Street Outreach Animal Response (S.O.A.R.) Initiative serves our Indianapolis [Indiana – USA] community by working with people experiencing homelessness or crisis who also have pets. Our primary focus is on securing the human-animal bond and improving access to veterinary care & human services for those who are typically underserved. We operate three main Programs (Street Outreach/Service Navigation, Crisis Response Foster Care, & Retention/Access to Veterinary Care) in order to help people and their pets.”

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Provided March 25, 2021 by:

Leslie Brooks, DVM, MPH

Holly Irwin, MD

Angela Hopson, Executive Director

SOAR Initiative

Her name was Sapphire. A cute, seven-year-old terrier breed, about fifteen pounds of dog. Her owner had been unexpectedly hospitalized for two days before she was able to tell a hospital social worker that Sapphire, her emotional support animal, was stuck in her home and likely running out of food and water. She had no one she could call to go check on the dog.

Years earlier, the most likely scenario for this sort of situation would either be ignoring the request of the hospitalized patient for help with her dog, or to call animal control to retrieve the dog and take into the animal shelter, where it would be placed on a brief hold and then adopted out if the owner could not reclaim it in time.

Thankfully, this is not the case anymore and shouldn’t have to be anywhere. The Street Outreach Animal Response Initiative (SOAR), based in Indianapolis, Indiana, has built a robust model of care upon the premise of One Health. SOAR works with humans experiencing crisis, such as emergency hospitalization, to help them maintain ownership of their pets. Through our relationships with the local hospital systems, physicians, nurses, and social workers know they can call upon our organization for help in admitting a person for care who is resisting because they are concerned for the well-being of their animal companion. And with 67% of U.S. households, or about 85 million families, owning a pet nowadays, this is becoming a growing reason for a person to leave “against medical advice”.

For Sapphire and her owner- it ended up being a case of life or death. SOAR was called to temporarily provide foster care for Sapphire until her owner could be discharged from the hospital. As we grew our relationship with Sapphire’s owner to help her access veterinary care for her beloved canine companion, she confided in us the cause of her initial hospitalization- an abusive relationship. By building a bond of trust through concern for her pet, we were able to help both Sapphire and her owner safely leave the abusive relationship, which otherwise may have continued for much longer with repeated bouts of hospitalization. Or worse, ended the lives of both of them.

Sapphire’s case is just one example of many- the man who refuses to be admitted into in-patient treatment because he has no one to take care of his dog, Maggie. The woman who was threatening to leave the hospital even though she needed psychiatric treatment, because they were threatening to send her dog, Diamond, to the animal shelter. The man who was going to risk having a syncopal episode driving his dog, Yogi, back home so Yogi wouldn’t have to sleep in his car in the dead of winter in the parking lot of the hospital. Healthcare isn’t a one-size-fits-all and access to care looks different for everyone. Pet wellness promotes human wellness.

Our hope is that this innovative model of care can be replicated in cities across the world. In the interim, our ask is that human hospitals and crisis centers build collaborative relationships with animal welfare organizations. In doing so, the human-animal bond can be leveraged to better understand and serve the medical needs of people, with better outcomes for both people and their pets.