Veterinarians and their staff have evolved and have had to adapt as society has evolved in the human-animal relationship. They deal everyday with clients who value their animals as they do, and they get to know details of humans' lives better than mental health professionals do sometimes. But how might a veterinarian know how to talk to a homeless person who owns a pet? How would they know how to help an owner with PTSD who is losing an animal when day in and day out, the pet enabled a bit more normal life? Every actor needs new skills which are relevant in the acceptance of this new millieu of animal-human relationship. And veterinary social workers help.
Behind, beside, or shielded by every person is just a person, though we sometimes fear they are not "normal." As a society, we shut out, and even oppress, those who are disabled or who cannot control whatever ails them and prevents them from living a conforming role. Yet, when we are disabled in some way, physically, intellectually, or emotionally, the animal companion may not only be a companion. The animal may be a life-line, a tether to some normality. In a milder form for all of us, we have all been disabled with flu, illnesses, or grief. Our animal may have given unforgettable nurturance during those times. Imagine suffering through a prolonged term of disability in which you could not see the end. IF graced with an animal, I bet the chance of survival and resilience would be increased.
There is someone I have recently met as a client whose life has exemplified much of my passion in this journey. She has given me permission to share. Sheri is a giving and receiving member of our pet loss group. She was homeless for several years. She continues to suffer from PTSD. Even after Token left her, she continues to strive to be her best.
Sheri's canine love Token, died on Thanksgiving 2017 after months of treatment for cancer. Their story is this blog. We as different species, really should never be divided, or placed in a heirarchy. Humans need other species, and they willingly help us survive. Sheri and Token's story is one that characterizes the partnership of the discipline of social work with the discipline of veterinary medicine. Both disciplines should work together in offering support to these families which include animals. This story exemplifies the core concerns of both disciplines and where compassion might reside. It highlights Sheri and Token. Please watch this short film starring Sheri and Token by clicking this link:
And please see this newspaper story:
Sheri is alone now; she has no animal companion. She is fighting PTSD, and her symptoms are much worse without Token. However, I hope you can see from the film, Sheri will survive. She is gifted, very intelligent, possessing remarkable personal resources, very articulate, and mostly giving of herself. She doesn't allow fear to prevent her from revealing her vulnerabilities, and she is into helping others. No doubt if you look over that list of her qualities, she learned some of that by living with Token as her support and her mentor/teacher.
A couple of weeks after Token died, Sheri thought of us. She gathered all of the people who knew Token to write HIS DOCTORS and STAFF at our clinic a thank you. I cannot even express how much this meant to all in hospital. The card is pictured below.
Token led Sheri into my life. I asked Sheri to thank him out loud. She said she did. And that's what I wanted, really, to say in this blog. I am so grateful to you, Token, for leading Sheri to us. And thank you all for sharing your creatures with me. I am honored each time you do. I never forget their contribution and their meaning in living beside us. Token will always be remembered by everyone he ever met in life, and through Sheri even after his death.