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Let’s Get Behind Programs That Help Low-Income Families Keep Their Pets

Pets for Life and the Shelter Intervention Program help out with a variety of pet care costs to keep people from surrendering their dogs and cats for financial reasons.

Kezia Willingham  |  Feb 24th 2016


Few things tug at my heartstrings more than hearing stories of people who are forced to give up their pets simply because they cannot afford them. With an estimated 1.2 million dogs euthanized every year, it frustrates me that some pets wind up in shelters simply because of a lack of money. As 46.7 million people live in poverty in the United States, it makes sense to have resources available for low-income pet owners.

Although people of all socioeconomic backgrounds willingly relinquish care of their pets because of the inconvenience involved in caring for them, there are plenty of people who would do anything to keep their pets but have run out of resources. Tragically, they have to give away their beloved animals when their options disappear.

My kids, Justin and Zinnia, with our dogs Daisy, Lilly, and May Belle. Families should be able to stay together, including our pets. Photo by Kezia Willingham.

My kids, Justin and Zinnia, with our dogs Daisy, Lilly, and May Belle. Families should be able to stay together, and that includes pets. (Photo by Kezia Willingham)

As anyone with a cat or dog knows, the costs associated with caring for a pet can quickly mount. For individuals and families living on a restricted budget, these costs can become barriers to maintaining a good quality of life for their furry family members.

Fortunately, programs such as Pets for Life, run by the Humane Society of the United States, help remove some of these barriers in order to keep pets and their humans together when times are tough.

The Humane Society of the United States says one in six Americans live in poverty and that six out of 10 U.S. households include at least one pet. To help meet the needs of these people, Pets for Life partners with local community organizations in underserved communities to provide free spay and neuters surgeries, vaccinations, transportation, dog training classes, and various other additional services as needed. Pets for Life is currently at work throughout the country and operates direct-care programs in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia.

Perhaps this shelter dog could have stayed with home with a little help from a Pets for Life type of program. Photo by Kezia Willingham.

Perhaps this shelter dog at Regional Animal Services of King County & Seattle Humane Society could have stayed at home with a little help from a Pets for Life-type of program. (Photo by Kezia Willingham)

Similar efforts that have been gaining attention include the Shelter Intervention Program in Los Angeles, operated in partnership with Downtown Dog Rescue. Started by Downtown’s Lori Weise, its goal is to keep low-income pets and their people together.

The program works like this: When people come to surrender their dog at animal control, it matches them with an intervention counselor, who listens to their problems and offers solutions, which may range from fee assistance, pet care costs, even home repairs like building fences, all in an effort to allow dogs to remain at home with their people. These interventions prevent unnecessary shelter impounds and save unadopted animals from being euthanized.

In 2015, the program prevented 1,272 pets from being impounded in South L.A. alone. This number included 1,163 dogs, 108 cats, and one rabbit. A whopping 79 percent of these pet owners needed help affording pet care, from spay/neuter to dental procedures to other veterinary services.

Photo by Kezia Willingham.

Perhaps a Shelter Intervention Program in Seattle could have helped this shelter dog stay at home. (Photo by Kezia Willingham)

As someone who has spent the all of her life on the lower-income financial spectrum (although I am finally lower-middle class now!), I know firsthand what it’s like to have life choices restricted by your access to cash. I also know that one’s lack of funds does not equate a lack of care or compassion for our family members, whether they are human, feline, or canine.

It’s in the best interest of every community to embrace the philosophy of these groups to help keep beloved pets with their families. No person should have to part with her pet for purely financial reasons. True love is hard to find in this life, and sometimes the bonds we form with animals are the truest we ever experience.

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About the Author:  Also known as the Breadwinning Laundry Queen, Kezia Willingham is a former high school dropout and single mother on welfare who now holds two college degrees and works for an urban Head Start program as a Health Coordinator.  She’s a regular contributor to Catster and Dogster.  Kezia lives in Seattle with her family, which includes a pack of rescued cats and dogs.  You can follow her on Twitter.