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Seattle Veterinary Outreach Helps the Homeless

  • Written by David B. Clark
In the United States, 3.5 million people are without a home. Of these individuals, the National Coalition on Homelessness has reported that five to ten percent have a dog or a cat. While there will always be some scrutiny given to at-risk populations, what it means to have meaningful connections with animals which can provide deep comfort is a universally understood norm. The world in which we live cradles those, too, that need help and assistance nourishes bodies and souls while judgment does little more than fill a meaningless void.
 
PHOTO WITH OVERLAY SVO1(Photo by Merv Heston)
 
Seattle Veterinary Outreach (SVO) is a newly established nonprofit with a heartfelt mission to keep homeless individuals and their pets safe, healthy, and together. Dr. Hanna Ekstrom is the Founder and Medical Director of SVO who has over 25 years of veterinary practice. Since graduating from Cornell in 1992 with honors, she has worked in private practice ever since. Her work has spanned from providing veterinary care services for underserved countries to her local community. She believes that providing veterinary care to vulnerable populations can provide a framework that allows a unified Seattle and a better, happy and healthy Puget Sound community.
Ekstrom says, “I love people and I love pets, and to be able to help each end of the leash by just doing what I love is completely irresistible. Honestly, it’s that simple.”
 
SVO is essentially a veterinary hospital on wheels. Loaded up with an exam room, the vehicle goes to a predetermined site and brings supplies, vaccines, microchips, flea preventatives and de-wormers in addition to medicines to treat a wide variety of diseases. While the mobile vet does have the ability to spay and neuter pets, these services are being held to first and foremost provide more immediate needs for the pets and their people.
 
Ekstrom and her team are actively seeking volunteers for a wide variety of tasks. She says the most important qualification for an applicant is to have is a genuine love for people from all walks of life. “Of course, it is important to like animals too, but honestly, this project has something for everyone, with or without animal experience,” said Ekstrom. She continued, “For example, we need people with tech experience to help us get our message out, veterinarians and technicians who want to work providing hands-on care, people with experience working in nascent grass-roots NGOs, and even people that want to help us write thank you notes!” She shared that it is wonderful to have people write thank-yous on behalf of SVO as there has been a recent outpouring of support for which the entire organization is incredibly thankful.
 
The bond between humans and their pets is incredibly strong. Ekstrom says that doing the work she does feels like breathing. “Honestly, I couldn’t imagine having the resources that I have at my hands (veterinary knowledge, time and financial resources) and not reaching out to connect with my fellow human beings. In regard to SVO’s mission, Ekstrom thinks that as a long-term foster parent, a pet owner, and a veterinarian, she has seen over and over again how much pets help people connect to each other, overcome trauma, and promote self-care. 
 
Ekstrom shared the story of a little boy she called D who she was fostering. She said he would sit with their dog, Skutt, almost an hour every morning, gently patting him while he talked about his Pokémon cards and prepared himself for the day. She said their connection was magical. “While it seems simplistic to say our dog saved D, I truly believe that he did. Not that what we did as foster parents wasn’t important, it was, but when D was able to open his heart to Skutt, to experience being responsible through caring for him (in his little boy way)and to have the opportunity to be unconditionally loved, it was like his resistance to loving us was broken down.” She said that loving Skutt was the first step on the path to his healing so he could be a healthy, whole little boy; a boy that had the opportunity to live a healthy, fulfilling, and productive life. “Every person, young and old, deserves that chance,” said Ekstrom.
 
While most of the work SVO is doing right now is in the southern end of Seattle where the concentration of homeless is the highest, there is a growing need here on the north. “I would love to see the people of Woodinville come together to help establish this program… Woodinville is filled with so many positive, caring, and intelligent people I have no doubt that together we make this project really sing. And what is so cool is that it does not just help the pets, it helps their people, and the public health of our city,” said Ekstrom.
 
On July 5th, SVO is partnering with St. Vincent de Paul to provide veterinary care to their homeless clients. This is the launch date of the collaboration between the two. SVO is hoping to be able to visit monthly to provide regular, reliable, and low-stress veterinary services to pets and their families. Last month, SVO received a generous grant from the Seattle Foundation, specifically to serve homeless individuals. There is a focus on youth and over the course of this summer, SVO is looking forward to establishing partnerships with other organizations already doing this wonderful work. A few already on the list include the Recovery Café, Real Change, and Urban Rest Stop. SVO is hoping local organizations serving this population will reach out to connect to see how SVO can help their existing clientele.
 
Please reach out to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. if you are interested in volunteering, have ideas, or would like to get involved in some other way. Engagement is crucial for a happy, healthy community.

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