Veterinary Social Work and the Link between Human and Animal Violence: #MacroSW 4/23 at 9pm EST

Chat transcript

Our guest expert is Dr. Bethanie A. Poe, LMSW, graduate of the University of Tennessee’s College of Social Work’s PhD program in 2016. She was a Fellow in UT’s Veterinary Social Work program where she helped to develop the Veterinary Social Work Certificate Program for concurrent and post-graduate students and is currently an instructor. With particular interest in the connections between violence towards animals and people, she began her work in family violence over ten years ago, working first in a domestic violence shelter before moving on to work in child protection. She then continued her work in the field at the Tennessee Coalition to End Domestic & Sexual Violence where she worked with batterers’ intervention programs. Dr. Poe is currently the Middle Tennessee Coordinator for UT’s Human-Animal Bond in Tennessee (H.A.B.I.T) program where she strives to bring animal assisted interventions to victims of violence, abuse, and neglect. 

Over 60% of households in the United States report having at least one pet. Research has found that pet owners typically consider their animals part of the family, referring to them as “ “companions”, “best friends”, or even their “babies” or “kids”.  If social workers are truly going to take a holistic approach when working with clients, they must also consider the animals that may be present in the system. Veterinary social work is a specialty area of social work practice that addresses the human needs in human and animal relationships. Many social workers who are attracted to veterinary social work are animal lovers. However, veterinary social work is a human focused speciality that follows the mission, paradigm, and ethical code of social work practice. However, it is hoped that by attending to the human needs that arise in human-animal relationships, animals will benefit as well. 

While we typically think of the positives related to human-animal relationships, there is also a darker side to the connection between people and animals. Referred to as the Link between human and animal violence, significant correlations have been found between animal abuse and child abuse and neglect, domestic violence, elder abuse, and other types of violence.  The motivations for abusing animals, but most can be traced to a need for power and control and a lack of empathy. 

Here are questions we will discuss:

  1. What role do animals play in your life? Share a pic of any special animal friends that are helping you cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.
  2. Veterinary social work is typically divided into four general practice areas: animal related grief and bereavement; animal assisted interactions; compassion fatigue and conflict management; and the link between human and animal violence. How do these topics apply to your work?
  3. The premise of the concept of the Link is that violence does not occur in a vacuum; if we find one type of violence in a household, we’re likely to find another. What implications does this have for intervention at the macro level? How can we intervene?

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