UW program sees increase in clients experiencing homelessness with pets

Published: Apr. 20, 2021 at 10:26 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - A University of Wisconsin program that provides veterinary medical care and social services to some Dane County residents reports they are seeing an increase in homeless pet owners.

The Wisconsin Companion Animal Resources, Education, and Social Services (WisCARES) clinic is a partnership between UW schools of veterinary medicine, social work and pharmacy who provides care to those who have a low-income or are experiencing homelessness.

Veterinarian and curriculum director Elizabeth Alvarez says they have seen an increase in their clientele over the past 6-9 months, many of which didn’t need the service prior to COVID-19.

“Before COVID, we spent a lot of time with clients and their pets all in the room together, discussing if they have any other social service needs that we can help provide for them,” said Alvarez.

According to a study by the Pew Research Center, 25% of adults have lost their jobs due to the pandemic and those with a lower income have been the most affected.

One WisCARES client explained the importance of the organization to them.

“For many homeless folks, companion animals are pathways to feeling love, finding joy, staying hopeful, nurturing purpose, and (they) enhance the overall will to keep living,” the client said. “I’m disabled and I’m well aware that my cat, as my medical assistance animal, makes my life possible.

The program started in 2014 and has grown into a full veterinary care practice. It also provides pet food and a supply pantry.

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