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Expanding Veterinary Social Work: How Social Work at WisCARES Community Veterinary Clinic Serves Low-Income and Homeless Pet Owners, Veterinary Staff, and Veterinary Students

Room C

1 CE Hour

Presented By

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    In-Person, Live Webinar



Attendees will learn about WisCARES (Wisconsin Companion Animal Resources, Education, and Social Services), an interdisciplinary, access-to-care clinic providing veterinary and social work services for pet owners experiencing poverty or homelessness. We will discuss the clinic’s beginnings and how the program has intentionally grown and changed in response to lessons learned over time.


WisCARES was established in 2013 as a street outreach service for Madison’s pet-owning homeless community. Veterinarians, social workers, and their students met people and their animals living outside in areas of high concentration. They provided pet food, vaccinations, and care for wounds and tired paws.


Since that time, WisCARES has undergone changes, from holding pop-up clinics in borrowed spaces to operating a brick and mortar veterinary clinic. The social work program has evolved alongside veterinary services. We operate a foster and boarding program for clients experiencing homelessness, so that they do not need to relinquish their animal family in order to sleep indoors during extreme weather. Other services include assisting with housing and landlord issues, providing support in difficult situations, and referring to other agencies for basic needs, or mental health or substance abuse treatment.


In addition to client-facing activities, social work provides support and training to clinic staff, addressing issues such as moral stress, conflict management, and communication skills. A social worker can accompany staff members into appointments when they have concerns about difficulty communicating with the client, needing assistance in an emotionally intense situation, or behavior or communication styles that are outside the norm. Veterinary and social work staff have learned to collaborate effectively, blending the strengths of our professions to provide the best care for our clients.


WisCARES is also a teaching facility, hosting 4th year veterinary students who complete rotations providing compassionate veterinary primary care from an access-to-care perspective. In addition to their daily rounds with supervising veterinarians, students meet with a social worker five times during their rotation, discussing poverty, homelessness, privilege, communications skills, moral stress, and self-care. They leave their rotation with a self-care plan after learning to recognize signs of stress, understand their stressors, and identify healthy coping strategies. Our goal is for veterinary students to leave their rotations with the tools to both manage the difficulties they will face in their profession, and the ability to ask for help.


Each phase of WisCARES’ growth has been informed by feedback from clients, students, and staff, community surveys, and reflection on daily experiences in the clinic, resulting in veterinary medical and social work services that are considerably different than they were ten years ago. We intend to keep listening to our communities and see what changes the next ten years will bring.

Learning Objectives

At the end of this course, participants will be able to:

  • Learn about WisCARES’ model of social work practice in an access-to-care veterinary clinic.

  • Learn how to incorporate social work into 4th year veterinary students’ clinical rotations.

  • Learn about WisCARES’ foster and boarding program for companion animals of clients experiencing poverty and homelessness.

CE Policy
This course is fiscally sponsored by International Association of Veterinary Social Work . There may be potential biases or conflicts of interest inherent to this relationship, and it must be disclosed to participants. These conflicts of interest have no bearing on the course content and have been resolved.
Jennifer Brooks
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