Cherished Pets Social Veterinary Service offers immediate support and vital veterinary services to vulnerable individuals and their pets during crises, removing the agonising choice between their wellbeing and their beloved pets. This enhances their quality of life, improves health and wellbeing, reduces isolation, and alleviates financial stress.
Our Theory of Change
By nurturing the human-animal bond, preserving the health and wellbeing of pets alongside their owners, we empower individuals facing vulnerability. This catalyses happier, healthier lives, fostering the creation of resilient and connected communities.
Australia's pet population is estimated to be 28.7 million, with 6.9 million households having a pet. This equates to 69% of all households.
85% of pet owners feel having pets impacts their lives positively.1 Pets bring love, joy, and companionship, often viewed as integral family members. They boost physical and mental wellbeing, promoting activity and emotional stability. Pets also enrich their owners' lives by fostering community connections and enabling unique interactions.
This relationship between humans and their pets is known as the human-animal bond (HAB). The human-animal bond is a mutually beneficial relationship between people and animals, influenced by behaviors considered essential for the health and wellbeing of both.
Historically, regardless of this close human–animal interaction, the human and animal sectors have traditionally worked in silos, thus not truly integrating public policy or service delivery to achieve positive outcomes for both humans and animals.2 Cherished Pets nurtures this bond, contributing to public and animal health, especially for those in crisis situations.
Key crisis situations relevant to the human-animal bond are homelessness, domestic and family violence, addiction and mental health crises. However, it's a complex and multifaceted relationship that, while the pets are beneficial in improving health and wellbeing, they can act as a barrier to seeking assistance. Additionally, in Australia, most domestic violence shelters, homeless shelters, and rental accommodations do not accept pets, compounding the challenge.
Pets are an important reason why victim survivors and those at risk of domestic and family violence delay getting support. Frequently, individuals stay in unsafe environments because they lack secure options for their beloved animals. Animals can be used by perpetrators as a tactic of coercive control and psychological torture. Perpetrators can commit financial abuse by withholding funds for the care of animals, and can force victims to witness or partake in violence against animals, causing severe emotional trauma. Leaving a pet can hinder recovery, fostering negative thoughts about their safety.
Homelessness affects the most marginalised and socially isolated members of our community and for those with companion animals, pet welfare and the HAB are vital for both owners and pets. People experiencing homelessness share profound emotional bonds with their pets, and this social support is essential for their resilience and social connection. Most would rather forgo accommodation than relinquish their pet to a shelter indefinitely.
Studies have found that people experiencing crisis situations tend to be socially isolated and highly stressed, and that the social support provided by the presence of a pet offers short-term health benefits, helping to lower involuntary responses to stressful conditions.3
The good news is that Cherished Pets Social Veterinary Service offers immediate support and vital veterinary services and ongoing home pet care assistance to vulnerable people and their pets during times of crisis and beyond, removing this agonising choice between their wellbeing and their beloved pets. This enhances physical, mental and social wellbeing, alleviates financial stress, and reduces isolation.
In fact, by supporting Grace, a pensioner surviving on two-minute noodles determined to save for her cat's vet bills, or Beth, a 65 year old battling mental health challenges, and living in her car with her faithful dog, or Gordon in his late 70s, discharging himself from Barwon Hospital against medical advice to be with his dying Dachshund - we've extended a lifeline, sparing them from those heart-wrenching choices and nurturing positive health and wellbeing for both pets and their devoted owners.
Our social veterinary services encompass crisis pet care, personalised home care assistance packages, and a dedicated volunteer program, all with a central focus on preserving and strengthening the human-animal bond.
Through a person-centered approach, our compassionate team of veterinary social workers, dedicated veterinary professionals, and skilled volunteers offer immediate support to individuals facing crises - individuals whose already overwhelming challenges are further complicated by pet ownership.
For individuals experiencing homelessness, our services mean their devoted animal companions, can continue to uplift mental and emotional wellbeing, alleviate isolation, and inspire a sense of purpose even during life's challenging moments.
For victim survivors of domestic and family violence, where it is estimated that companion animals are present in 70 per cent of cases , providing accommodation for pets helps to ensure safety and support for both.
For older people who do not have any support from family or friends and continue to live independently in their homes with their companion animals, we alleviate the fear of losing their animals by providing access to veterinary care.
A key challenge for people post-crisis is recovering in an unfamiliar and confusing environment; therefore, returning pets to families so that pet-related routines can continue is valuable in providing structure to navigate new environments and to enhance recovery.
We ensure pets receive the care they need, safeguarding the unique bond and minimising the likelihood of pets being surrendered.
Veterinarian Alicia Kennedy is a globally recognised thought leader in the emerging field of Veterinary Social Work (VSW) which bridges a gap between human and veterinary health industries.
Over the past 7 years, Alicia and the Cherished Pets team have designed and delivered a signature community based, multi-disciplinary VSW service, embedded in a sustainable organisation model (dual-entity organisation).
As interest in this field grows, and insights from the Cherished Pets experience have evolved, Alicia has recognised a pathway and opportunity to outreach this signature VSW service nationally.
In 2021, she was the recipient of an AMP Tomorrow Makers grant which will allow Alicia to progress the scale the Cherished Pets VSW service model and build a national platform.
“As a veterinarian for over 35 years I have always loved supporting the pets of older people. I have become a passionate advocate for Pets and Healthy Ageing. I recognised a long time ago that as people go through life phases, the importance of a companion animal and the human animal bond can increase, while capacity to care for them can be compromised. In worse case scenarios I have witnessed some distressing cases of neglect, and I knew this was not from a lack of love, but more a lack of capacity." - Dr Kennedy
To embed our signature VSW approach and services across veterinary and human healthcare sectors; providing information, resources and advocacy to increase equitable access to pet care for vulnerable people, support the quality of service and wellbeing of veterinary providers, and expand awareness of the benefits of the human animal bond across the community .
That our signature VSW services are valued, funded and embedded across the veterinary and human health sectors to improve the lives of vulnerable humans who love their pets.
2. McDowall, S., Hazel, S.J., Chittleborough, C., Hamilton-Bruce, A., Stuckey, R. and Howell, T.J. (2023). The Impact of the Social Determinants of Human Health on Companion Animal Welfare. Animals, [online] 13(6), p.1113. doi:https://doi.org/10.3390/ani13061113