The joy, unconditional love and health benefits of the human-animal bond are priceless, but the sad reality is that millions of pets in the U.S. are living in poverty with their families. Rising inflation and systemic poverty have left many families struggling to access essential care and supplies for their pets.

More than 20 million pets live with their owners in poverty across the U.S. To put it into perspective, this number is three times greater than the number of pets who enter shelters each year. Moreover, 70% of these pets have never seen a veterinarian. As a result, people are often forced to choose between meeting their own needs and those of their pets. All too often they lack any access to veterinary care, pet-inclusive housing and other vital resources such as pet food and supplies. We have heard firsthand from countless families that they would rather skip a meal themselves than not be able to care for their pets. No one should ever be in this position.

As an organization dedicated to the well-being of animals, we cannot ignore this national crisis. A key part of our work is to achieve equity in access to pet care for underserved communities. These efforts are long overdue and necessary to recognize the human in “humane.” Through our Pets for Life and Rural Area Veterinary Services programs, we are creating a world where everyone can experience the unconditional love and benefits of an animal companion, regardless of their race, ethnicity, geography or socioeconomic status.

Take Janis and her dog, Freeda, a poodle mix. Janis first received palliative and end of life veterinary care for her senior Chihuahua, Baby, through a local Pets for Life partner in Idaho, Better Together Animal Alliance. Losing Baby was difficult, but Janis found solace in having Freeda. However, the necessary grooming for Freeda to stay healthy was financially out of reach. Having access to veterinary care and grooming at no cost has meant everything to Janis. Janis shared, "It takes a community sometimes. I am so grateful for Pets for Life. I don't know what I’d do without them."

I’m proud of this work and the commitment of everyone involved in executing these programs. As we continue to address the realities of pets in poverty in the U.S., we invite you to join us as we launch our More Than a Pet campaign with the help of five partners: Smalls, Motel 6, Ollie, TQL and others. The campaign aims to raise awareness and provide solutions to increase access to care and keep families and their pets together, happy and healthy. Grammy-winning musician Mya is also supporting the campaign, along with her dogs, Tango, Jemma and Jax, and her cat, Journey.

We invite everyone to show support for this campaign by sharing why their companion animals are #MoreThanAPet. Campaign partner Smalls is donating a bowl of food for every photo shared, up to $1 million, to pets and their families in need.

People who live with their pets through difficult circumstances are a testament to the power, the value and the resilience of the human-animal bond. Together, we can build a society in which families who experience poverty with their pets are seen, valued and have equal access to resources.

Follow Kitty Block on Twitter @HSUSKittyBlock.