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Duchess, an assistance dog with cancer, was given care thanks to UT's Pet Health Equity Program while her owner was hospitalized with COVID.

A New Year’s Eve phone call sparked a chain of events that resulted in a happy ending for a COVID-19 patient and his beloved assistance dog.

The man had just been admitted to UT Medical Center with COVID-19. His assistance dog, Duchess, was with him but needed a safe place to go. Complicating the situation was the fact that Duchess has cancer and requires regular medication. The patient was new to the area and didn’t know anyone who could care for Duchess, so he called AlignCare for help.

Part of the Program for Pet Health Equity at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, AlignCare had arranged palliative care for Duchess at Central Veterinary Hospital several months earlier and was providing support to her owner through its veterinary social work service.

Dr. Pamela Linden, director of veterinary social work for AlignCare, received the call around 6 p.m. on New Year’s Eve. “My first thought was that the Young-Williams Animal Center might be able to help,” she said. But Young-Williams was closed for the holiday, so Linden called Knoxville Animal Control and spoke with an officer.

“The officer suggested getting Duchess to Young-Williams, where they would meet her and get her safe and comfortable for the night to then be in the very capable hands of Young-Williams over the long holiday weekend,” Linden said. “UT Medical Center offered for hospital security to transport Duchess to meet Knoxville Animal Control at Young-Williams. I’d say that this all took place over the course of an hour and a half. I was in contact with the pet owner the entire time, reassuring him that Duchess would be well cared for. He shared that he had not been separated from 12-year old Duchess since he had gotten her as a puppy.”

Young-Williams staff worked with Central Veterinary Hospital to make sure Duchess had her medication. They kept in touch with Linden throughout Duchess’s stay, and she conveyed the updates to the pet owner so he could focus on resting and healing.

When the owner was discharged a week later, Linden arranged for his reunion with Duchess. Young-Williams worked with Knoxville Animal Control to transport Duchess home, and that evening Linden received a message of gratitude for all those who had helped during his hospitalization.

“This situation is an example of how a community can come together to provide assistance to pet owners in need,” said Linden. “AlignCare veterinary social work service, UT Medical Center nursing and security, Young-Williams Animal Center, Knoxville Animal Control, and Central Veterinary Hospital all worked in tandem to provide a level of care above and beyond what was expected. It was so rewarding to know that we helped this family in their moment of need. The Knoxville community is amazing.”

AlignCare, based in UT’s College of Social Work, is a One Health program generously funded by Maddie’s Fund and PetSmart Charities. AlignCare veterinary social workers are enrolled in or have completed a UT graduate certificate in veterinary social work. The veterinary social work program is jointly supported by UT’s Colleges of Veterinary Medicine and Social Work. Veterinary social workers attend to the human needs that arise at the intersection of veterinary and social work practice. They receive special training on the human-animal bond and work to support that bond.



Angela Thomas (865-974-8638,