In the first quarter of the South LA Shelter Intervention Program, our team which includes Amanda the full time interventionist, Downtown Dog Rescue and Angel City Pit bull Volunteers, intercepted 650 pets from entering the shelter. A really impressive number for a program that was supposed to intercept 400 pets total in 2013. However, the number only tells part of the story of what’s going on at the South LA shelter, more importantly, the South LA community as a whole.
South LA has one of the highest rates of poverty and people living without health insurance in the nation:
• Over 40% of people live below the poverty line.
• There is only 1 job for every 7 people.
• Over 400,000 residents live more than 3 miles from a hospital emergency room.
• Blacks and Latinos are twice as likely to be exposed to hazardous waste.
• Voter turnout is consistently 10-15 percentage points lower than in more affluent communities
The daily challenges of running this program can be daunting. As we aim to engage the community, we often deal with an overall mistrust of the shelter system, “all they do is catch and kill animals.” We deal with the influences that gangs have on the overall community. I recall more than one pet owner surrendering their pet to the shelter because a neighbor in a gang had threatened to do harm against their pet and or the entire family, thus they felt that the shelter was the only option for the pet to possibly find a better life, away from violence.
Failure to comply with the spay/neuter ordinance, failure to obtain a dog license, failure to secure the pet on the property due to a wobbly fence, a broken gate and failure to provide medical care are all reasons that pet owners come to us for assistance. It’s not that they don’t want to comply, they can’t afford to pay for the services. The “problem” is that simple. We can keep more pets in their homes just by offering free /low cost services, averaging our cost spent on each pet owner at $50.
Because we recognize that pet owners in South LA often have difficult lives with complex problems, a service that costs as little as $10, like a rabies vaccination, is too expensive for someone living on disability, social security or general relief. To further illustrate the level of poverty, even though the service is free, one might lack the money necessary to access the free service and feel too ashamed to admit this fact. Another challenge we face is connecting and building the trust of pet owners who are undocumented, who often won’t access services out of fear.
Our team has created a level of trust by listening to people who need help, asking them how we can serve them and then do the work. People who benefit and use the program are our biggest advocates of how the program works to empower the community of pet owners in South LA.
Standing outside the kennel area at the shelter, looking in at the hundreds of rows of runs and rooms of cages for the 300+ animals at any given time, housed at the South LA shelter, It’s easy to say “I hate all these people who dumped their animals at this shelter.” while dismissing the alarming rate of poverty and lack of resources within the community. Our team’s daily challenge is to investigate why people surrender their pets to the South LA Shelter and strategize how we can prevent more from doing so, believing that for every pet we prevent from entering the shelter we are also strengthening the community as a whole. With your support, we can continue this program and bring it to other shelters within the City of Los Angeles and beyond?
Please consider donating to Downtown Dog Rescue. All donations go straight to the program. If you haven’t already, please follow us on Facebook and/or Twitter. You can also help by continuing to spread the word. Downtown Dog Rescue is a non-profit 501C3 (#46-1958507) tax deductible charity.