Mental Health Patients' Pets Find Homes in Carver Co.

Updated: 04/13/2013 12:55 PM KSTP.com By: Beth McDonough

Whether it's anxiety, severe depression or worse. Chances are you know someone with a mental health issue.

One in four of us struggle with it any given year.  That's the word from the Department of Health.  Yet some people who need long-term help refuse it in Minnesota, because they don't want to abandon their pets. 

There's a first of it's kind program in the country, that prevents that from happening.  It's in Carver County.

People love their pets.

Especially Shawna Vivant, "we just connected."

Her feelings for 3-year-old Tess are so strong, "on my worst day, I look at her and she's just a bundle of joy and happiness," says Vivant, a mental health crisis worker.  She started up a new program in Carver County, based on a foster-pet system, "I understand the bond between an animal and their owner."

Vivant has ADD.  She wanted a companion.  Tess, a rescue dog facing a death sentence in a shelter, needed a home.  They found each other, "I have a passion for helping people with mental health issues and I am passionate about animals."

That's why she brainstormed a way to take the burden away from someone suffering a severe mental crisis, but who's hesitant to go to the hospital for fear of abandoning their cat or dog.

"It's an opportunity to help somebody through a tough time," says Marge Amberson.  She's the boss at the Carver Scott Humane Society, which already has a built-in foster program in place.  So far, 9 people have opened up their hearts and homes, connecting animals in need with people who care, including Jehovah, the cat, who's mom finally agreed to get help when she knew her baby had a temporary place to stay.

"The animal and person connection is so important if you let that client know they'll get their pet back when they're healthy and can be home again that's a win-win situation," says Amberson.

The program is completely anonymous.  The length of time for fostering varies and the patient never loses ownership.  If you or someone you know needs help, there's a 24-hour crisis hotline: 952-442-7601.

There are no county tax dollars used to fund this program, it's funded entirely by donations.

Resources:

Carver County Mental Health Consortium

Carver-Scott Humane Society