they will not leave their pets behind in violent or abusive situations.
• Lack of affordable and pet-friendly housing is resulting in a constantly increasing number of families being forced to decide between their pets and a place to live—regardless of their financial means.
• Many British Columbians live paycheque to paycheque and a sickness, accident or other unexpected life event may make it temporarily difficult for an individual or family to provide for their much-loved pet.
There is a myriad of ways someone’s life can quickly unravel, and if this person also has pets, getting the supports they need to get them back on their feet, while still keeping and caring for their pet, is incredibly difficult, if not impossible.
Currently, the service community tends to be divided into those focused on helping pets (animal welfare) and those focused on helping people (social services)—and the vast majority of this work is done separately. Both social service and animal welfare organizations operate with limited resources, and many are only able to respond to the immediate and pressing needs of their clients—neither have the financial or human resources to create an additional layer of service.
Meeting the need to support homeless and low income families with financial aid for veterinary care is currently unmanageable.
BURDEN ON ANIMAL WELFARE
When someone is no longer able to care for their pet, the burden for the well-being of this animal is placed on the animal welfare community which include volunteer-run rescues, donor-funded BC SPCA shelters and municipal government-run shelters supported by taxpayers. Despite the significant needs of companion animals and the important role they play in people’s lives, there is no government funding to support animal welfare and rescue organizations in B.C.
The reluctance of many shelters to take in animals with medical and/or behavioural issues places an enormous strain on the volunteer-run rescue community dependent on donor support.
Communities in the north, and other remote regions in the province, are often not equipped to address the needs of owned pets in their community because of lack of veterinary services and little to no presence of animal welfare or rescue organizations. In addition, many communities across the province have large numbers of feral community cats and free roaming dogs. This lack of animal welfare services and inability to manage free-roaming companion animals can affect the overall health status of communities when populations of unhealthy animals are present.
Animal welfare professionals recognize that a focus solely on the animal in need in these circumstances keeps the severely underfunded rescue organizations constantly in crisis mode without any capacity to create more sustainable proactive solutions.
A deep and life-enhancing bond between many pets and their human guardians exists regardless of economic or health status. When pet guardians live within either temporary or permanent vulnerable circumstances of low income or homelessness, pets can suffer from lack of adequate healthcare. When individuals choose to forego social services, including healthcare and housing, because of their bond with their pets, those individuals may suffer increased health and safety risks. Clearly, the challenge lies in how to best serve people with pets as a unit, in order to avoid breaking their bond.
THE SOLUTION: PARTNERS NOT SILOS
The solution to the growing problem associated with people and their pets is to create an integrated service program that brings the social services and animal welfare sectors together—and Paws for Hope Animal Foundation is uniquely qualified to lead the way. Our Animal Welfare Advisory Network of BC (AWANBC) is bringing animal welfare organizations in B.C. together to address issues impacting communities across the province. We currently have strong relationships across the social services sector, including the Federation of Community Social Services BC (a member-based organization representing over 140 social service agencies in B.C.).
Paws for Hope aims address this gap by creating a program that can:
• respond to supporting the needs of pets whose people are in crisis;
• reduce barriers to access for service for people with pets;
• provide animal care training and support to social service staff;
• provide options to increase the likelihood pets can stay with their people and out of the shelter/rescue system.
To begin, we will need to meet with social service agencies across the province to identify what supports and services already exist, and what services are needed to support their clients with pets. These service needs may include:
• Emergency compassionate care
• Funding support for veterinary care
• Education regarding responsible pet guardianship
• Training for shelter staff on basis of animal care
• Behaviour consultations / training support
We will also work with our animal welfare partners to identify the supports and services that are required and/or need to be enhanced.
There is a lot of work to be done, and you can join us in this exciting endeavour by making a one time or monthly donation.