Community Care in Action: Taking a Holistic Approach to Help Animals and Their Families

| March 28, 2024

By addressing the intersection of human and animal wellness, Toronto Humane Society’s Wellness Popup Clinics serve as a catalyst for long-term improvements in the lives of those who need it the most.

In the midst of rapidly increasing housing expenses and rising food prices, Toronto Humane Society recognizes the growing challenges faced by individuals and families. “By conversative measures approximately 200,000 people experience homelessness in Canada, with the highest number of individuals based in the City of Toronto,” explains Dillon Dodson, Director of Social Work at Toronto Humane Society. “Of that number, an estimated 20% of those individuals are pet parents.”

The bond between humans and animals should not be compromised due to temporary hardships, so in 2023, Toronto Humane Society embarked on a groundbreaking initiative by launching Wellness Popup Clinics aimed at providing crucial veterinary and behavioural services, through a trauma-informed lens, to underserved communities in Toronto.

Bridging the Gap

The primary focus of the Wellness Popup Clinics is to bridge the gap in access to veterinary care for individuals experiencing vulnerable housing situations. These clinics offer traditional preventative veterinary care, such as wellness examinations, vaccinations, and parasite control, but the impact extends beyond medical attention. During the summer of 2023, Toronto Humane Society hosted four Wellness Popup Clinics that provided veterinary care and behavioural services to 86 animals.

Beyond Medical Care

What sets the Wellness Popup Clinics apart is the team’s trauma-informed approach. “It is critical that we start from a place of nonthreatening, nonjudgmental, and accessible service recognizing that pet parents are doing the best they can with the resources they have,” Dillon Dodson explains. “The popups are intended to be a least intrusive, minimally aversive, and trauma-informed approach to wellness that intersects the needs of both animals and humans experiencing temporary hardship.”

Acknowledging that individuals experiencing homelessness may have faced various forms of trauma, the clinics create a safe and understanding environment. One way this is done is by hosting the clinics in nontraditional spaces, such as in shelters for humans, instead of having them at our location. In 2023, 77 pet parents received care from trained professionals who approach each case with sensitivity, ensuring that both human and animal clients receive care without judgment or discrimination.

The Wellness Popup Clinics also distributed 2,266 pounds of dog food and 292 pounds of cat food, along with essential supplies in 2023. Dr. Karen Ward, Chief Veterinary Officer at Toronto Humane Society, emphasizes the challenges faced by these communities, stating, “These communities have trouble getting pet care supplies, such as leashes, collars, food, and crates – all those things also are incredibly valuable to them. We also started providing animal bedding, like blankets and towels.” By addressing the fundamental needs of both pets and their families, the Wellness Popup Clinics contribute to the overall health and happiness of these families.

The Impact of Toronto Humane Society’s Wellness Popup Clinics

Beyond the immediate impact on individual lives, these clinics contribute to public health and safety. Vaccinations and preventive care not only protect the animals but also help prevent the spread of diseases within the community. Dr. Karen Ward emphasizes the importance of preventive wellness, stating, “I would rather see a puppy never get parvovirus because we gave them a vaccine, or a cat never get pyometra because we spayed her when she was young. Wellness helps protect pets from preventable, potentially fatal illnesses and keeps pets healthy, as opposed to needing expensive veterinary care to make pets healthy again.”

By addressing the intersection of human and animal wellness, Toronto Humane Society’s Wellness Popup Clinics have emerged as a powerful force for positive change. They have become an essential lifeline for underserved communities, offering not only medical care but also compassion, support, and the promise of a healthier future for both humans and their pets.

We extend our sincere gratitude to La Fondation Emmanuelle Gattuso for their steadfast support of our community-based services. Their unwavering contributions have played a crucial role in enabling us to build a dedicated team committed to transforming the landscape of animal welfare. Thanks to their generosity, we’ve been able to touch the lives of numerous pets and families facing challenges, gaining priceless experiences and insights along the way. These valuable lessons continually enrich the animal welfare sector, fostering a deeper understanding of the vital connection between animal welfare and social justice, and propelling the industry towards positive change.

This article was initially showcased in the Winter 2023 issue of Animal Talk, a quarterly publication by Toronto Humane Society. Within its pages, the magazine provides invaluable pet advice, essential animal welfare updates, and regular insights to keep our community well-informed. You can now access this edition for free on issuu.