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Veterinary Social Work: Emerging field joins two professions

By Laetitia Clayton, News staff

Social workers who are animal lovers might find that veterinary social work offers the best of both worlds.

Temple Grandin, an autistic woman who revolutionized practices for the humane handling of livestock on cattle ranches and in slaughterhouses, speaks at the third International Veterinary Social Work Summit in April at the University of Tennessee.

Even though the practice has been around in one form or another for about 30 years, it’s still emerging as a recognized professional area of social work, said Elizabeth Strand, director of veterinary social work at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

And contrary to what some people may think, veterinary social work is not about social workers tending to the welfare of animals, Strand said.

“Veterinary social work is the opposite of that,” she said. “It is truly a marriage between the two professions.”

Strand not only has led the program at UT since 2002, she said she also came up with the term “veterinary social work.”

“I was studying the link between human and animal violence for my dissertation,” she said. “One night I just sat up straight in bed and said, ‘There should be something called veterinary social work … and these are the four areas it should be in.’”

Strand said the four areas are:

• Grief and pet loss

• Animal-assisted interactions

• The link between human and animal violence

• Compassion fatigue management

“What we did at Tennessee was we coined the term,” she said. “Since 2002 we’ve kind of professionalized it, even though we were doing it before.”

UT has a certificate program that trains MSSW students in the four areas of veterinarian social work, she said, adding that the focus is on tending to human needs that arise in relationships with animals and maintaining the values of the social work profession.

Starting this fall, the university will offer a post-MSW certificate in veterinary social work, Strand said.

From the July 2013 NASW News. Read the full story here.

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