I want to share our program statistics for the South Los Angeles Shelter Intervention Program, and inform you of the great success we are experiencing at our Pet Support Space office. 2020 was a year like no other. As we entered our seventh year of Shelter Intervention (SIP), our team had been discussing how to serve the community more efficiently. The SIP began in 2013, back when 100% of the pet owners approaching our table, speaking to our counselors, were at the shelter because they believed that they had no other option, but to surrender their pet. Fast forward, seven years later, a lot has changed. When our counselors were located at the South LA Shelter, the SIP had evolved into more pet owners coming to the shelter out of desperation, seeking assistance for a wide variety of resources, with the majority being a need for veterinary care. Our counselors had evolved into case navigators, crisis counselors, who have dealt with cases where the family’s home had burned down, leaving them homeless, including their pets, to pet owners fleeing from domestic violence, to assisting pet owners who suffer from ongoing physical and mental health challenges. As I have always known, the “problem” that we were trying to “solve” was more of a poverty problem than a pet problem.
For some of you who are new supporters, I want to share an article with you written by Sandy Banks for the Los Angeles Times in 2013, back when I believed that I was solving a problem. More important, I believed that I had the answers to solve the problems that low income pet owners were challenged with https://www.latimes.com/local/la-xpm-2013-may-11-la-me-0511-banks-animalshelter-20130511-story.html
The first year of the Shelter Intervention Program was both magical and depressing at the same time. This resulted in me feeling extreme emotional highs when we could help, and emotional lows, and even anger when a pet owner “went against our plan” and surrendering their pet to the shelter behind our backs, off hours, when we didn’t have a counselor on site. In those first months, I would walk through all the shelter dog runs, looking to see how many dogs were in the shelter as owner surrenders vs. strays or personal property holds. I was on a mission to keep every dog, cat and rabbit in their first home forever home. In fact, I even wrote a book called https://www.amazon.com/First-Home-Forever-Shelter-Intervention/dp/1514343541
Then came the reality of working within a municipal shelter, and experiencing, how shelter staff, our staff, myself included, would put personalities before principles. Our shared goal of keeping pets out of the shelter, and with their families was even controversial at times, depending on who the supervisor in charge was, and how the staff accepted or didn’t accept the mission of SIP. No one had an issue with helping a deserving family was the “right ” thing when it came to their pet, who appeared to be well taken care of and loved. However, to help someone who appeared to be entitled, aggressive, or mentally ill was not always accepted widely. I struggled with being asked the question, “Why wouldn’t you work towards finding that cat or dog a better home?” and sarcastic comments such as, “That’s great that you helped this irresponsible pet owner, but what about next time?” Not everyone supported or wanted to donate to keeping a dog who had just been hit by a car with his family, or paying the shelter redemption fees for a homeless person who had been arrested. Donors often asked, “Do you know what he was arrested for?” “Do you really think that this is in the best interest of the animals?” What if we were more enabler than the supportive counselors that I knew we were, and when I write “we”, I was never on the front line at the shelter, it was always Amanda and Yesenia, who had to see so much sadness, and yet were able to celebrate the happy times with families who were beyond grateful for our services. I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that this roller coaster of emotions didn’t adversely affect my mental health.
It all changed when COVID restrictions went into place and the South LA Shelter closed to the public. We did our very best to continue to provide services even though our counselors could not go inside the shelter. First we tried setting up a table on the side walk, doing our best to meet pet owners where they were, on a particular day Listening to how they lost their job, how they feared becoming homeless, for some, homeless again, how they feared that they would not be able to feed their children, and would definitely not be able to feed their pets. For a minute there, the whole world felt like it was coming to an end. How could we continue to help so many people in crisis? Pet owners with no where to turn were abandoning their cats and dogs outside the shelter. Our counselors watched cats and dogs running loose in the streets near the shelter. Not only were shelters closed, most animal hospitals were also closed or open for very limited services, definitely no spay or neuter.
By mid April, concerned for our health both physically and mentally, for the first time in the program’s history, we took a break in May and June. We desperately needed to regroup, and come up with a new way of meeting with pet owners in crisis, and delivering services. At first, we did what we could over the phone, delivering pet food to pet owners’ homes, while it felt like what we were offering wasn’t much, it was still a lot. We had always talked about opening a counseling center off site from the shelter. A space that was open to all types of cases, and not run from the back of my car or Amanda’s car, in a park, or some temporary place that we ran our program always outdoors, even in the scorching heat, and the rainy cold days. We decided to open our Pet Support Space (PSS) office, near the South LA Shelter. We opened on July 4th, and our SIP program has evolved into PSS, open six days a week, and a 24/7 dedicated phone number that counselors assist vulnerable pet owners in crisis who live on Skid Row, in South Los Angeles, Watts, Compton, and sometimes beyond. Taking a leap of faith that we could find support, we signed a one year lease.
With a billboard on Florence and Broadway to promote our program, the phone never stopped ringing! Not only have we been able to prevent pets from entering the shelter, we offer resources and solutions that support low income pet owners so they never feel that surrendering their pet to a shelter is necessary. Thinking back to the start, I always knew that pets ended up at the shelter not because their owners “dumped” them there, or because they grew tired of their old dog and wanted to “trade” their dog in for a puppy. I knew because I have spoken to pet owners who tell me with tears in their eyes, “I wish I would have known about you guys before I took my dog to the shelter.” What will pet owners do if they have an alternative to surrendering their pet to a shelter? Now we know. I want to share our program statistics with all of you.
Shelter Intervention Program April 2013-April 2020
13,251 pets prevented from entering the South LA Shelter (11,998 dogs, 1232 cats, and 21 rabbits)
6% shelter redemptions * 3% humane euthanasia * 48% medical * 2% behavioral training * 3% legal support * 3% rehome * 34 % spay & neuter
Pet Support Space July 2020 – December 2020
1271 pets assisted through a variety of services (945 dogs and 326 cats)
2% redemptions * 1% humane euthanasia * 44% medical * 1% legal support * 38% food & supplies * 13% spay & neuter
GRAND TOTAL = 14,522 pets assisted ( 12,943 dogs 1558 cats 21 rabbits)
We could not be of service to homeless and low income families with pets without the generous and consistent support from the Michelson Found Animals Foundation and YOUR support! I want to personally thank each and everyone of you who donate monthly, who purchase pet food on our Amazon Wish List
https://www.amazon.com/hz/wishlist/ls/8WZMGM11XFGI?ref_=wl_share I’m grateful for your trust in our ability to serve some of the most vulnerable pet owners.
Wishing you all a safe and healthy 2021