PANEL: Compassionate Options for Those Experiencing Homelessness and Their Companion Animals

SUNDAY, APRIL 9, 3:00-4:30PM
TRACK: ONE WELFARE

PANELISTS:
Caroline Leblanc, BA sexology, MA candidate social work, Director, Solidarité dans la rue
Dr. Michelle Lem, DVM MSc, Founder and Director, Community Veterinary Outreach
Colleen Ovenden, Director, Community Wellness, SPCA Montreal

For those experiencing homelessness, companion animals are seen as an integral part of the family and, in fact, companion animals may sometimes be the only family that an individual has. A 2013 study suggests that 12% of homeless youth in Toronto have companion animals, and this number could be as high as 50% in Vancouver.* In terms of the roles that companion animals play in the lives of vulnerable populations, studies show that attachment to their animals is even stronger than that of the general population – not only do animals provide companionship, emotional support and unconditional love as experienced by the general population, but they also provide comfort, protection, a sense of responsibility, a sense of well-being and a sense of security. And, yet, having a companion animal often serves as an impediment to receiving services, as well as an obstacle to becoming homed.

This panel will advocate for a unique collaboration between human welfare and animal welfare organizations, toward the common goal of removing barriers to services and housing for those experiencing homelessness. It is our contention that the bond between vulnerable human populations and their companion animals needs to be recognized, and we encourage these two welfare sectors to work together to consider “person+pet” as a single unit and therefore strive to provide services and housing for that unit.

*Lem, Coe, Haley, Stone, O'Grady. “Effects of companion animal ownership among street-involved youth: A qualitative analysis.” Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare, Volume 40, Number 4. December 2013. Our Communities, Our Youth: The Health of Homeless and Street-Involved Youth in BC. McCreary Centre Society, 2015.

Three Key Learnings:
1. The influence companion animals have on the social disaffiliation of those experiencing homelessness
2. The need for collaboration among animal welfare and social service organizations to support the human-animal bond
3. The possibilities for collaboration across these organizations

SPEAKER BIOS
Caroline Leblanc est étant une femme à la fois militante des droits de la personne et des animaux, une citoyenne et une ancienne fille de la rue impliquée dans la communauté, l’amélioration des conditions de vie des populations vulnérables sont une priorité dans mon parcours professionnel.

Durant mon expérience dans la rue, je me suis investie dans différents projets qui pouvaient avoir une influence sur la vie de mes pairs. Que ce soit, par le biais du projet Punk Not Junk qui avait pour but d’offrir du soutien aux autres personnes de mon milieu ( échange de seringue, prévention suicide etc.) ou par mon implication bénévole durant trois années consécutives auprès de l’événement État d’urgence de l’organisme ATSA qui avait comme mission de rendre disponible un campement pour les personnes itinérantes dans le centre-ville de Montréal durant une semaine consécutive ou encore dans la réalisation d’un documentaire sur la dynamique que vivent les jeunes de la rue, les commerçants et les résidents du centre-ville de Montréal en collaboration de Mise au jeu, mon désir d’implication est marquant.

Mordu de l’intervention, une fois plus stable, j’ai mis à profit mon vécu en travaillant comme pair aidante, comme travailleuse de rue, comme intervenante psychosocial auprès des jeunes de la rue au sein de l’organisme Dans la rue et Vidéo paradiso ainsi que dans les communautés autochtone avec Wapikonie mobile. Ces expériences m’ont permis de vouloir obtenir une plus grande expertise et m’ont motivée à faire mes études universitaires.
Une fois à l’université, j’ai travaillé comme assistante de recherche au sein de l’équipe de l’institut Douglas qui a abordé les travailleuses migrantes offrant des services sexuels ainsi que sur une recherche en lien avec l’itinérante et la H1N1 sous la direction du chercheur Roch Hurtubise. Ces acquis scientifiques ont confirmés mon intérêt pour la recherche auprès des populations vulnérables. Actuellement, je termine la rédaction de mon mémoire en travail social sur l’influence qu’un animal de compagnie peut avoir sur le parcours de désaffiliation social d’une personne de la rue, qui sera approfondi dans un futur rapproché au doctorat en science de la santé.

Soulignons que mon expérience de vie dans la rue avec ma chienne «Draft » est derrière cette démarche scientifique mais aussi sociale. Il y a maintenant deux ans que j’ai fondé l’organisme «Solidarité dans la rue» qui a comme mission de défendre les droits des personnes de la rue et de mettre en place des actions pour les aider à maintenir la relation qu’elle partage avec leur animal. En ce moment, un projet pilote de vétérinaire itinérant est en place afin de procurer des soins de prévention aux animaux des personnes qui vit dans la rue dans le but de réduire leur stress en lien avec l’état de santé de leur animal et de favoriser leur relation.
Alors, ayant à cœur l’amélioration de leurs conditions de vie et de santé, mon expertise professionnelle et scientifique est complémentaire à mon vécu de vie pour sensibiliser les différentes instances de notre société à la réalité que vit ce fragment de la population. Il est important pour moi d’approfondir nos réflexions sur ce qu’il vit et d’adapter les politiques organisationnelles pour permettre une meilleure accessibilité aux services de santé et des services sociaux ainsi que d’innover dans nos pratiques d’interventions à leur égard.

Dr. Michelle Lem is a 2001 graduate of the Ontario Veterinary College (OVC), and the founder of Community Veterinary Outreach, a veterinary-based registered charity that has provided pro bono preventive veterinary care for animals of the homeless and marginally housed in Ottawa since 2003. This program has been successfully reproduced in other communities and is demonstrating how veterinary care can be leveraged to engage marginalized pet owners in social services and health care. Community Veterinary Outreach programs also operate in Hamilton, Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo and Guelph, Ontario.

After graduating, Dr. Lem practiced in New Zealand before returning to Ottawa, where she has practiced companion animal medicine and surgery as an associate veterinarian, companion animal mobile service and locum. From 2003 to 2009, Dr. Lem provided behavioural consultations for companion animals on a referral basis, was the contract veterinarian for Department of National Defence’s military working dogs from 2009 till 2011 and taught in the Veterinary Assistant and Technician programs at Algonquin College from 2004 till 2014.

In 2009, Dr. Lem received an OVC fellowship to pursue graduate research in the Department of Population Medicine, studying the effects of pet ownership on street-involved youth, receiving her MSc in 2012. Her research has been published in peer-reviewed journals, including the Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare, Anthrozoös, and the Canadian Veterinary Journal. Dr. Lem has also authored a chapter on street-involved youth in the 2016 Springer Publication “Men and Their Dogs: A New Understanding of ‘Man’s Best Friend”, and speaks internationally on her research and outreach work, One Health (the human-animal-environment interface), animals in society and social change and leadership.

Dr. Lem has served on the College of Veterinarians of Ontario’s (CVO) Shelter Medicine Task Force and represented the CVO on Emergency Management Ontario’s (EMO) committee for resourcing. Dr. Lem is an active member of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) as a trained member of the Canadian Veterinary Reserve and serves on the CVMA’s Animal Welfare Committee.
In 2011, Dr. Lem received the Ottawa Humane Society's Muriel Davies Award for her contribution to animal welfare in the Ottawa community. Her outreach work has been recognized at the Summit for Urban Animal Strategies, where she was awarded the Thought Leadership Scholarship and Individual Achievement Award in 2011, the Community Collaboration Award in 2013, the OVC Young Alumnus Award in 2014, and the CVMA’s President’s Award in 2015. In 2012, Dr. Lem was humbled to receive the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for her service. In May 2013, Dr. Lem was elected as an Ashoka Fellow, one of 65 Canadian Fellows and joining an international community of 3,000 leading social entrepreneurs in more than 70 countries (www.ashoka.org).

Colleen Ovenden is the Director of the SPCA Montreal Community Wellness Program, a program that encompasses both education and community outreach. The program fosters compassion and promotes empathy and respect for all living beings, including both humans and animals. Colleen holds a master's degree in Cultural Studies from Concordia University and is a dissertation shy (ABD) of her PhD in Communication Studies from McGill University.