Sparkt Bridges

Vets On Front Line of Domestic Violence Fight

Veterinarians & staff trained to recognize violence against people through their pets.


This story is part of a bi-weekly series that celebrates people who are reaching across a divide to "build bridges" with those different from themselves. The Sparkt Bridges series is made possible with the support of UPMC.

When Dr. John Tuttle trained to become a veterinarian, he learned to be a pet detective, solving the mystery behind what's wrong with a cat or dog and how to treat it. Little did Dr. Tuttle know he'd someday be asked to become a pet owner detective too.

Cheri Herschell watches Dr. John Tuttle examine animal advocate Ari.

People trust their vets more than almost any other service provider, so it's no surprise vets are among the professionals most likely to hear that a woman is the victim of domestic violence. Thanks to a groundbreaking program developed by Crisis Center North , a domestic violence organization in Pittsburgh, Dr. Tuttle and his staff at VCA Duncan Manor Animal Hospital are among the first in the country being trained to recognize the signs of violence in a family, and to offer help. As we found out, they believe they're saving lives.

Crisis Center North is on the forefront of making animals a part the fight against domestic violence. Earlier this year we saw how their Paws for Empowerment program has become a national model for animal advocacy, training dogs to comfort victims and accompany them to court.

Previous story: Rescue Dogs "Rescue" Victims of Domestic Violence

Cheri Herschell, who is in charge of CCN's animal advocacy program, would like to see the idea of training vets spread. "We would like to make this a nationwide movement," explained Herschell. "We would like for other veterinarians, other domestic violence organizations around the country to understand how important it is." Herschell also goes into veterinary technician classes to educate them about family violence and how to recognize it.

CCN also works to provide temporary animal boarding, so victims escaping a violent situation don't have to leave their pets behind.

CCN Executive Director Grace Coleman agrees the idea of veterinary offices being part of the fight against domestic violence is potentially life-saving. "Seeing an animal in a vet clinic that's being abused is also seeing children abused, is also seeing family members abused," Coleman stresses. "Being able to intervene at a critical point to limit the harm and damage is very important."

"When we help one, we help all."

If this story got you fired up to help, here are ways you can make a difference:

The Sparkt Bridges Project is produced

with the generous support of UPMC.

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