Program Brings Care to Pets in Need in Their Own Backyards

Neighborly approach opens doors and minds

Stray dog in front yardFedra Chapa spends most of her weekends knocking on doors in underserved neighborhoods in San Antonio, Texas. She hopes to meet residents who need help caring for their cats and dogs.

“There's really never a time that I'm out here that I don't see at least a pack or 2 of dogs on any given block,” she said. “Some of the dogs running loose are strays, but some are owned dogs who are allowed to roam. These dogs generally aren’t fixed and contribute to the pet population problem.”

Fedra drops off informational flyers on doorsteps, and if she’s lucky, visits with pet owners to discuss the Pets for Life program.

Developed by the Humane Society of the United States and fully funded by PetSmart Charities® since 2013, the Pets for Life program offers accessible and free pet care services, like spay/neuter surgeries and vaccinations, to residents in neighborhoods where resources are lacking.

As program coordinator, Fedra feels the grassroots approach opens doors to more conversations about responsible pet care.

“People love to talk to me about their pets and will often invite me into their homes,” she said. “They love to show me photo albums of their pets and talk about how much they love them. If I talk to 10 pet owners in one day, I’m making good progress.”

Woman approaching stray puppy on streetSan Antonio native understands problems firsthand

Fedra grew up in these San Antonio neighborhoods so she understands first-hand the economic challenges many residents face in providing for their pets.

“Most of these people want to get their pets fixed, but just don’t have the money to do it,” said Fedra. “They're barely making ends meet. If they have children, they're barely providing for their families. They’re living paycheck to paycheck. So if they have cats and dogs, which they usually do, the pets’ needs sort of come second to everything else.”

Yet every day, Fedra witnesses the kindness of residents who can’t stand to see a hungry pet out on the street, and who will take a cat or dog into their family, even if they can’t afford it.

“They have a heart for pets; they just don't have the money to be perfect pet owners,” said Fedra.

That’s where the Pets for Life program helps. In addition to providing free spay/neuter surgeries, vaccinations, and sometimes even food and leashes, Pets for Life also offers transportation for pets to and from spay/neuter clinics.

“Many people don’t have cars — or have working cars,” said Fedra. “People are so thankful and can’t believe someone will do this for them.”

Portrait of Fedra Chapa, Pets For Life Coordinator in San AntonioGradually, program makes a difference

In 2014, Fedra met residents and facilitated Pets for Life services for more than 500 cats and dogs.

“That may seem small in scale to other projects, but I know we prevented hundreds of puppies and kittens from being born,” said Fedra. “It’s making a difference in the neighborhoods that need it most. I think over time residents will see what spaying and neutering slowly but surely does for the neighborhood.”

Fedra’s earned a master’s degree in public administration, and will graduate with a second master’s degree in urban and regional planning in 2016. Though she’s certainly busy, she feels that her job as the Pets for Life coordinator is “the best job ever.” She knows she’s getting valuable experience in helping her neighbors with services they want and need for their pets. 

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