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October 1, 2010

Faith Leaders Key to Helping Animals in Chicago Neighborhoods

Chicago's religious leaders come together to address the suffering of animals in their communities

  • Chicago's faith leaders and HSUS staff talk over a meal at The Peoples Church of the Harvest. Kate Ziegler/HSUS

  • Religious Leaders Roundtable participants connected over helping animals. Kate Ziegler/HSUS

  • Some of Chicago's faith leaders who connected at the Religious Leaders' Roundtable. Kate Ziegler/HSUS

  • A portrait of Anthony and his dog, Nino, participants in the End Dogfighting Chicago's Pit Bull Training Team. Saverio Truglia

by Amanda Arrington

"Is this in Chicago?"

The cab driver didn't recognize the South Side address I'd given him for The People's Church of the Harvest, the church where I was headed to meet with pastors, reverends, bishops and evangelists on animal issues affecting their congregations. The church is in one of the underserved, forgotten neighborhoods of Chicago, a place my cabbie had never been and where many of these religious leaders do their best work.

Along with Christine Gutleben, director of Faith Outreach, I was in town for a Religious Leaders' Roundtable that we had coordinated along with Tio Hardiman, special consultant to The HSUS on Urban Outreach and the End Dogfighting campaign. Our purpose was to engage leaders in Chicago's faith communities on animal issues impacting their congregations.

Making the animal-human connection

When we had all gathered, Christine kicked off the discussion talking about our responsibility as humans to protect and show compassion to all God's creatures. Tio explained our End Dogfighting program in Chicago and the importance of providing young men, many of them African-American, with positive experiences with animals. He talked about how violence to animals relates to human violence and abuse. I talked about my expertise, the importance of spay/neuter and pet care—two essential strategies to reduce local shelter and euthanasia numbers while helping dogs and cats suffering in the streets.

From the men and women gathered at The Peoples Church—all local leaders in their communities—we heard an overwhelmingly positive response. They recognized that the plight of animals and the suffering of the people go hand-in-hand, and that providing care for animals helps people.

"As the director of clergy committed to the community, we have made it a part of our mission to end the abuse of all God's creatures, and we will not only add a voice to this endeavor but we will go into full action by educating our parishioners, congregations, mosques and our communities at large," pledged Reverend Hood, Pastor of Redeemed Outreach Ministries.

A first step toward a better future

The meeting was just a first step in what we hope will be a long-term relationship with the faith communities in Chicago.

If the response from Bishop Claude Porter is any indication, that relationship is off to a great start.

"After hearing the message from the HSUS," he said, "I feel compelled to host a statewide event that will educate all who will listen on the importance of and moral obligation to seek the best care for companion animals and ensure all Gods creatures, who he gave us dominion over, are treated with compassion and respect."

Bishop Claude Porter is President of both Proviso-Leyden Council for Community Action and Proviso Township Ministerial Alliance Network as well as pastor of Proviso Baptist Church.

Community leaders like Bishop Porter and Reverend Hood are vital to the neighborhoods that they serve. We are so grateful for the chance to work with them through their places of worship to improve the lives of animals and strengthen communities.

Whether or not they can afford basic care, people love their pets. I often wonder how helpless, how defeated a person must feel when they cannot provide for the needs of a beloved dog or cat. Now, some of Chicago's most vulnerable populations will have access to local resources through their churches. And in The Humane Society of the United States, those churches will have a committed partner to improve the future for the people and animals of Chicago.

Amanda Arrington is manager of Spay and Neuter Initiatives at The Humane Society of the United States.

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