In one of the most pervasive inequities across the U.S., tens of millions of families with pets struggle to gain access to care and resources for their companion animals. We believe that a deep connection with pets transcends boundaries of socioeconomics, race, ethnicity and geography, and that no one should be denied the opportunity to experience the benefits, joy and comfort that come from the human-animal bond. That’s why we’ve been working for more than two decades to help meet the needs of families with pets who are struggling. Through a multifaceted approach involving direct care, policymaking, professional development and mentorship, we are using every tool to expand access to care for companion animals and support for the families who love them. Here are some of the heartwarming highlights from these innovative programs in 2022.
When a dog named Freeda recently received a much-appreciated bath and grooming, it wasn’t just a routine service. It was actually the 1 millionth service provided by our Pets for Life program, which offers companion animal resources in underserved communities all across the U.S.
Pets for Life data shows that 70% of pets in these communities have never seen a veterinarian before, and not because people don’t love their pets, but because systemic poverty and structural inequities create barriers to veterinary care and pet resources similar to the challenges many people experience in accessing healthy food, education, jobs, health care and housing. Through our Rural Area Veterinary Services and Pets for Life programs, we provide veterinary care and pet supplies around the country where poverty or geographic isolation make services difficult to access or completely unavailable.
Freeda’s human, Janis, first accessed Pets for Life services in 2021, for her other pup, Baby. The program’s partner Better Together Alliance in Ponderay, Idaho, encountered Janis during community outreach. Baby was suffering from eye and ear problems, which improved through multiple veterinary visits and a variety of supplies, all free of charge. When Baby developed an inoperable tumor earlier this year, Better Together Alliance provided palliative care and end-of-life services for Baby and support for Janis. Losing Baby makes Freeda an even more significant part of Janis’ life. We are grateful to be part of ensuring that Freeda and Janis will be together for years to come.
Janis is like so many of the families served through our programs, where we build long-term trust and relationships. To date, through Pets for Life and Rural Area Veterinary Services, more than 416,000 pets have received veterinary care, spay/neuter, grooming, behavioral training, pet supplies and more at no cost to people and their pets. In 2022, through our 14 direct care locations, these programs provided essential resources to 15,675 pets.
Studies show that Pets for Life is working as the only evidence-based companion animal welfare intervention program that increases access to care in underserved communities. The program has been working in partnership with the Institute for Human-Animal Connection at the University of Denver's Graduate School of Social Work since 2016 to conduct a series of research studies on the efficacy and sustainability of the Pets for Life model. Multiple studies have found that this program fundamentally changes companion animal welfare through employing culturally responsive community engagement strategies and aiming to address systemic and sociocultural barriers to accessing pet support services.
This kind of direct care work wouldn’t be possible without our supporters, our dedicated staff and the collaboration of our partners. In our Pets for Life flagship location in Los Angeles, the ASPCA is one of those valued partners. The ASPCA performed over 1,350 vital spay/neuter surgeries at no cost to our program this year, making it possible for our team to get through the backlog of pets needing these services after temporary COVID shutdowns limited veterinary capacity in communities across the nation.
This year, our partnership with Chewy, which originally began just after the pandemic hit in 2020, provided pet food and supplies to underserved areas around the country. In 2022 alone, over 6.8 million pounds of donated food and 1,500 pallets of pet supplies, valuing over $20 million, have been distributed to 220 communities in 44 states.
Sharing information and knowledge is another way our access-to-care work improves the lives of animals across the country. We mentor local shelters on how to build effective trap-neuter-return and owner support programs to reach pets and their caregivers in the community.
Through our Pets for Life and Rural Area Veterinary Services mentorship and community development work, more than 24,000 pets received support this year. One component of this community support work, RAVS’ Community Animal Care projects, provides local partners with planning support, training and supplies, to provide regular vaccination services in their communities. For example, at the Rosebud Sioux Tribe’s Wamakaskan Wawokiya Oti/Helping Animal Center, Kathy Wooden Knife, the animal programs manager, and a small team of community volunteers provided vaccinations and other preventive health resources for more than 450 dogs and cats this year. These efforts support the health and well-being of individual animals and the community by ensuring consistent access to health resources.
In addition to the direct impact of our work providing critical veterinary care for Native communities, RAVS’ field teaching clinics provide veterinary students and professionals with intensive hands-on experience ranging from anesthesia and surgery to best practices in access-to-care approaches. Participants gain awareness of the barriers to care in marginalized communities, and they learn the many ways they can apply their knowledge, skills and dedication to address the needs of animals and people in those communities. More than 200 veterinary students and professionals participated in RAVS field clinics in 2022.
Our veterinary affiliate, the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, focuses on providing education for veterinary professionals in access-to-care topics as well as providing mental health resources to support the profession. We also engage veterinary students interested in and/or already involved in access-to-care efforts, supporting them to continue this work once they graduate. The Compassionate Care Scholarship for Veterinary Students is a highlight of this effort, providing financial support to veterinary students active in access-to-care work. And each year, our Animal Care Expo convenes animal welfare professionals and volunteers to learn more about access-to-care topics.
HSUS experts also focus on policies that directly impact access to care, specifically removing barriers to veterinary services and expanding the use of telemedicine. Availability of pet-inclusive housing is also a major barrier for many people, and we’ve advocated for the elimination of breed and weight restrictions in California and Maryland, insurance practices in Arizona that protect consumers from breed restrictions, federal grants to expand housing options for people experiencing homelessness with pets, and data collection with multiple animal shelter partners to highlight how housing insecurity tears families apart.
How you can help
The companionship pets provide is deeply meaningful, and we believe that experience should be available to everyone. I’m immensely proud of this work helping to address inequities and to ensure that everyone, regardless of socioeconomic status or location, have access to care for their animals.
Follow Kitty Block on Twitter @HSUSKittyBlock.