The pandemic has hit so many Americans so hard. Among them is Liliana, a single mother in Los Angeles who lost her job as a seamstress in March. She couldn’t find employment despite her best efforts and then, to make matters worse, she became sick with the coronavirus. 

Liliana and her daughter, Melanie, have a cat, Gray, whom they adore and who, they say, brings them so much joy, especially in these tough times. Melanie found Gray wandering the streets when he was just a tiny kitten, and he is an important part of their family. Unfortunately, after Liliana hit hard times, making sure Gray had everything he needed became increasingly difficult.

That’s when Pets for Life stepped in, to ensure Gray stayed in his home and with the people who love him.  Pets for Life neutered Gray and provides cat food to Liliana on a regular basis.  “I am extremely grateful to PFL for keeping Gray healthy,” Liliana says. 

Like Liliana, tens of millions of pet owners who were already struggling to access and afford care and supplies for their pets before the pandemic are having an even tougher time now. For years, the HSUS has been helping low-income families and underserved communities through Pets for Life and another program, Rural Area Veterinary Services (RAVS), which provides veterinary care in underserved rural Native American communities where poverty and geographic isolation make regular veterinary services unavailable. After the pandemic began last year, followed by the economic downturn and job losses, we pivoted swiftly to address priority needs and keep families and their beloved pets together. 

We have since taken our services to communities ranging from a halfway house and a homeless encampment in Los Angeles to Native American land from Arizona to Minnesota, and from city neighborhoods in Philadelphia to some of the remotest lands in Alaska. 

We have been aided in this work by some terrific partners, including Chewy, the online pet supplies retailer. Soon after the pandemic began last year, Chewy made an admirable commitment to donate a variety of products, including pet food, crates for dogs, litter boxes for cats and more. As a result, in 2020, PFL and RAVS, working with community and tribal partners, distributed more than 1.3 million pounds of food and supplies to nearly 23,000 pets living with their people in poverty or in underserved communities.  

While dogs and cats were among the animals served most often, we also helped pet owners with hamsters, gerbils, fish, birds and other pets. 

In 2021, PFL and RAVS have already distributed 476,000 pounds of food from Chewy, and 316,000 pounds of food we purchased directly through various funds. 

To ensure the health and safety of staff and volunteers who are doing this important work and the communities being served during the pandemic, we have modified the manner in which we do things. While Pets for Life typically goes door to door to meet pet owners and build relationships and RAVS provides large team veterinary field clinics, we have modified our outreach to stay connected to the most vulnerable pet owners and made the delivery of food and supplies and urgent veterinary care our top priorities. 

To reach as many families as possible, local partners distribute food via large drive-up distribution events and neighborhood outreach to remote and homebound pet owners. We are responding to new requests for help by phone and text message, and when our teams distribute supplies we do no-contact deliveries. We are also placing online orders and having supplies directly delivered to people’s homes. 

In addition to direct animal care services, RAVS also provides veterinary training and mentorship to future veterinary professionals, and during the pandemic we have continued this critical work through virtual training labs, webinars and outreach sessions. Since the pandemic began, RAVS has reached more than 1,500 veterinary personnel who will expand access to care services in communities around the country. RAVS and PFL are providing urgent and quality of life veterinary care and reached 27,600 pets in 2020 alone.

These are extraordinary times, and we are proud of our PFL and RAVS staff, partners and volunteers who have stepped up so willingly and with so much enthusiasm to support families facing extreme challenges and to keep people and pets healthy, happy and together. We are also extremely grateful to Chewy for their steadfast support for our programs, and to the Lewyt Trust for their support for RAVS and animals during the pandemic. The human-animal bond can be especially important during stressful times, and with your support, we will continue to bring lifesaving services to pets like Gray who need them now more than ever.