Last week, the HSUS Pets for Life program provided its 100,000 spay/neuter surgery at no cost to pet owners. Since early 2012, PFL has provided over 400,000 essential veterinary services, supplies, and medications to people and pets in need.

PFL is a trailblazing program based on two simple premises.

First, love for pets is a universal value in our nation, and American petkeeping transcends geographical, racial, and socio-economic boundaries.

Second, anyone who wants to provide a loving home to an animal deserves a chance to do so.

These days, there is much greater awareness of how poverty and structural inequality create barriers to access for healthy food, education, jobs, medical care, and housing. But there is less awareness of how lack of access to affordable veterinary and pet wellness services creates similar obstacles that put millions of people and their pets at a disadvantage. Just like food deserts—with little or no access to fresh produce or full-fledged grocery stores—there are animal resource deserts—communities without veterinarians, pet supplies, groomers, or animal welfare infrastructure.

Lack of resources doesn’t mean lack of love for companion animals, though. That’s something our PFL team members see every day. The following stories prove the point.

Members of our Philadelphia PFL team were dropping off cat carriers for spay/neuter appointments when they noticed a woman treating her dog with a homemade remedy for what appeared to be hair loss. Ms. Allen told them that Mink had been losing hair and wasn’t getting better. The PFL team provided proper flea and skin medication, and arranged for a spay surgery, too. Mink had previously had two litters, each time birthing 12 puppies. Ms. Allen wanted to get her dog spayed but could not afford it; she was excited to know that Mink would not have any more puppies.

Bella an eight-year old Chihuahua, is a neighborhood favorite. When Philly PFL team members met her during their door-to-door outreach work, they saw how concerned neighbors on her block were about a mass on Bella’s stomach. We provided Bella with a spay surgery, and got a veterinarian to remove the mass. In a few days Bella was back to being the queen of the block.

Los Angeles resident Leticia has been through a lot, including drug addiction. She's in recovery and says her dogs have helped her more than she can express. She was beyond grateful when she connected with the PFL team in LA and they helped to get her pets checked out, vaccinated and altered. One of Leticia’s dogs, Little Rock, had a testicular mass that a veterinarian removed during neuter surgery. Another, Gee, had a pancreatic infection we were able to treat. The bottom line? This family remains together, happy and healthy.

Another Los Angeleno, Henry, has been living out of his car with his cat Neon. When our LA team met him he was happy to get Neon neutered but he was worried about swelling on Neon’s belly. A veterinarian determined it was a hernia and removed it even as Neon received other basic services. Henry and Neon love one another, and because of PFL, their bond endures.

In two direct care markets (Los Angeles and Philadelphia) and 34 mentorship markets partnering with local organizations, Pets for Life is making access to animal care in underserved communities a priority. PFL data shows that about 90 percent of pets in underserved areas are unaltered when first encountered. That’s the opposite of the national average of about 88 percent.

PFL has helped dispel the misconception that people in low-income communities are opposed to spaying and neutering. Free spaying and neutering services, transportation to and from veterinary appointments, and other positive engagement have resulted in sterilization rates of almost ninety percent of pets in the program.

People and animals both matter, and so does their bond. Pets enhance the lives of humans and PFL operates with the conviction that everyone should have the opportunity to experience that. It shouldn’t depend on income or which zip code someone lives in. And thanks to PFL, in three dozen communities and growing, it doesn’t.

Postscript: Earlier this year, the American Veterinary Medical Association recognized Amanda Arrington, director of the PFL program, with its 2018 Humane Award.