Last summer a man came to the UW School of Veterinary Medicine’s teaching hospital for help with his dog’s ear infection. He had no money and unfortunately was turned away from our door. This sounds harsh but is hardly unique to this hospital. We can do amazing things with veterinary medicine, performing life-saving heroics, but clinics need to stay in business to keep providing care.
I like to say that I became a veterinarian to help people. It provokes a bit more conversation than the stereotypical “I love animals” response, but it’s not just a conversation starter. It’s the truth. Although we are trained to treat ear infections, lymphoma, and trauma, treating a pet’s illness saves a relationship. An important one. When I was young and struggling with orientation and gender, animals were the first ones to accept me, and that had a profound impact on my ability to accept myself. Animals look past the struggles, identity, and flaws of their people and simply connect. Anyone who’s had a pet knows this. We provide for each other.
But where can we turn when we can’t provide for our pets? When we have to make the choice between feeding our friend and feeding ourselves? When the cat we’ve had for years suddenly needs intensive medical care and we just last week lost our job? When we form a bond with a pet through mutual hardship and resources are thin from the onset? When our dog’s ear hurts and we have no money?
Well, now there is somewhere. Wisconsin Companion Animal Resources, Education, and Social Services (WisCARES) aims to help the human-animal bond thrive rather than suffer in situations where it is most needed. Established by the UW School of Veterinary Medicine, UW School of Social Work, and other partners, WisCARES approaches health holistically for people and pets. This goal is always at the forefront of the conversation—to ensure the bond between a person and their pet is positive and enriching instead of a barrier to care for either one.
This July, WisCARES is hitting the streets with mobile services to help homeless residents provide food, basic medical care, and safe pet supplies to their pets. By 2015, we aim to expand services to other qualified residents and open a brick-and-mortar facility, a place where veterinarians and social workers work in teams to give pets primary care services and help people access medical care. A place where animals can stay while their people gain access to their own housing or other needed services. A place where student training provides veterinary medical students with valuable clinical experience.
A place where the human-animal bond is the top priority. Where a man can find help for his dog’s ear infection—even if he doesn’t have money.
For more information, please visit www.vetmed.wisc.edu/wiscares