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'The need is huge': Seattle program offers veterinary care to pets of people living unhoused

Founded in 2018, the Seattle Veterinary Outreach group continues to see more and more pets each year and says during the pandemic, the need has grown even more.

SEATTLE — There is an urgent need in Puget Sound to provide veterinary care for pets of people experiencing homelessness, and it's only growing during the pandemic. 

Veterinarian Hanna Ekström started Seattle Veterinary Outreach in 2018. The program provides vital care for unhoused people's pets, as well as people living on a low-income budget. 

Ekström said when it first started, her team saw around 24 pets the first year. The next year they saw 200 pets, and in 2020 they treated over 600 animals. 

Now, just a few months into 2021, and the Seattle Veterinary Outreach team is approaching last year's number with a surging need for more. 

"The need is huge and growing with the COVID pandemic," said Ekström.

The veterinary services are provide via some mobile ambulances that have been converted for pet care. The team provides care at locations around Seattle and Everett. They also visit some senior care facilities were fixed incomes make accessing veterinary care impossible. 

"Pets are so important, right, they support us emotionally, they get us up out of bed, they give us a reason to live, and pets, basically, can be a gateway to better health for people," said Ekström.

It’s an ambitious effort from a dedicated team that Ekström said wouldn’t be possible without some generous grants from the likes of the ASPCA and Pet Smart. 

Because the program is also focused on connecting people with critical resources, they also formed a partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which encourages creative approaches to advance a culture of health. 

Ekström said the Seattle Veterinary Outreach program is now a part of a clinical scholars fellowship and receives invaluable grants to support what the team believes is a critical bond between the pets and their people. 

"I’ve had people say that the reason they want to move off the streets, is because they want a better life for their pet," said Ekström. "And if we, just by providing veterinary care, can make any difference in that…There’s so much love here. I’m honored to be apart of it."

The Seattle Veterinary Outreach program also often travels with a social worker and has food and other essentials available for the people they serve so the homeless and their pets can thrive together.

If you're interested in helping the program, whether through volunteering or making a donation, visit their website here.