Denver Animal Shelter Helps Vulnerable Animals and their Humans

Published on August 31, 2023

It’s common knowledge that Denver Animal Shelter (DAS) protects the most vulnerable animals in our community. But now DAS is placing a new focus on helping the pets’ people too.

Denver Animal Shelter recently hired its first social worker to better engage with community and ultimately address the number of animals surrendered to the shelter. Josie Pigeon has a master’s degree in social work from the University of Denver with a specialty in human-animal-environment interactions.

Pigeon joins the DAS Community Engagement Services team which through door-to-door outreach, community events, and referrals from outside organizations, offers free and low-cost pet medical services, supplies, food, leashes, grooming and transportation to pet owners in under-resourced parts of the city.

The team is now up to five employees, including Pigeon, a manager and three community navigators who go out into the community in search of those who need support. With a consistent presence in neighborhoods, this team helps individuals who face many barriers to accessing important services for the animals they love. About 84% of these animals have never seen a veterinarian.

The Community Engagement group proactively identifies the most vulnerable populations to help including the unhoused, seniors and people with disabilities. So far this year, DAS has helped hundreds of owned cats and dogs in our community by paying for necessary veterinary services including spay/neuter surgeries, vaccines, microchips, mass removals, dental procedures and medical grooming. There are also another 150 animals on a waitlist to receive these free services.

“Our goal is to preserve the human-animal bond by providing support and services to those who need it. Animals are an integral part of the family and both people and their pets benefit when they can stay together. So, we meet community members where they are, rather than waiting for them to come to us. We want to understand their situation and establish trust. This helps us learn what kind of support they need to care for their pets and the barriers that exist with animal welfare and human services systems,” says Denver Animal Shelter Director Melanie Sobel. “We help them with whatever we can to keep their pets at home, so they don’t have to surrender them to a shelter.”

This program also acts as a bridge to other partner organizations that may be able to help, as well. That’s the immediate work Pigeon has embarked on and includes identifying community resources for both pets and people and connecting them, for example, with social service agencies, food banks and other community groups.

It’s also expected Pigeon can help defuse contentious or sensitive confrontations with shelter clients or during investigations of animal abuse or neglect. She may be able to help owners of animals during hoarding investigations or support residents who’ve lot a pet. She may also be called upon to offer mental health support for shelter staff and volunteers. 

Pigeon says social work and animal welfare fit well together because social issues that affect the owner of a pet also affect the pet, like food and housing insecurity, gaps in education, and threats of violence. Her goal will be to solve not just getting families short-term resources but helping them longer term, too.

Right now, DAS can help the following zip codes: 80219, 80204, 80223, 80216 and 80239.

If you want to help animals in your community, you can donate to DAS’ Special Revenue Fund. You can volunteer to help our team in the community. Positions include working with clients in the field, helping transport animals to surgery appointments, helping groom animals, even data entry in your own home.

It is the goal of staff at DAS to improve the quality of life of both pets and people. This will help keep pets out of shelters or help pets get back home. Learning to intervene more efficiently when challenges arise for pet owners will help reduce the number of homeless and abandoned animals we take in each year and widen the shelter’s impact.