College of Veterinary Medicine

Veterinary Medical Center

Veterinary Social Services


The University of Minnesota Veterinary Medical Center (VMC) recognizes the unique and enduring bonds that form between people and their animals – animals who are family members, confidantes, partners, and best friends. When these bonds are tested by illness, behavior problems, injury, or death, it can feel overwhelming.

As an important part of the veterinary team, our social workers are here to care for "the other end of the leash" (or lead rope): You

Are you a social service provider or veterinary professional looking for professional consultation, training, or resources related to human-animal relationships? Please call us. We can help.

CVMVMC2 - Asset - 2013 Social Services Team
Pictured from left to right: Natalie Lieferman, Athena Diesch, Abby Foley

Athena Diesch, MSW, LGSW

Athena earned her master of social work degree from the University of Minnesota in 2011 and is currently licensed at the graduate level in the state of Minnesota. As an Intern in the University's Veterinary Social Services program, Athena learned from the founder of the program, discovering her calling and passion for veterinary social work. Athena continues to attend to the "heart work" of veterinary medicine that was started at the Veterinary Medical Center many years ago.

Athena has a wide range of professional interests, including crisis intervention and debriefing, group work, and family medical therapy. She delivers training on the topic of human-animal relationships to veterinary professionals, animal welfare organizations, and social service providers throughout Minnesota.

Abby Foley, MSW Intern

Abby is currently perusing her Master’s degree in Social Work at the University of Minnesota. Abby graduated from Winona State University with a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work and a minor in Sociology. Abby has experience working with the geriatric population in skilled nursing facilities as well as home-based care.

Abby has a love for animals, which led her to an internship at the VMC. Abby is interested to see how her background in Social Work can help people through some of the most difficult decisions they may have been faced with for their pet. Understanding that pets hold a different role in each person’s life, Abby hopes to learn a lot about the human-animal bond and how she can be an effective part of the SWS team.


Natalie Leiferman, MSW Intern

Natalie is currently pursing her Masters degree in Social Work within the joint program at St. Catherine University and St. Thomas University. Natalie graduated from Winona State University with a bachelor's degree in Psychology, Minor in Sociology and Women's and Gender Studies. Natalie has experience working as a senior case manager, co-facilitating a support group for former homeless elderly and works as a habilitation counselor for adults with developmental disabilities and mental illness.

Natalie's love for animals, understanding of the strong human-animal connection, interest in group therapy and passion for seniors have all led to her becoming an intern with VMC. Natalie looks forward to this new journey and hopes to positively impact the lives of many animal lovers.


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  • Last modified on July 3, 2013