October 20, 2011
What Is Pets for Life?
The HSUS's expanded program builds humane communities by helping animals and the people who love them
Our Pets for Life program has evolved into an exciting new community-outreach effort that uses innovative strategies to save pets by helping communities that—because of economic, social, linguistic, or cultural factors—don’t have access to pet-care information, resources, or veterinary and related services, despite an often great need.
The goal of PFL (formerly known as Building Humane Communities) is to reduce suffering and cruelty, prevent shelter overpopulation, and promote veterinary care, thus improving the lives of people and animals in under-served communities.
It started in the Gulf Coast
Our close work with people in the Gulf Coast region laid the foundation for the PFL program. As we helped the residents of the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina devastated the region in 2006—leaving thousands of dogs and cats in need of rescue—we found a high rate of unsterilized pets and layers of other animal welfare problems resulting from a lack of accessible and affordable services. The need for a comprehensive approach was obvious.
Research shows that cost is the number-one reason owners of unaltered pets don’t sterilize their animal companions. Our subsequent campaign focused on overcoming this and other obstacles that prevent people from spaying or neutering pets or seek other essential veterinary care. The Gulf Coast campaign was successful because the human caretakers of the pets we were trying to reach offered valuable insights, and we listened.
Dogfighting is a scourge in many communities. In 2006 The HSUS’s End Dogfighting campaign began working in urban areas to provide positive alternatives for people and dogs at risk of being—or already involved in—this form of cruelty. What our teams in Chicago, Atlanta, and Philadelphia learned is that dogfighting doesn't exist in a vacuum: It’s part of the larger context of violence that plagues many under-served communities.
We have found that we can prevent dogfighting best when we address animal welfare needs more broadly, providing assistance to people and pets to strengthen the human-animal bond. Our teams will continue to work to stop street dog fighting while offering a comprehensive set of services to all companion animals under the Pets for Life program.
New tools for a changing world
Here’s a snapshot of the U.S. in the 21st century: One in six Americans lives in poverty, one in five Americans speak a language other than English at home, and 6 out of 10 U.S. households include at least one pet. As our cultural landscape changes, so must our approaches to addressing animal welfare in our communities.
We’ve combined the valuable lessons our program staff have learned over time with innovative strategies for reaching new audiences. We are meeting people where they are, instead of waiting for them to come to us—building relationships and giving people and pets life-changing resources.
Working in—and empowering—communities
The Pets for Life program has staff on the ground in a growing list of cities: Chicago, Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Los Angeles. Our team also provides guidance and mentorship to other communities that want to implement innovative programs of a similar nature. PFL embraces the human component of the human-animal equation by approaching people in a respectful way and recognizing that people love their pets, no matter what their socio-economic circumstances or cultural differences may be.
PFL provides ongoing neighborhood outreach, plans community-wide events, and offers free or very low cost services such as dog training, humane education, spay/neuter surgeries, and wellness care. We strive for partnerships with animal welfare organizations and other important community leaders and service providers including faith-based entities, social service programs, health care agencies, and local businesses.
PFL also develops tools for and offers training and mentorship to other animal welfare organizations. The PFL interactive toolkit was introduced at the beginning of Animal Care Expo 2012 in Las Vegas, where we will be providing extensive training.
Reducing animal and human suffering
PFL is based on the fundamental understanding that where there is human suffering, there is animal suffering. To respond effectively to this, we must reach out to an audience that has the least access to information about animal wellness.
Building trustful relationships with people and their pets, making information and resources affordable and easy to access, and establishing an ongoing presence in areas where people conduct their lives are all critical to having a real impact. Experience has shown us that when we extend our compassion to humans as well as other animals and extend resources where needed, we can create long-term and meaningful social change.