Lori and Shira Rich were regulars on the volunteer scene in Riverside, California, when they started to notice something no one else seemed to be bothered by. “My teen daughter, Shira, and I would often stop to give food to homeless people, when we realized that some of them were living on the streets with their pets,” Lori said. “My daughter was a regular volunteer at the local animal shelter, and we both volunteered at adoption events, but when we saw this we wanted to do more.”
The mother-daughter team started carrying around water, treats, and fleece blankets for the pets of homeless owners that they would encounter on the streets. “We would stop for people who appeared to be living on the streets and had an animal with them,” Lori said. “The more we drove around Riverside, the more people and dogs we would see.”
It wasn’t long though before Shira wanted to provide more than just food, water, and blankets. “But it was getting expensive,” her mom said. “When the idea of spaying and neutering the pets came up, I started talking on Facebook about what we were doing to let people know what our mission was, and it just took off from there!”
Using Facebook to promote their cause, Lori updates their followers daily on what they need for the pets they are helping. “People have been very generous in making monetary and supply donations,” she said. “Some people donate for a specific pet they have seen on our page, or ask that their donation go toward the Lifeline Spay and Neuter Clinic.”
However the donations come in, Lori and Shira are thrilled with what they have been able to do with the support. At first, before they had a donated storage unit, the support was so overwhelming they had to get creative. “During that first summer, we began setting up monthly ‘street stores.’ At the Calvary Church Sunday night feedings, everything was ‘free’ for the taking,” Lori explained. “We took all the excess donations that were too much for us to pass out on the streets and put it on tables along with pet food so people could take what they need.”
They have come a long way since that first summer, and a year after first starting their street work, they filed to become an actual 501c3 nonprofit. “We did not apply right away because quite frankly we had no idea we were going to take this so far!” But here they are in 2015, and Taking It to the Streets With Lori and Shira is a full-fledged nonprofit organization with one main mission: to take care of what they call “street dogs.”
These days, with Shira away at UC Santa Barbara, Lori travels sometimes more than 80 miles a day to provide food to pets of homeless owners, as well as snacks, socks, and hygiene products to their human counterparts. When the budget allows, she also arranges to have the dogs vaccinated, licensed, chipped, and spayed or neutered. As Lori explained, “We try to get funding for as many pets as we can by posting photos of the dogs and their needs on our Facebook page. When donations match the financial need to make that happen, we take the animals to the Lifeline Spay and Neuter Clinic, and if possible we put them and their owners in a pet-friendly motel for the night so they can all rest in a clean and safe environment after the surgery.”
Unfortunately, although the need is great and the mission is clear, their cause has not always been well-received, said Lori.
“What has surprised me in a negative way is the anger the some people feel about us doing this work. They equate us to a ‘bad rescue’ and don’t find anything positive in what we are doing. Aside from the fact that we have done so much to stop breeding practices in the homeless community (which also impacts our community at large), we are helping pets that are in need. There’s a sad misconception that we are enabling their homelessness, but as my daughter so eloquently put it one day, ‘You cannot enable an animal.’ I wish people understood the bonds that these homeless people and their pets have, and even more importantly, I wish they understood that being homeless doesn’t make someone a bad pet owner — just like having a home doesn’t make someone a good one. What we consider a good life for a pet is not necessarily what makes a pet’s life good. We see that all the time with dogs who seem to have nothing yet are so well-behaved and loyal to their owner and so loving to those who show them kindness.”
Thankfully, the negative opinions are few and far in between, as is proven not only by the continuous support of their community but also by the calls that come in from city and county agencies requesting their help. But as the need for their assistance grows, so do the needs to keep their organization up and running.
“We are in desperate need of food and supply donors,” Lori said. “We need funding to continue to spay and neuter the dogs. Also, our vehicle has well over 119,000 miles on it, and it is requiring a lot of funding to keep repairing it.”
Because of the specialty of its services, the organization doesn’t qualify for many grants and is left to rely primarily on the support of the public. “We are not a spay-and-neuter clinic, and we do not adopt out the pets, so we get stopped cold in the middle of many grant applications because we do not fit into a specific mold. We are unique, but that does not work in our favor,” Lori explained.
Although Taking It to the Streets has its challenges, Lori isn’t about to let that stop her from continuing on in the mission she and Shira started. Even with a team of 10 volunteers, Lori still shoulders most of the day-to-day street work, but she doesn’t mind. “This is a 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week job, with the exception of the very little sleep I get,” Lori said. “We will do the work as long as we have what we need to go out there daily. ‘Our motto is Spread a Little Kindness Today,’ and we work to do that every day with the pets we help.”
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About the author: Eden Strong is a quirky young woman with a love for most animals with fur. Read her blog, It Is Not My Shame to Bear.