Many communities hit hardest by the coronavirus crisis are those that were already underserved. These are the communities that have high rates of poverty and limited access to veterinary and other pet care services but where we see so much love and heartwarming bonds between people and their animals. It’s the reason we created our Pets for Life program nine years ago, to increase access to pet resources and provide services at no cost so pets and their families can stay together.
Now, with a pandemic raging across the country, this work has become more important than ever.
With lockdowns in place in most states, supplies and services are harder than ever to access. Since early March, our Pets for Life team and mentorship partners around the country have been out helping the people and pets who are extremely vulnerable during the pandemic. We are on the ground providing them the support they need, from urgent veterinary care and pet food to other supplies like cat litter and crates.
Pets for Life has a large footprint at our flagship locations in Philadelphia and Los Angeles where Humane Society of the United States staff runs this program, and in 50 more communities through mentoring programs and grants. During the crisis, we have taken our services to pet owners in places ranging from a halfway house and a homeless encampment in Los Angeles to Native American land in Montana and Minnesota, and from city neighborhoods in Philadelphia to some of the remotest lands in Alaska.
This is especially rewarding work, because we see firsthand the impact it has on individuals and their beloved animals—people like Amalia, who lives in North Philadelphia and suffers from many health issues, which make it difficult for her to get around. She has two dogs, Fiero and Galan, and a bird, Jay, who are everything to her. Pets for Life has been providing Amalia’s pets with services for five years, and last month, as the lockdowns began, we made sure she had enough bird and dog food and other supplies to last her for months.
In late March, we were in Alaskan Native villages in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, where the only way pet owners can get access to resources is by traveling by boat or plane to the nearest town, Bethel. The cost of shipping in supplies is high, which means it is difficult for most to afford food and other items . But there are hundreds of dogs living in this area, and with help from the ASPCA we were able to get more than 8,000 pounds of food to our local mentorship partner, Bethel Friends of Canines, to distribute as needed to dog owners in the villages. One pet owner sent us this heartwarming note: “Thanks to you guys my dog got her life now, she was weak and very light and now is doing awesome.”
In early April, at Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe in Minnesota, the tribal police department that runs the Pets for Life program distributed pet food and people food to members of the community. Within an hour, the team had provided food to more than 100 families.
Even as we do this lifesaving work, we are taking steps to ensure that we protect the health of our staff and the community. During normal times, we and our partner organizations go door to door, building trusting relationships with pet owners and a consistent community presence. During the pandemic, we are checking in with people via phone and text. When out in the community to provide supplies, we wear personal protective equipment at all times and make no-contact deliveries.
As of last month, our Pets for Life program has served more than 200,000 pets and their people. That number will continue to increase during the pandemic and because of rising unemployment. We will continue to connect with people and bring them resources and supplies for their pets and with your support we’ll reach many more. This unique program that honors and celebrates the human-animal bond has helped save tens of thousands of lives, and it is more needed than ever in these difficult times.