Pets can give people who are struggling with mental health, addiction, or other crises the motivation they need to carry on. On the flip side, some people refuse to seek out treatment for their troubles because they’re worried what will happen to their pets.
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A new partnership in Salt Lake City, Utah aims to solve that problem.
Ruff Haven is an all-volunteer animal shelter whose mission is “to provide a temporary safe haven for companion animals in order to keep pets and their people together in times of crisis, increase pet retention, and decrease the number of animals entering the shelter system.”
They’ve recently expanded that goal to include people coping with addiction. A new partnership with Odyssey House, Utah’s largest comprehensive addiction program, will enable people to seek treatment while Ruff Haven cares for their pets for up to 90 days.
Randall Carlisle of Odyssey House said this pairing is “like a marriage made in heaven,” adding, “I’ve talked to so many people who say I’m not coming into treatment because of my pet; now they can’t say that anymore.”
Oftentimes, pets are the last remaining connection someone struggling with substance abuse maintains in their daily life. They might shove family and friends aside, but they never stop adoring their pets. Both Odyssey House and Ruff Haven hope that people will emerge from treatment “as a whole person” who can then be reunited with their pets.
The system works thanks to the help of dedicated foster families who take in the pets free of charge. They send the pets’ owners pictures, text messages, and updates about their animal while they’re in treatment. Sometimes visitations are even allowed to give people a chance to reconnect with their pets and bolster their resolve to get back to their regular lives.
“It’s a good morale boost for them,” said Beth Henry, foster coordinator for Ruff Haven. “Sometimes we have animals that are kept here because their person likes to see them consistently. It’s not super common that they’re going to be visited by their person every day. Cats especially, because cats can get stressed out.”
Knowing their pets’ needs are met means people can focus on their own well-being without distraction. They’re also motivated to get better so they can see their pets again. The patients and Odyssey and Ruff Haven workers are all working towards the same goal: reunification.
“It’s just amazing how hard these people are working for their pets and what’s keeping them motivated,” said Marisa Hernandez, director of operations for Ruff Haven. “Reunifications are just the highlight. It just means so much.”
This is such a thoughtful and important partnership. We hope it’s successful and inspires other shelters and treatment facilities to pool their resources to take a major worry out of getting healthy for those seeking help.
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