Animal abuse and family violence: Reflections from workshopping with veterinary students


  • Michael Dale School of Social Work, Massey University, Aotearoa New Zealand
  • Polly Yeung School of Social Work, Massey University, Aotearoa New Zealand



animal abuse, family violence, veterinary science education,


The notion of social work teaching in the veterinary science programme may seem novel for our profession. However, the philosophy underlying the context of animal and human welfare in One Health is the result of the collaborative effort of multiple disciplines and professions to attain optimal health for people, animals and the environment. One Health emphasises some of the key domains such as creating an enabling environment and advocating change and communication amongst healthcare professionals (Courtenay et al., 2014). Even when interprofessional education (IPE) and One Health competencies are evident in courses, Courtenay and colleagues (2014) noted that they are mostly at clinical level. In recent years, there has been a call for more collaboration between human and veterinary medicine to learn and practise One Health competencies, and “links” between the abuse of children, vulnerable adults and animals have been identified as a key area for exploration (Arkow, 2015a; Jordan & Lem, 2014). In 2015, the second author and the Head of School of Social Work at Massey University had the opportunity to skype with Dr Elizabeth Strand, the Founding Director of Veterinary Social Work (VSW) (Strand et al., 2012), from University of Tennessee-Knoxville to discuss setting up VSW and also to seek advice
on challenges and strategies on engaging and collaborating with the veterinary school. Dr Strand shared her experiences and encouraged us to contact the Head of the Veterinary School at our university to start a conversation. Our Head of School approached the then Head of School of Veterinary Science and within days a meeting was organised. We went into the meeting expecting a first level of exploration with the Head of School to see if he was interested but were surprised when we were joined by another senior lecturer (SG) who had been re-designing the course content of professional practice for veterinarian students. He was very keen of our idea on working with him to develop a module on teaching his students about the link between animal abuse and family violence. It seemed the Veterinary School hadbeen identifying gaps in their curriculum for some time in relation to health and wellbeing, communication skills and conflict resolution, but they had only accessed support from student health services at the university. He also acknowledged the increasing attention in research literature about the link between human and animal violence as a pivotal area that could be integrated within the Veterinary Science Professional Practice curriculum, but did not realise that social work could play a role in supporting their curriculum and knowledge building. The meeting was a success, and within a year, we started our contribution by running the first two-hour workshop with first-year veterinary students discussing animal abuse and family violence, a workshop which then became a regular feature of the veterinary programme between 2016 and 2018. The purpose of this paper is to provide a description of what was included in the educational contexts, reflections from veterinary students’ engagement and future needs to connect between human service and animal service professionals to address the link.


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How to Cite

Dale, M., & Yeung, P. (2021). Animal abuse and family violence: Reflections from workshopping with veterinary students. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 33(1), 99–107.