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December 12, 2012

Taking It to the Streets, Page 5: Pets for Life Clients Become Dedicated Volunteers

PFL teams win hearts, minds, and loyal fans

All Animals magazine, January/February 2013

  • Since having her own pets spayed and neutered through Pets for Life, Betty Hill has helped sign up dozens of other neighborhood animals. Mark Makela/For The HSUS.

Brandit is an unlikely Casanova.

The 14-year-old Pomeranian is deaf. He’s going blind with cataracts. And he sits here now, shaking in the arms of his owner. Yet this small dog has fathered at least a dozen litters, earning his name by “branding” each of Betty Hill’s female Chihuahuas.

Oh, she tried. The woman Janice Poleon affectionately calls “Ms. Betty” kept Brandit fenced apart from the females in her backyard. Come wintertime, she would prop his crate up off the basement floor to keep the girls from getting to him. Still, they found a way.

Hill explored spay/neuter; the cost was just too much. But then, it also became too much, over the last two litters, to watch four tiny puppies die—the result, she’s sure, of Brandit’s age. “That’s what broke me down,” she says, “… the puppies I couldn’t save.”

And so, on her daughter’s recommendation, Hill turned to Pets for Life, which funded operations not only for Brandit but for her other six dogs and one cat. “When I got the message that they were spaying and neutering them, I thought that was a blessed thing,” she says. “... So what I did [was] tried to instill that around somebody else maybe who thought the same way I did.”

Clearly, the woman is now on a mission.

“When I got the message that they were spaying and neutering them, I thought that was a blessed thing.”

Hill has single-handedly helped Pets for Life sign up an additional 48 animals for spay/neuter appointments, including a dizzying 40 in one afternoon. She can rattle off a list of who’s been neutered in the neighborhood and who’s holding out. Armed with a water gun, she’s on guard to keep the unaltered male cats from up the street away from the last of the unspayed females. Heck, on this Saturday, she’ll even walk Pets for Life staff down the block to meet another neighbor, who leans out her window and signs up her Chihuahua for an appointment.

The black-and-white cat lying against the house across the street is most definitely in her crosshairs. “I’ve got my eyes on her,” Hill says, raising her voice slightly as if to give the cat fair warning— though there is a little wait with this one, as she’s somewhat recently given birth. “Eight weeks more. I’ve got her clocked.”

In many ways, Hill symbolizes a humbling, heartwarming trend: So many of those helped by this free program stick around to pay it back and pay it forward, becoming volunteers, advocates, and ambassadors.

Their voices are invaluable.

“For communities that we consider underserved, there’s a lack of trust,” says Ralph Hawthorne, manager of the Atlanta program. “They see a lot of people come and go, and making promises and breaking promises, or having underlying agendas. Here today and gone tomorrow. When you develop these, what we call ‘credible messengers,’ they’re undisputable. People have a tendency to believe and trust in a program that has been endorsed by one of their peers.”

Pets for Life helped spay and neuter Victoria Santiago’s six shih tzu-Chihuahua mixes. Staff have also assisted with vet bills, donated crates, and even dropped by for some in-home training. Now, Santiago helps make phone calls, particularly to Spanish-speaking clients. She enters data. She helps at events. She even shares stories of how spay/neuter has helped her household—specifically, by cutting down on the territorial urine marking.

“In the summertime, I was laid off,” she says. “And Janice actually said, ‘I know you’re not working. If you need food … whatever you need for your animals, you call me, and I’m there.’ So that was awesome. That’s why, anything I can help for HSUS, I’ll be there.”

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