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Justice Heals Selected For National Leadership Program

Justice the dog with a handkerchief on

Three members of the Michigan State University community — Tana Fedewa, director of the MSU Center for Survivors; Marie Hopfensperger from the College of Veterinary Medicine; and Megan Spedoske, director of Veterinary Social Work Services with the School of Social Work — were selected to join the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars Leadership Program.

The Clinical Scholars Program is designed for teams of experienced health care providers from varied disciplines to sharpen their leadership skills and collaborate on a project to address complex health problems. The program also allows them to gain new perspectives and expertise while extending their influence and impact as professionals and as trusted members of their communities.

With support of the Clinical Scholars Program, Fedewa, Hopfensperger and Spedoske will combine their expertise to develop “Justice Heals,” a four-phase, animal-assisted intervention program to pair survivors with shelter dogs. The Program will follow survivor-dog pairs from matching through adoption, with the potential for certification of dogs as emotional support animals, therapy dogs and/or service dogs.

The inspiration for Justice Heals came from both survivors and Justice, a canine advocate who works with survivors at the MSU Center for Survivors.

“Justice Heals will provide sexual assault survivors with another option to work through their trauma,” Fedewa said. “Our goal for survivors in this program is for them to feel less isolated, to reduce their trauma symptoms, and to feel more connected to and supported by our community.”

Just like people, animals also suffer from trauma and many emotional and behavioral disorders. Justice is under the care of Hopfensperger, a veterinary behaviorist, for treatment of generalized anxiety. Survivors engaging with Justice found comfort in her behavioral health plan, so Hopfensperger partnered with the directors of the Center for Survivors and Veterinary Social Work Services to explore the reciprocal benefits of animal-assisted intervention for survivors on a wider scale.

“As a veterinary behaviorist, this program is a unique opportunity to look at the relationships that develop between sexual assault survivors and shelter animals during the healing process,” Hopfensperger said. “This approach allows us to create programming that is mutually beneficial for both populations.”

MSU is uniquely positioned to develop Justice Heals because of its expertise and resources available on campus through an established Veterinary Social Work Program, a Center for Survivors and a Veterinary Behavior Service. This collaboration is an opportunity to create a wide-reaching program that not only aids in the recovery for survivors on campus, but also has the potential to expand beyond the University to any community.

“As a veterinary social worker, I’m excited about this collaboration and opportunity to deepen my work with the human-animal bond and animal-assisted interactions,” Spedoske said. “Justice Heals will focus on supporting a trauma-informed, mutually beneficial relationship between survivors and shelter animals. I’m grateful for this amazing opportunity to tackle serious issues, while growing as a leader.”

Justice Heals plans to use a One Welfare model to measure the effectiveness for engaged survivors and participant dogs, with the goal to translate this model to any community that has shelter dogs in need and survivors who could benefit.

Emily Lenhard and Caroline Brooks Via MSU TODAY

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