A community partnership, including UW and WSU, cares for people and their animals

Bailey is itchy. And though this is probably too much information, his stools are runny. It’s likely he needs some vitamins, too. Like many humans going to their family doctor, Bailey — a dapper dog sporting a skull-and-crossbones bow tie — has a number of issues that require attention.

And Bailey is why a young man named Promo — who has some healthcare needs of his own— is at the One Health Clinic, a collaboration among New Horizons Ministries, Neighborcare Health, the University of Washington and Washington State University. It’s clear he loves his dog.

“I’ve had him for 10 years,” says Promo, running his hands through Bailey’s thick ginger coat. “He’s so soft, isn’t he?”

The strategy

Bailey and Promo are repeat visitors to the One Health Clinic, a place where youth experiencing homelessness can receive a health check-up alongside their companion animals. It is one of the few clinics in the U.S. — maybe the only clinic in the U.S. — to provide this simultaneous, dual form of care.

While it’s possible for a person experiencing homelessness to get medical care, it becomes harder when they have a companion animal; it’s quite likely that the animal won’t be allowed in the clinic. In this way, having a beloved companion might actually serve as a barrier to healthcare for the human in the relationship.

“It’s obvious that many people facing homelessness are deeply concerned about the health and well-being of their animals and may put those needs ahead of their own,” says Peter Rabinowitz, M.D. ’82, MPH, UW Medicine and UW School of Public Health faculty and director of the UW Center for One Health Research. “By creating a space that welcomes people and animals, we can better address the health needs of people in Seattle who need shelter.”

“By creating a space that welcomes people and animals, we can better address the health needs of people in Seattle who need shelter.”

- Peter Rabinowitz, M.D. ’82, MPH

Bringing everyone together

When Rabinowitz broached the idea of creating a dual-purpose clinic to Washington State University’s (WSU’s) College of Veterinary Medicine in Pullman, he was met with a great deal of enthusiasm. WSU veterinary students already had experience providing free veterinary care for similar populations in Spokane and Seattle, and they were excited to partner with the One Health Clinic.

The clinic really found its footing when two other Seattle-based partners — already working together to provide medical care — entered the picture: Neighborcare Health, a program that aims to eliminate health disparities, and New Horizons Ministries, an agency that partners with youth and young adults facing homelessness to help them exit the streets and live sustainable lives.

“Neighborcare is doing UW and WSU students a big service by opening up their clinic for teaching activities,” says Rabinowitz. “And New Horizons is giving us the time and space to help the youth they serve.”

UW students were part of the picture, too. Medical, social work and nursing students involved with University District Street Medicine (UDSM) — a multidisciplinary student group that helps people facing homelessness in the U District — signed up to help with clinic flow and care coordination.

Anika Larson, MPH, is a first-year medical student. She waits with people at the One Health Clinic, making sure they feel engaged, helping them fill out paperwork, and recording connections between human and pet health.

“A huge part of my role is saying, ‘Well you came here with your animal, but if you’d like to see our nurse practitioner, she’s right there,” says Larson.

And, in fact, almost everyone agrees to talk with Neighborcare Health’s Anina Terry, ARNP. During that conversation, many young adults end up sharing their own health concerns — some of which, like fleabites, they may share with their pets. Then the youth visit the animal care team, where a WSU vet and veterinary students treat their companions.

While the humans and animals get the care they need, medical students like Larson learn important lessons in caring for future patients.

“It’s a good reminder to be gently curious and aware of the environment, and to be aware of the relationships that the person you are working with has in their life — whether that’s with animals or people,” she says.

Lowering barriers to loving care

It’s a chilly evening in January, and downstairs from the clinic, youth and young adults begin to arrive at New Horizons for a hot meal or shelter for the night. Everyone is invited to visit the One Health Clinic upstairs. Austin, a young man with PTSD, is one of them.

“I mainly care about my dog,” he says. “She’s really the only thing I have left in this world.”

By Eleanor Licata
Photos: Gemina Garland-Lewis

Learn more about the UW Center for One Health Research. The center explores linkages between humans, animals and their shared environment.