My path to veterinary social work

[Re-posted on Jan 21, 2017]

When I was little I wanted to be a veterinarian and a ballerina. I recently found an old photo of my fourth grade bedroom and the walls were covered from floor to ceiling in animal calendar pictures. I had actually forgotten about that time in my life – my memory of my childhood bedroom that had stuck with me had been the trying-to-be-angsty teen years, CDs from BMG scattered across the carpet and posters of bands I thought I should like hanging on the walls.

I didn’t become a veterinarian, or a ballerina. Both faded away – I was not interested in the medical field, even with animals, and when I discovered soccer I said goodbye to dance classes. I grew up and became a social worker. I had found my passion and dove into the work of working with others, from a domestic violence shelter in Chicago to communities in Cambodia, and most recently at a community counseling center back here in the city. I love social work. I love the way being a social worker encourages me to think of the layers, the connections and systems, the relationships, the injustices, the healing, and the feelings involved in each situation. I love that as a social worker I am a therapist, a researcher, a trainer, and a learner.


And then this skinny-legged, big-eared Cambodian puppy stole our hearts. I’ll tell the Buddy-story another time, but the long and the short of it is that this little pup grew up to be our pet with behavior problems; our dog has changed my life. It was because of Buddy and all the help we sought out for him that I met the amazing Dr. Kelly Ballantyne, a veterinarian in her behavior residency at the time. And she is the one who introduced me to the field of veterinary social work. And everything clicked.

There is a way to combine my love of social work and my love for animals. I can be a support to pet owners through the ups and downs that happen for all of us when we have a furry little creature in our homes and our hearts. And because of Buddy, my special interest is on how living with and loving with a pet with behavior problems impacts owners and discovering what supports people need and how to help them get that. Now, with a clarity of my fourth grade and my grown-up self, I know – I want to be a veterinary social worker.

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