Thursday, April 24, 2008

Pets and Hospitals: An Observation about Doggie Social Work

Last week I had the chance to treat three patients who had pets, all with dogs. They were all very attached to their pets, and they all lived alone with their pets, as many people do in NYC. Two out of the three needed to be hospitalized and were very sick. I do recognize this is a small number, and as much as I understand the need for randomized controlled studies, I agree with the authors of this paper, sometimes an observation is all that is needed to change things. However, if one ER resident can come across this problem in one week, think of the thousands of people in NYC who live alone with their pets and who are hospitalized under emergency circumstances, often without the ability to return home to arrange for a petsitter. After spending time contacting 311, 911, and the NYC Humane Society, I learned that there is NO government agency in the city of New York who will go to a hospitalized patients home and help arrange for pet care unless the party in question wishes to give up their pet permanently. Not even if the patient is being hospitalized AGAINST THEIR WISHES.

I did some research and there are various pet sitters in NYC, everyone knows about dog walkers in NYC. However, I think there is a need for a charity organization who will help care for people's pets when they are hospitalized. Call it DOGGIE SOCIAL WORK, but there is definitely a need. I have heard of patients who actually will sign out of the hospital against medical advice if they are capable just because there is no one to care for their pet.

I did some research and there is now a federal law to hold communities to a standard in evacuating pets as well as people in the event of a disaster or major emergency, based on the Hurricane Katrina experience in Louisiana. I think a corollary should be that hospitals be required to arrange a pet sitter if someone is hospitalized on an emergency basis and cannot arrange such for themselves.

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