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5th International Veterinary Social Work Summit

Join us October 4-6, for the 5th International Veterinary Social Work Summit. This year's theme is Animals and Poverty with a focus on how poverty impacts the human-animal relationship. There will also be presentations on compassion fatigue and conflict management, animal related grief and bereavement, the link between human and animal violence, and animal assisted interventions.

This Summit traditionally gathers an interdisciplinary group of animal-related professionals, social workers, and other human health and law professionals who strive to serve both humans and animals in the most effective ways possible. This years Summit theme touches the hearts and minds of all these professionals who have faced the sadness and challenge of animals and humans in need without the funds to resolve the need. It connects us all with the moral complexity of how to humanely handle this societal problem. This Summit will tackle this problem with innovative presentations and problem solving activities… all while having FUN if you can imagine!

This program was approved by the National Association of Social Workers – Tennessee Chapter (Provider Number: NASWTN 2018-0125) for 16.0 continuing education units.

Up to 15 CE credits for veterinarians.

Find Out More

Keynote Presentations

Strengthening the Social Safety Net
Dr. Michael Blackwell, DVM, MPH
Director, Program for Pet Health Equity

Lack of access to veterinary care is a complex societal problem with multiple causes but primarily associated with low socio-economic status. Millions of pets do not receive adequate veterinary care because the costs are beyond the family’s ability to pay. Through evidence-based decisions, with a family-centric approach, underserved families will gain access to veterinary care. Aligncare™ is a model of....continue reading.
$2.8 Million Grant for AlignCare from Maddie’s Fund
In keeping with the theme of Animals and Poverty, the University of Tennessee College of Social Work Program for Pet Health Equity has received a $2.8 million grant from Maddie’s Fund to develop and launch AlignCare. This program will improve access to veterinary care for underserved families. According to Blackwell, social service and public health programs do not adequately consider the presence and influence of pets on overall family health and well-being. Additionally, veterinary service providers are focused on a pet’s medical needs and are not structured to address financial limitations of the families. This three year AlignCare unites researchers from UT’s College of Social Work, the Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research in the Haslam College of Business, the College of Veterinary Medicine, and the Department of Public health in the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences. Dr. Blackwell was instrumental in receiving this grant which will support research and development of this program which will help create access to veterinary care to underserved families through interprofessional collaborations on a community level.
More Information
Beyond the Cliché’—Pets Really ARE Family Members (talk occurs during lunch)
Jim Tedford, President and CEO
Society of Animal Welfare Administrators

There is little question that companion animals enrich our lives in countless ways.  As relationships between pets and their human guardians have evolved, pets are even more central to the human experience.  Yet, in some ways the keeping of pets has become so costly that only those with means (or good credit) are able to afford to keep their best friends. At the same time, the animal welfare movement has evolved dramatically. Continue reading.
Poverty in America- An Economist’s Perspective
Speaker: Don Bruce, Ph.D.
Professor of Business 

What do we mean by poverty? How do we measure it? How does poverty relate to inequality? How do the usual measures stack up? What federal and state programs are available to help those in or near poverty in America? How are we doing over time? This keynote will discuss these and other questions in an economic overview of poverty in America.


5th IVSW Summit Working Groups

Each of these working groups aim to work towards specific goals through discussions, activities, and brainstorming. The goal for these working groups is to ideally meet again at the next summit to discuss progress, however everyone is welcome to participate in said working groups without committing to attend future summits. This is an opportunity for individuals to come together and pool their expertise to start the conversation on how to meet these goals. 

Race and Cultural Diversity in VSW
Facilitator: Cassandra Hanrahan, Assistant Professor
This group aims to explore issues of race and diversity in veterinary social work settings within the larger historical contexts of race politics within North America. In North America, poverty is still considered the most pressing social issue and while it can affect people from all different walks of life, some people are more likely to experience poverty than others. There are few, if any, social welfare services that extended support to nonhuman companions that provide social support and emotional/psychological security. VSW expands the scope of practice in response to the diverse realities and needs of individual, families, and communities. The typical fee-for-service setting, however, may act as a barrier to low income people resulting in a racialized bias/dynamic typifying the practice. More discreet forms of racism include lack of access to resources, higher rates of unemployment, and thus poverty. 

Veterinarians Working with Accessible Care: Working Group on Recommended Training Beyond the Clinical
Facilitator: William Gilles, DM
This group aims to:
1. Define and articulate for the veterinary medical practitioner the particular challenges and potential damage (to the community) of working with underserved populations for the veterinary medical practitioner. 
2. Develop a list of recommendations for veterinary practitioners for further training that would aid and benefit community outreach with underserved populations (Such as trauma-informed care, mental health first aid training, etc.) 
3. Determine a framework for providing information and resources for veterinary practitioners to access training and support around these themes. 
4. Connect invested parties for the purpose of future development and growth of such recommendations and resources. 
There is a need for further education for veterinary professionals on how to successfully engage with communities in poverty. While the increased interest has the potential to improve the health and wellbeing of a huge population of pets in the United States, the potential to do real damage if veterinarians and support staff approach such outreach from the wrong framework does exist and little support or information is easy to find for practitioners who may be interested in furthering this sort of skill set. 

Association of Veterinary Social Workers
Facilitator: Elizabeth Strand, PhD, LCSW Director, Veterinary Social Work and Associate Professor
This group aims to brainstorm activities to aid in the development of the Association of Veterinary Social Work. The discussion will be facilitated by Dr. Elizabeth Strand. Dr. Elizabeth Strand is the Founding Director of Veterinary Social Work (VSW) and the “All Creatures Great and Small” Endowed Clinical Associate Professor at the University of Tennessee Colleges of Social Work and Veterinary Medicine. She is a licensed clinical social worker, experienced family therapist, Grief Recovery Specialist, and a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Teacher. Her professional mission is to encourage the humane treatment of both people and animals and to care for those professionals who care for animals.

Summit Sponsorship Opportunities 

Please consider a sponsorship of any level. All sponsor levels, beginning at a $1 gift, will receive proof of a tax deductible donation to a tax exempt organization, daily acknowledgment at the summit, and recognition in the summit program. The higher the sponsorship level, the more opportunities provided. To review all sponsorship opportunities, click the button below. If you are interested in becoming a sponsor, email us at
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Job Opportunity 

UT VSW does not endorse or verify job openings. The below job openings are an opportunity for you, the applicant, to verify and research on your own, and are not reflective of the UT VSW Program. 

Veterinary Social Worker
Latham, NY
Upstate Veterinary Specialties (UVS) is looking for a Social Worker to join its team! The Veterinary Social Worker will work closely with both clients and staff members and will be responsible for a variety of tasks, including but not limited to:

* Provide supportive counseling, grief support, and help with end-of-life decision-making.

* Work as a member of the multidisciplinary team to enhance client care.

* Provide consultation to staff regarding their interactions with complex client emotional needs. Facilitate debriefing sessions for staff individually or in groups.

* Offer presentations to staff regarding de-escalation techniques, compassion fatigue, burn out, effective communication skills and active listening techniques.

* Develop resources for clients and staff. Referral for outside services where necessary.

More Information

Contact Us

Veterinary Social Work Certificate Program
University of Tennessee
College of Veterinary Medicine
College of Social Work
VSW Services:
Certificate Program:

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