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By Karen Froelich
As a foster parent, I’m drawn to the dogs who have special needs, whether it’s kidney failure, nerve damage or just plain neediness. I feel overwhelmingly fulfilled knowing that I can help a dog who others might not have been able to reach.
Perhaps that is why I became so captivated by PetSmart Charities® Pets for Life program.
Pets for Life is a program of the Humane Society of the United States that PetSmart Charities strongly supports. HSUS understands that many great pet parents do not have the resources to seek out pet care. So, they decided to reach out to these pet owners in underserved communities. Their goal was to “help pets by helping people.” So, PetSmart Charities supported the Pets for Life program by providing more than $450,000 in grant funding to 10 mentorship communities across the country.
Collaborating with communities
The Pets for Life Mentorship program supplies animal welfare organizations with the funding to grant free vaccinations, spay and neuter surgeries, and more. It also provides training through a community outreach toolkit that works as a step-by-step guide in reaching out to underserved communities. This mentorship approach enables PetSmart Charities and communities to collaborate to find solutions at national and local levels.
The program began in Philadelphia, Chicago, Atlanta and Los Angeles. In 2013, 10 animal welfare organizations were added to the program, including one in Milwaukee.
Wisconsin Humane Society makes connection
Jill Kline of the Wisconsin Humane Society has already seen an improvement in the connection between their organization and the community. People love to see their group and talk with them, now that their faces are familiar.
“We get lots of hugs!” said Jill. “People are thrilled that an organization wants to provide care for their animals. “We want people to view us as a resource…we are helping people who have needs.”
One of Jill’s most memorable stories is of a man, Nathaniel, whose car broke down on his way to get his pitbull Hershey spayed. Nathaniel was so committed to Hershey’s care, he walked four miles to drop her off for surgery, and then four miles back home.
Respect conquers judgment
For me, the beauty of the program is learning to overcome judgment and practice respect. Contrary to what some might assume, pets are rarely abused or neglected in these under-served communities. Instead, people are eager to invite you into their home and to tell you about how much they love their pets.
There was one woman who never opened her door to the Wisconsin Humane Society team (which usually never happens). Jill decided to keep leaving information at her door for months.
One day, the woman approached Jill, saying that she had been looking all over for her. The woman’s husband recently died, leaving her to care for their dog. She wanted to talk to Jill about having their dog neutered, and commented on how much the dog’s well-being meant to her husband.
Residents in these communities love to learn about how they can help their pets. “They are like a sponge,” Jill said, mentioning that the residents want to “soak up” as much information as they can.
At Wisconsin Humane Society’s first outreach event on April 27, 2013, hundreds of people brought their 376 pets to line up for treatment.
They waited patiently in line, all to care for their furry family members. Pets for Life has proved to me that no matter what one’s life situation may be, everyone cares for the pets that bring them so much joy and love.