In a nutshell...
"Everything to Me" is a documentary photography project partnered alongside community outreach and efforts to increase clinical care for both people and their pets experiencing homelessness in Seattle. It is based upon the premise that a deeper understanding of the bond that people share with their animals can help lead to better options for them to seek and receive care for themselves and their pets, and that housing status alone is not an indicator for a person's ability to care for an animal.
How it began...
"Everything to Me" was born out of a simple walk down University Way in Seattle. This street hosts one of the higher numbers of homeless youth in the city, a good amount of whom have companion animals with them. The project was solidified after a chance encounter outside the Doney Memorial Pet Clinic and a conversation with a woman named Stella, who was bringing her pit bull puppy, Brutus, in for his first vaccinations. With a focus on exploring the human-animal bond and the importance of its role for persons experiencing homelessness, the idea to merge the power of visual storytelling with research, community outreach, and clinical care was conceived.
Why it's important...
The psychosocial and physical benefits of animal ownership have been well-documented, including emotional support, companionship, decreased stress, and shared physical activities such as walking. In the few studies examining the human-animal bond in situations of homelessness, it is considered that this bond may be of even greater importance for persons who are housing-unstable.
There is a particular stigma placed on people who are experiencing homelessness with their animals - a stigma that is perhaps best encapsulated by the all-too-often heard phrase: "You can't take care of an animal if you can't take care of yourself." In reality, people who are homeless with an animal are more often than not putting their animals needs ahead of their own - their animal will eat first, drink first, be comfortable first, and receive medical care first.
For many homeless persons, their pet is considered their closest and most loyal friend, a non-judgmental listener, a source of protection, and a companion that provides a sense of responsibility and accountability. Both people and their pets need to receive medical care, yet access to services may be more difficult for homeless pet owners for a number of reasons: there may not be a place for them to leave their animal or someone they trust to take their animal while they seek care; they may be untrusting of tying an animal up outside a health clinic for fear of having their pet stolen; or the clinic may not welcome animals inside. For veterinary care, people may not know of an affordable option or may have logistical barriers to accessing those that offer such care.
Housed in the School of Public Health at the University of Washington, The UW Center for One Health Research (COHR) investigates the health linkages between humans, animals, and their shared environments; including zoonoses, comparative clinical medicine, animals as sentinels, animal worker health, food safety, and the human-animal bond. Through transdisciplinary partnerships, COHR develops innovative strategies for healthy coexistence between humans and animals in sustainable local and global ecosystems.
COHR explores linkages between human, animal, and environmental health in a "One Health" paradigm, including:
Gemina Garland-Lewis is a photographer, One Health researcher, and explorer based in Seattle, WA. She is passionate about integrating the worlds of visual storytelling and research to develop new ways of communicating social and environmental issues to broader audiences and building unique platforms for education and outreach. She is a National Geographic Explorer, a former photography teacher and trip leader for National Geographic Student Expeditions, and holds an MS in Conservation Medicine from Tufts University. If you have questions about the Everything to Me project, please contact Gemina at firstname.lastname@example.org.