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December 12, 2012

Taking It to the Streets, Page 6: Paying It Forward

Pets for Life spreads the love by training others to set up programs in their own cities

All Animals magazine, January/February 2013

  • A puppy gets a free vaccination at Chicago outreach event. Chris Lake/For The HSUS

The call woke Maxwell early one morning in Chicago: Mayhem had been living up to his name. First, Denise Compton’s black-and-white pit bull had gotten into the garbage, cutting his mouth on a metal tray. Then, for good measure, he’d eaten rat poisoning.

The dog is a total lover, but he’ll bark ferociously at night when “drug heads” run down the narrow walkway past Compton’s front door. And once, he barked frantically to alert her daughter that her boyfriend was having a seizure in the bathroom. This morning, though, he was the one in trouble: “The vet or whatever there said, ‘[If ] you ain’t got no money today, you might as well let him die,’ ” Compton remembers.

“Laurie wasn’t having it. So she paid for it.”

Months later, the Compton house marks the first stop on a neighborhood tour as the Chicago team greets representatives from Stray Rescue of St. Louis and the Jefferson Parish (La.) SPCA—two  groups recently awarded PetSmart Charities grants to start Pets for Life models in their cities.

As Mayhem works the room, Compton is asked if she has any advice for the out-of-town guests: “Just try to meet with somebody that’s got animals. If you see them walking on the street or whatever, just introduce yourself and tell them what we do, because I’m quite sure a lot of people will appreciate [it]. Because they do want to get their dogs some shots, get them spayed, and get some help with them, instead of just letting them go and being stray.”

She’s then asked how she got connected with the program. “My daughter’s boyfriend’s cousin,” she replies, and everyone laughs. It’s the perfect answer.

The next stop is Lawndale Community Church’s Hope House, a Christian recovery home for men released from prison or battling addiction. Along one wall are photos of graduates, labeled with the year they left and the jobs they moved on to— teacher, bus driver, building maintenance supervisor. As many as 50 men can find shelter here, and living among them now are two cats and three small kittens. Pets for Life helped spay one of the adult cats and, once the kittens are weaned, will do the same for the second. It’s also supplied food and kitty litter.

One man tells Lamberti ... that he struggles daily with wanting to do drugs, to go back to his old life. It is the cats, though, who keep him straight.

Before the tour continues, one man tells Lamberti—now Pets for Life program manager—that he struggles daily with wanting to do drugs, to go back to his old life. It is the cats, though, who keep him straight. As Lamberti relays later: “He said, ‘I wake up. I go, I hold the cats. I feed the cats. And taking care of those cats keeps me from doing the things I’m tempted to do.’ ” The man is concerned now about the cats having to sleep on the floor. So before he leaves, Lamberti explains how to take two cardboard boxes, create an opening, and build a house with blankets.

The next morning, the first day of fall arrives with a vengeance—wind, rain, and shivering temperatures. It’s not enough to deter Nicholas Herrera and  Raymond Gallardo, though. The two are the first to arrive for Chicago’s inaugural Pets for Life outreach event, forming the line with their pit bulls at 7 a.m.—some three hours before the free vaccinations are scheduled to begin.

“Especially right now, times are a little tough and hard,” Herrera says. “I want my babies to be healthy and stay vaccinated, so this event is pretty good. It’s very good, actually.”

All told, 371 dogs and 45 cats will eventually follow, volunteer veterinarians handling the vaccinations. The trainees from Missouri and Louisiana are thrown into the fire, helping where needed.

“We’re so excited to bring this amazing program back to our community,” says Jason Shipkowski, with Stray Rescue of St. Louis. Adds Robin Beaulieu, Jefferson Parish Animal Shelter director, after singing “Happy Birthday” to one 80-year-old in line and persuading another owner to neuter her 13 pups: “My heart is just so full.”

A day later, they’ll disperse, back to St. Louis, back to New Orleans, and eventually for Pets for Life staffers, on to Los Angeles—this idea, this enthusiasm taking hold, and then speeding forward in many directions.

 On the iPad: See more imagery from the Pets for Life program.

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