Our trailblazing program, Pets for Life, is in Corpus Christi, Texas, on a special mission this week: to help launch a program that will bring relief to pets in communities still struggling to recover from the effects of Hurricane Harvey. As it happens, these are also some of the city’s poorest areas.

Harvey swept through Texas last year destroying lives and livelihoods, and so many people are still struggling to put the pieces together. When people in such a predicament have pets, recovery is even harder. This is why we’re in Corpus Christi. Our Pets for Life program provides veterinary and wellness resources to people and pets in underserved communities.

The PFL approach in this case includes a mentorship grant and training for a local animal welfare organization, People Assisting Animal Control. PAAC plans to focus on a neighborhood in Corpus Christi in which more than 40 percent of residents live below the poverty line.

Pets for Life will also help train animal control personnel of the Corpus Christi police department, city council members and other community leaders. This approach has a purpose: to help communities throughout the United States move away from demonizing pet owners facing social, economic and geographic challenges, and move all stakeholders toward constructive and compassionate solutions. Recognizing the barriers to services that such pet owners face, and taking a deeper look at the reasons why those barriers exist, is the right thing to do. It is also the way to achieve long-term, sustainable change.

PFL now operates in 40 communities, providing either direct care services or mentoring programs and grants. With our partner organizations, we go door to door with a comprehensive, holistic approach to providing services -- building trusting relationships with pet owners and maintaining a consistent community presence. In Los Angeles and in Philadelphia, we have Pets for Life staff on the ground running our flagship programs in those cities. To date, the program has served more than 170,000 pets, providing over 450,000 services and supplies. Earlier this year, Pets for Life celebrated the spaying/neutering of 100,000 animals through the program.

Our program operates on two simple premises. First, love for pets is a universal value in our nation, and second, the bond between people and their animals transcends geographical, racial, and socio-economic boundaries. Around the country, millions of people trapped in poverty struggle to provide their beloved animals with affordable veterinary and pet wellness services. With these pets numbering in the tens of millions, there is a real opportunity for our movement to make a difference.

But just as importantly, PFL is leading a philosophical shift in companion animal welfare. The program seeks to encourage a greater inclusivity in our work, and to highlight the degree to which society produces and perpetuates uneven and unjust systems and policies. Issues like poverty, housing insecurity, segregation and mass incarceration affect people and their pets every single day. Companion animals are companions to people, and for that reason, our policies and programming should reflect a deeper understanding and a commitment to keeping families – including companion animals – together.