Dr. Michelle Lem


Veterinary Social Worker

Professional Experience:

  • Graduated from Ontario Veterinary College (DVM)
  • Master of Science in Population Medicine (MSc)
  • Master of Social Work (MSW)

Dr. Michelle Lem is a registered social worker and veterinary social worker at Capital City Specialty & Emergency Hospital, as well as being a practicing small animal veterinarian with over 20 years of experience. Michelle graduated from Ontario Veterinary College in 2001. Michelle’s passion for supporting the deep connection between people and their pets through social work stemmed from her work as founder of Community Veterinary Outreach (CVO). CVO is a registered charity that provides accessible and compassionate care for both people and their beloved pets experiencing homelessness and housing vulnerability across Canada. This work led her to pursue a Master of Science degree in Population Medicine in 2012, studying the effects of pet ownership on street-involved youth. Michelle received her Master of Social Work from Carleton University in 2018, where she focused on community capacity building, wellbeing in the veterinary profession, and One Health approaches to intervention and practice. Michelle is certified in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and has advanced training in narrative therapy and motivational interviewing. Michelle worked in private clinical social work practice until 2022 and was the lead on the development the Animal Care Guidelines for Emergency Co-Sheltering and a Risk Assessment for Companion Animals in Domestic Violence. Michelle has led equine assisted learning (EAL) to support women and youth who have experienced trauma.

Her work and research have been published in peer-reviewed journals including the Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare, Anthrozoös, the Canadian Veterinary Journal, Canadian Journal of Public Health, Journal of Social Distress and the Homeless, Animals, Canadian Journal of Dental Hygiene, and Preventive Veterinary Medicine. Michelle is the recipient of numerous awards including the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, World Small Animal Veterinary Association’s Global One Health Award, and the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association Presidents Award. Michelle is an Ashoka Fellow for innovation in health care delivery.

Dr. Lem is looking forward to providing her support for owners and staff at Capital City Specialty & Emergency Hospital. As our veterinary social worker, she is an active member of the veterinary team and provides several services for both owners and veterinary team members.

Support for clients include:

  • Offering emotional support during diagnostic testing, treatment, and helping clients navigate difficult decision-making and/or end of life care
  • Helping clients communicate questions to the veterinary medical team
  • Providing clients with referrals to community supports if needed
  • Helping clients communicate their animal’s illness or death to their children or other family members
  • Supporting clients through grief and loss of their pet
  • Supporting clients experiencing animal caregiver stress and fatigue
  • Supporting one welfare principles and addressing concerns and needs for support within this framework
  • Offering and providing resources on topics such as anticipatory grief and pet loss

Supports for the veterinary healthcare team (all hospital employees) include:

  • Providing support and debriefing after difficult situations
  • Offering crisis support and referral to ongoing counseling and/or community supports
  • Providing continuing education and in-house workshops on a variety of topics, such as communication, wellness, empathy fatigue and burnout, setting boundaries, etc.
  • Providing consultation on unclear situations, such as ethical considerations, animal abuse reporting, etc.

Recent Publications

Jennings BM, Lem M, Kilborn S, et al. Improving oral health care accessibility for homeless and vulnerably housed pet-owning populations. Can J Dent Hyg. 2022;56:98-103.

French SK, Pearl DL, Lem M, et al. Understanding the associations between owner and pet demographics on pet body condition among those experiencing homelessness and housing vulnerability in Canada. Pre Vet Med. 2021;195:105454.

Kerman N, Lem M, Witte M, et al. A Multilevel Intervention Framework for Supporting People Experiencing Homelessness with Pets. Animals. 2020;10:1869.

Lem M. Serving homeless populations through a One Health approach. Can Vet J. 2019;60:1119-1120.

Kerman N, Gran-Ruaz S, Lem M. Pet ownership and homelessness: a scoping review. J Soc Distress Homeless. 2019;28:1-9.

Recent Presentations

Lem M. Street Vet UK Conference, 2022.

Lem M. In Praise of Good Enough. Canadian Virtual Veterinary Symposium, 2019.

Lem M. 1) Serving Homeless Populations Through a One Health Approach; 2) Barriers to Accessible Care. World Small Animal Veterinary Association Congress / Canadian Veterinary Medical Association Convention, Toronto, 2019.

Kilborn S, Lem M, Panning C, et al. Veterinary Care as a Gateway to Smoking Cessation: One Health in Action. Poster presentation at the Ottawa Model for Smoking Cessation Annual Conference: State of the Art Clinical Approaches to Smoking Cessation, 2019.

Lem M, Wasson E. Promising Practices in Assessment: The Companion Animal Risk Assessment Tool. 5th International Veterinary Social Work Summit, Knoxville, TN, 2019.