Those in need of mental health care find help from animal lovers
Many who need mental health or addictions treatment in a hospital setting refuse help for one simple reason. There is no one to take care of their pets when they are away.
A new Johnson County Mental Health program aims to change that and get more people the treatment they need.
“For us, it’s really about understanding how we can minimize barriers to individuals accessing treatment,” said Michelle Burchyett, a clinical liaison with RSI and Johnson County Mental Health. “We’ve found that if someone has a pet that needs care, it’s a bit like a parent with a child. You will choose to take care of those around you before taking care of yourself.
With the help of Friends of Johnson County Mental Health Center, the county is partnering with BestyBnB, a local pet care and foster business. The company connects those who want to foster pets with those who need help.
Although a survey found that approximately 41 of the 59 center staff who responded had at least one person who refused treatment in the past six months due to pet care issues, “the reality is that when we look at that, we think the numbers are much higher.” Burchyett said because a lot of people didn’t complete the survey.
The first year of the program will allow those at the Center to collect more data on the number of people who need and use the service.
“It was like making a dream come true,” Burchyett said. “It’s something I’ve dreamed of having as an option for customers for over a decade. It’s the fact that this is an affordable emergency pet foster home. We compare it to Vrbo (vacation rental). You have that controlling factor. Guests can come in and help choose a host family.
Customers can specify special needs, such as whether pets should go to a home without other pets or children.
Although there is normally a daily charge for the service, the partnership will allow mental health center clients to have costs covered with no restrictions on the length or number of stays they need.
Every animal caregiver goes through an orientation and the company also does a background check. Those who sign up to be carers can choose to charge for their services or volunteer for free, specifically for center clients.
Currently, 20 people have signed up to be caregivers exclusively for these local subsidized programs and another 70 are in the process of signing up and being vetted.
A key point is that the identity of pet owners remains confidential. The mental health center acts as an intermediary to allow the transfer of the animal anonymously. Although the center knows the identity of both parties, neither the pet owner nor the caregiver will know the other’s name.
The BestyBnB website has a feature that will allow anonymous communication between them to share pet photos and status updates.
Previously, the company worked with local shelters for victims of domestic violence to arrange accommodations for pets, as shelters generally do not allow them on-site.
“We have specifically built a program to adapt to any length of stay. In mental health, often something is one or two days up to maybe 28 or 30 days, but often it’s longer,” said Andy Bond, who co-founded BestyBnB with Matt Krentz. “The length of stay at a domestic violence agency is never really set, so we’ve created a proprietary solution in our platform to allow those stays to be as long as needed.”
For a longer stay, this may mean that an animal goes to a second caregiver at some point if the first is unable to keep it for the full period. There were a few logistical issues, such as arranging transportation to get the pets to the center’s offices and figuring out how to house the animals there until the caregiver came to pick them up.
BestyBnB’s site has been open for about a year, and they’re already in talks to expand the portion of the subsidized care program to other cities. Currently, it operates in Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma, but they hope to expand to agencies in seven more states.
“As we started talking with other mental health agencies and providers, it really created a plan to make it easier for those agencies to implement their companion animal program, because Johnson County is the first agency in the country to have a companion animal program (work with) a mental health care provider,” Bond said.
He said they help agencies raise funds to support the programs and hopes to add corporate sponsorships to help with that.
To register as a pet caregiver, go to mybestybnb.com. If you would like to help with the costs of the program, go to friendsofjcmhc.org/support and indicate that your donation is for Foster Pet Care for Clients in Crisis.