On Thursday at the LAAS Harbor Shelter, our counselor Amanda met “Queen” and her person who is currently experiencing homelessness. Although she is not staying on the streets, she is “couch surfing” staying with friends. She came to the shelter because she was contemplating surrendering 2 year old Queen due to her chronic ear infection, and now even worse, a ear hematoma. Knowing that she could not afford veterinary care, she had no way of charging on a credit card, or borrowing from friends or family. The little money that she makes working, she had spent on Queen’s care, but even with some care, her ears got worse. Because she loves Queen so much, she believed that her dog deserved a better life with someone who could afford the veterinary care Queen desperately needed. Her only known option was surrendering her dog to the Harbor Shelter, which is something she never wanted to do. Queen has been her “rock” during a difficult period in her life, she loves and needs Queen in order to get by one day at a time, but she could not continue to watch this beautiful soul suffer.
It took a great deal of courage to come to the shelter, to put her dog’s needs before her own. Shelter staff referred her to Amanda who actively listened to what she was going through, without judging how Queen looked. Amanda was able to offer an alternative to surrendering Queen. DDR could help her register for AlignCare and guide her through a treatment plan for Queen, paying for whatever she was not able to afford. Like Queen’s person, maybe you have never heard of AlignCare. https://www.aligncarehealth.org/main This program that DDR is part of, helps families with pets, who live in poverty, access veterinary care, much like MediCal for people. The program works like this: Veterinarians who join the program agree to discount their services by 20%, AlignCare pays 80% and the family is responsible for paying only 20% of the cost of care. For people like Queen’s person, who cannot afford the 20%, DDR pays the family co-pay. To be clear, this is not a “hand-out”, a one-time assistance for a pet’s medical care. This is whole health. This is the future of animal welfare. Once a family is enrolled into the AlignCare program, our counselor Amanda leads the enrollment efforts, the family forms a relationship with a veterinarian, their pet can access care when needed without waiting for a pop-up clinic, or some free pet fair that may or may not be able to assist them. AlignCare puts the access to veterinarian care where it should be, directly with the low income family who needs it.
Friday, Queen had her first appointment and will have surgery soon to repair her ear. It will be a series of treatments, medications, exams and rechecks to get her ears in healthy shape, but with the AlignCare program and DDR, there will be no reason for Queen to be surrendered to the shelter. Her person now has access to veterinarian care, and connection to a compassionate group of people who not only support Queen, but we want to help Queen’s person in every way possible that she wants us to. The connection to someone, a group, that provides access to care is what it’s going to take to stop the flow of animals being surrendered to shelters everyday. There is no way to adopt our way out of the crisis. Connecting with the community, meeting people where they are at, asking how we can be of service, and supporting their goals is the type of work that takes a great deal of compassion.
Another thing that is desperately needed is funding, and access to the people who make governmental decisions on a local and state level. Of course this program is expensive to run, but on average it is far less expensive to assist a family with a pet, preventing the pet from entering a shelter (average medical cost is under $300 per pet). For far too long there has been a narrative that poor people can’t be trusted, don’t deserve pets, are not committed to their pets, therefore their pets deserve a “better home” We ask, where? Where are these “better homes”????? The best home for pets is their home with their family, and as animal welfare recognizes this fact, DDR continues to support our people with pets, especially those who live in 90001, 90002, 90011, 90059, and 90061, which are some of the poorest, most under resourced areas of Los Angeles.
If you are not familiar with those zip codes, they all border the 110 freeway in South Central Los Angeles, where in Watts, there isn’t one animal hospital or clinic. The aforementioned zip codes also account for some of the highest intake, owner surrender rates at shelters. So high that even though Watts is closer to the South LA Shelter, their shelter is the Harbor shelter, and for 90011 which is very close to the South LA Shelter, their shelter is the North Central Shelter. When we look at our shelter crisis, we too often look at each shelter and what the outcome of the pets are without looking at where and why the pets are coming to the shelter. We would argue that the Harbor Shelter isn’t full of pets from San Pedro, pets from Watts make up a large percentage. Same for North Central, 90011, one of the poorest, dense neighborhoods takes pets into that shelter, not the South LA Shelter which is already the shelter with the most need for additional resources.
How can you help? You can donate, but you can also speak to your council member, county supervisor, and let them know that AlignCare needs to be part of the animal services annual budget. AlignCare is a holistic approach to keeping families together whether they are two or four legged, they are our family.