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Bridging the Gulf: A Brighter Future for Animals

  • A boy and his dog at a spay/neuter clinic in the Gulf Coast in March. Amanda Arrington/The HSUS

  • In late June, The HSUS transported 33 dogs from the Gulf region to the Washington, D.C., area where they were adopted into new loving homes. Michelle Riley/The HSUS

by Betsy McFarland

Just shy of the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the Gulf Coast region saw itself battling another disaster: a man-made oil spill off the shores of Louisiana. Since the oil spill disaster began in April, animal shelters in the region have been reporting steady increases in the numbers of pets being given up by owners who can no longer afford them.

This is yet another blow to a region that was just beginning to recover from the influx after Katrina, but The HSUS committed for the long haul to help keep pets with their families and to help animal shelters through this tough time.

From heartbreak to hope

The HSUS has been invested in the region's recovery since the levee breach in 2005—first in responding to the unprecedented disaster, then looking long-term to reduce the overall numbers of animals entering shelters by increasing spay/neuter rates.

We conducted groundbreaking research to develop a clearer understanding of why more pet owners aren't spaying and neutering pets and finding out what will compel them to do so, strengthening animal welfare groups' resources and reach, and working with these groups to increase available low-cost spay/neuter services throughout the region.

Thanks to support from The HSUS and others, by the end of 2010 there will be approximately 40,000 to 50,000 more spay/neuter surgeries being performed annually. The HSUS launches a year of television and print advertising with every new spay/neuter effort. The advertisements, developed after an in-depth research project we conducted over a two-year period, use targeted messaging to persuade pet owners to alter their pets and direct them straight to the new local service. Watch the TV ads » 

The trickle-down effect

Families were hard-hit once again by the recent oil spill. Some shelters in the region are reporting up to a five-time increase in the number of pets flowing through their doors. As more people worry about their financial assistance, more pets wind up in the shelters.

the goal is to help keep pets with their families and out of shelters.

In late June, The HSUS transported 33 of those dogs to find new life in the Washington, D.C., area where they were adopted into new loving homes. Earlier this month, yet another transport of more than 90 dogs on our Big Rig arrived in New Jersey where local organizations stepped up to help place the pets in new loving homes, offering a welcomed reprieve to the affected shelters in the region who are struggling with the increased burden.

Stemming the tide

While the transports have provided temporary relief and wonderful second chances for the dogs involved, the goal is to help keep pets with their families and out of shelters.

From what we are hearing from shelters in the Gulf region, the top reason people are giving up their pets is because they can't afford their care. To help people provide for their pets during this difficult time, several pet food and supply companies—in coordination with HSUS—are donating much-needed food, litter, and other pet care supplies.

The HSUS already arranged for one donation of more than 12 tons of pet food for distribution to Gulf families at risk of losing their pets. 

In addition to those generous in-kind donations, The HSUS plans to organize free pet wellness clinics in Jefferson Parish to help offset the expenses being incurred by those who have lost their income. Such clinics will provide rabies and other vaccinations, microchips, and other basic treatments.

A brighter future

Long before the oil spill crisis, the Gulf Coast has struggled with pet homelessness. Since Katrina, The HSUS has been fully committed to helping to stem the tide and reduce the high euthanasia rates. The Gulf Coast Spay Neuter Campaign has led to a much brighter outlook for animals in Louisiana and Mississippi.

This research-driven, hands-on campaign has so far resulted in significant change in both states, including unprecedented support for and engagement of shelters; veterinarians, and other animal care providers; the developing capacity to provide an additional 40,000 to 50,000 low-cost spay/neuter surgeries a year; and massive public education sparking the beginnings of a major paradigm shift about the important decision to spay or neuter. We are continuing to apply that research to save thousands of pets' lives each year through spay/neuter efforts.

More to be done

While our efforts have proven successful, there is more to be done.

We plan to launch a Pets for Life program in the Gulf, dedicated to resolving problems that could otherwise lead to shelter relinquishment, abandonment, or neglect. The program will enlist the help of area trainers, behaviorists, veterinarians, and boarding facilities to offer low-cost or free services to those in need, helping to reduce the number of animals being relinquished to the overwhelmed Jefferson Parish Animal Shelter and other local organizations.

No matter what storms may come, our commitment to this region holds strong.


Betsy McFarland is senior director of the companion animals section of The HSUS.

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