December 8, 2013
A Day In The Life
Don't let the exterior of this little building in Atlanta, Georgia fool you. It may be plain on the outside, but the inside is full of great energy and state of the art thinking. Pets for Life, an HSUS program, is stationed here, with the goal of bringing spay/neuter along with other pet services to the folks in this underserved neighborhood. There are no big box stores here, no major chain grocery stores, and no veterinary clinics. There are neighborhood convenience stores, lots of people, and lots of dogs and cats. Lots and lots of dogs and cats.
Although the HSUS building is home base for the Pets for Life program, you won't find the employees there very often. They spend their days out and about in the streets, giving away free spay/neuter services and ways to improve the quality of life for both pets and people.
I was lucky enough to join them yesterday, along with folks from Memphis, Dallas, and San Antonio. We broke into small groups, and headed out. With HSUS veteran Rachel leading the way, our first stop was at an apartment complex. Her "usual customers" were not home, but soon enough she spotted a dog new to the complex and not in the Pets for Life system.
We knocked heartily on the door, announced why we were there, and were welcomed into the apartment. It was dark inside and the 3 guys in their 20's were just getting up- one was still in boxer shorts, one halfway dressed, and one sleeping on a mattress on the floor.
They told us that they were planning to breed her, and Rachael plopped herself on the floor next to the guy on the mattress and spoke to them like they were old friends. She told the usual reasons why they should not do so, and then she pulled out a laminated sheet of all the pit bulls at the Atlanta pound who would most likely be killed.
Shoulders visibly lowered, minds started wrapping around the big picture, and hearts softened. Guy Number 2 rolled over from the mattress on the floor he was sleeping on, and said "I vote to spay her". The rest was easy- a voucher was given for free spay, vaccinations, and microchip, with an appointment for the next Tuesday. Diamond's owners will get a reminder call on Monday, and a follow up call after her surgery. The best part? Diamond will be a member of the Pets for Life family and have available medical resources, and her owners will have a positive experience and will be more likely to form a lifelong bond with her. She will be healthier, and so will they.
Our next stop was a few streets over, and it was my turn to knock on the door. I gave it two shots and soon a little lady peeped through the curtains in the window. She shook her head "no no" until we added "usted habla español?" She smiled, "Ahh- si" and came out of the house holding a cute, fluffy white dog. She was completely on board with neutering him, and soon her daughter came out of the house holding a tiny Chihuahua "puede conseguir hecho demasiado (can he get done too)?
The answer, of course, was yes.
Just about every house on the street had animals, and in an hour, we signed up four more dogs, including the Chihuahua's sister who lived 2 doors up. Her owner's name was Victor, and although a bit skeptical at first, we ended up friends, and Rachael will see to it that his dog has her spay surgery this Tuesday.
Data shows that increasing access and removing cost barriers to animal care and veterinary services for pet owners in underserved areas will improve community animal health and reduce shelter overpopulation. What we have learned:
More than half—53 percent—of the owners of unaltered pets surveyed had never seen a veterinarian before. There is a growing gap between underserved pet owners and veterinary service providers and this has severe consequences for companion animal overpopulation and overall health.
The vast majority, 87 percent, of attendees at Pets for Life events had never contacted their local animal control or animal shelter organization for any reason. It is critical for leaders in the animal welfare field to recognize the unmet needs in their communities and the impact on companion animal health and overpopulation.
Meeting people in the neighborhoods where they live, and marketing services strategically using canvassing and community organizing techniques, is much more effective than traditional advertising in reaching owners of unaltered pets in underserved communities. Adequate follow-up is critical to build relationships and ensure that animal veterinary needs are met.
At Angels of Assisi, we recognize that pets cross all social and economic barriers, and we're gearing up to help. Stay tuned!