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Type of submission: Oral
Conference track: Practice
Topics: Homelessness, Housing and Harm Reduction; Integrated Harm Reduction Services
Presenting author: Judy Hodge
Judy Hodge, Sue Kilborn
Barriers to harm reduction and other programs in precariously housed populations include ensuring trust and access to programs, and those with pets often experience additional barriers to services because most shelters do not allow pets. Pet ownership often benefits insecurely housed people, with pets acting as social catalysts, reducing drug use, and improving mental health.
Precariously housed people have a shorter life expectancy than the general population, attributable to social determinants of health and inadequate access to preventive health programs such as harm reduction. They also lack access to veterinary care for their pets despite wanting to access these services.
Community Veterinary Outreach (CVO), based in Ontario, Canada, addresses the health of vulnerable populations by providing pro-bono preventive veterinary care for pets of homeless and marginally housed people. This not only benefits the animals, but also promotes well-being of their human companions by increasing access to harm reduction and other health services through relationship building and amplifying public health messaging during the veterinary care experience.
Between November 2014 and July 2016, CVO held 19 One Health clinics, providing preventive veterinary service to 399 dogs and cats and one or more additional One Health services to 390 pet owners. One Health services offered included: smoking reduction counselling and free nicotine replacement therapy (9 clinics); vaccination, including influenza, tetanus, pneumococcus (7 clinics); access to dental care (referral) and supplies (5 clinics); harm reduction (3 clinics); and primary care (1 clinic). This model is being expanded to other Canadian cities (Winnipeg, Halifax, and Vancouver) as a unique way to build trust and provide healthcare to an often overlooked population. Providing veterinary care to the pets of those in need can improve the health and welfare of both animals and those who care for them.