Needed Now: Street Medicine Teams to Help Pets of the Indigent

It’s Thursday, so that means we’re rolling out another brilliant idea in our Innovation Bank of short, pre-recorded webinars. Today we’re highlighting the incredible work of Jon Geller, DVM, DABVP emeritus, and The Street Dog Coalition, a nonprofit that provides free veterinary medical care to pets of the indigent.

Keeping pets and their people together is a critical focus these days, with more people than ever experiencing homelessness. When Dr. Geller recorded his presentation, Street Medicine: Caring for The Pets of the Indigent, in July, The Street Dog Coalition had just participated in a multi-service event in Nashville, TN, where those who needed could get food, clothing, and hot showers for themselves, and veterinary care for their pets. “We had COVID-19 protocols in place,” he says, “and owners were required to wear masks before we cared for their pets.”  Dr. Geller also shared some important stats and key concepts surrounding one of the most challenging issues in veterinary medicine today:

Homelessness in America

“On a single night in America, 533,000 people are experiencing homelessness,” Dr. Geller shares a statistic from a 2018 study. “Two-thirds of these people are in shelters; the other third are not, and very few homeless shelters allow pets.”

Check Your Assumptions

It’s easy to assume that pets of the indigent have hard lives. It’s also incorrect. “Based on our observation at street clinics, encampment visits, and multi-service events,” says Dr. Geller, “pets who do live outside are active, socialized, generally well cared-for, and are with their owners 24/7—they always eat first.”

Back to Basics

So what does street medicine entail? It goes “back to basics,” says Geller, with veterinarians doing a physical exam and taking the pet’s history. “Pet owners who spend so much time with their pets are so tuned-in,” he says. “It’s best-guess medicine versus rule-out medicine, as we cannot do a battery of tests.”

Practice Being Nonjudgmental

“One of the goals of the program,” says Dr. Geller, “is it allows us an opportunity to practice nonjudgmentalism and acceptance.” This is hard, he admits—but it is what gives participating vets and volunteers the tools to have civilized, respectful, honest conversations. “This is a big plus for these folks.”

Dr. Geller loves to start up new teams, as well as offer support to anyone who is already practicing street medicine. Please watch the recording for complete details and inspiration.

The Association is the only international society of leaders actively leading and managing community animal shelters/animal control agencies.

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