MISSION, Kan. — If you needed to go to the hospital for an extended period of time, who would step up to take care of your pets while you’re away? It’s a question that keeps many people from getting the help they need.
According to a recent survey of Johnson County Mental Health Center (JCMHC) employees, approximately 71% of staff say in the last six months they’ve had at least one patient decline treatment, because they didn’t have anyone to take care of their pet.
To accommodate the growing need for pet support, JCMHC has partnered with the Kansas City based company BestyBnB to help people find temporary foster homes for their pets while they receive mental health treatment or undergo addiction recovery.
BestyBnB Co-Founder Andy Bond said the digital platform was originally created to help people in domestic violence situations find safe, temporary housing for their pets. Now the company is expanding its service to help remove similar barriers for people seeking out mental health support.
“Our whole goal and mission with this company is to remove barriers for people seeking safety, seeking help for themselves,” Bond said. “Johnson County Mental Health is the first mental health provider, mental health organization in the country to implement a pet program.”
How it works:
A case manager or clinician from JCMHC can use the BestyBnB app to find a trained, vetted pet caregiver to look after the pet while its owner gets treatment. Because every person has different treatment needs, the program is designed to be flexible to provide both short-term and long-term pet care.
“If it’s a day or a month, the platform can handle it,” Bond said.
Bond said additional security measures have been built into the BestyBnB platform to keep users’ identity and location private.
While undergoing treatment, pet owners won’t be left in the dark about what is happening with their furry companion. The program allows pet caregivers to send messages and upload photos of the animal for the owner to view while they’re away.
“That human animal bond is extremely important. We went to a lot of lengths to make sure that the next best thing to that pet crawling up in the patient’s lap at the end of the day, we enable through the technology,” Bond said. “They have a secure and confidential, anonymous platform that they can communicate with that pet caregiver and receive text updates.”
Johnson County Mental Health Center Director Tim DeWeese said he’s hopeful the year-long pilot program will help staff better understand the need for these types of services going forward.
“In some cases that may be the one thing that is important to them, that may have them reach out for help or be willing to get help,” DeWeese said. “When they know that their pet’s going to be taken care of, then they’ll take care of themselves.”
Becoming a Pet Caregiver:
To become a pet caregiver applicants must complete a background check and training before setting up a BestyBnB profile.
“We double check to make sure there is no history of abuse of people or of pets. We’re taking that onus off of our partners at Johnson County Mental Health,” Bond said.
After the application process is complete, pet caregivers set up their own profiles to provide information on their experience caring for animals and list preferences for what types of animals they are willing to work with. The caregiver will also list the cost of their service.
Bond said pet caregivers can donate their services to healthcare providers like JCMHC or can set a daily rate to provide pet care for people traveling for work or vacation.
“They keep all of the money that they set on that rate. We don’t take a percentage or anything of that. It really is as flexible as the pet caregiver wants to make it,” Bond said.
DeWeese said the nonprofit Friends of Johnson County Mental Health will cover the cost for JCMHC clients’ pets to stay in temporary foster homes for up to 30 days. The nonprofit will also cover the cost of supplies like food, medicine and carriers.