June 3, 2011
Building Humane Communities in Baton Rouge
The HSUS's new community-outreach program brings
life-changing care to pets and people
Outdoor cats scrapping in the streets and downcast dogs moping at the ends of chains are common sights in underserved communities, where resources are scarce and support services are limited.
As associate director of Building Humane Communities, The HSUS's new community outreach program, Amanda Arrington hopes to replace these images with those of more contented cats and canines.
She knows that despite their circumstances, the connection between people and their pets is strong in these communities. “I’ve seen that when that bond is cultivated by providing support to people,” she says, “the hardscrabble lives of so many animals can be improved.” Arrington’s vision for resolving what she calls a “disparity in resources” is a new program called Building Humane Communities, or BHC.
In a nutshell, BHC brings pet essentials such as vaccinations, low-cost spaying/neutering, and dog and cat care and training information into communities that otherwise may not see them. “We want to be proactive, not just reactive, to the pet care crisis,” says Arrington. “Rather than waiting for people and pets in need to come to us, we're going directly into underserved areas where they need us the most.”
Vaccinations (and much more) in Baton Rouge
At a recent event in Baton Rouge, La., droves of people and their pets lined up outside the Leo Butler Community Center for free life-saving vaccinations, pet care, and food. To effectively market the event and draw attendance, the BHC team spent days before canvassing in neighborhoods near the event location, meeting people and their pets, and inviting the community to join them at the event.
While veterinarians administered the vaccines to pets, assistants cleaned ears and clipped toenails. Advocates from the BHC team, including local animal welfare organizations, shared a range of information about pet care and the local services available with the 300 attendees, many of whom had never before seen a veterinarian or received professional care for their pets. A generous donation from Freekibble.com meant that we were able to send pet owners home with free Halo Spot’s Stew food.
"What makes this program work is that we don't just descend on the community," Arrington says. "We work with local groups that are already making a difference." For instance, "One of the board members for Project Purr canvassed with us and is helping lead the outreach efforts, while the veterinarian who owns HousePet HouseVet donated her time to the clinic and is doing follow-up house calls. She would like to hold a monthly clinic in the neighborhood."
Making a difference for Miko
A group of children saw the flyers advertising the BHC event; the next day they walked the two-mile round trip with two young black-and-tan puppies from their yard in tow. Their timing was good: To the BHC vets, the puppies' distended bellies were proof that they had worms. They gave the children medication to cure the pups.
The BHC team gave the children extra dog food and asked about the puppies’ mother. They learned that 7-year-old Miko was back home in the yard with 3 more puppies. After the event ended, the team made a visit to check on Miko and her other puppies.
Miko had given birth to 5 pups just 10 weeks earlier. This wasn't her first litter—she'd had many puppies over the years, and her owner, Emily, was planning to give her up because she couldn't afford the cost of preventing more litters. She had no idea about Spay Baton Rouge, a local program that would gave her a voucher for free services, or Baton Rouge Spay Neuter, a nearby low-cost spay/neuter clinic. Emily was delighted: Not only did she no longer have to care for litter after litter of puppies, but she could also afford to keep Miko, after all.
Making a difference for communities
One in seven Americans lives at or below the poverty level, yet 6 out of 10 households include at least one pet. “To build humane communities,” says Arrington, “we have to extend our reach. We have to give people the information they need to make healthy, informed decisions about their pet’s care as well as accessible, affordable options, so they can act on those decisions.”
These communities, Arrington continues, “Are filled with people who have a natural connection with animals.” The BHC program fosters that connection, on an individual basis—as with Emily and Miko—and on a community level, by bringing together animal-care providers and the people who need their help. “What the program does is embrace people as the caregivers to their pets and works with them to reducing the suffering on the streets and the overwhelming number of animals that are surrendered to shelters and must be euthanized.”