Animal sheltering has changed dramatically in the past ten years. What was once a mainly reactive approach to lost and unwanted animals has turned into a proactive model where intervention strategies strive to prevent the separation of pets from their families in the first place. This has had tremendous positive impact on maintaining the human-animal bond and redefining the role of animal shelters in the community.
Traditionally, animal shelters (including DACC) responded to the plight of homeless animals by admitting them into care and making best efforts to reunite lost pets with their owners or place homeless pets with new families. This was a reactive approach where we did our best to address the needs after they were presented. However the overwhelming number of animals presented in this model strained limited resources and created greater hurdles to overcome.
A better approach has been implemented at DACC, and many other animal welfare agencies in the nation. By providing intervention and support services before an animal might be surrendered, DACC helps keep pets and their families together. This has resulted in win-win situations for all: the family retains the pet they want to keep but lacked resources to manage, the pet stays with the family it loves and is bonded with, and DACC can use its limited resources to focus on pets with no other options.
The most common reason pet parents approach DACC to surrender their pets is because they cannot afford a veterinary expense. They love and want to keep their animal, but it needs a medical procedure they cannot afford. The pet parents don’t want to see their pet go without necessary medical care, so they make a heartbreaking decision to surrender the pet so it will receive the care it needs.
However, thanks to the Los Angeles County Animal Care Foundation, DACC provides Care vouchers that can be used for up to $500 in veterinary expenses. This resource helps pet owners obtain the medical care they need for their animals and the pets stay with the family they know and love. I regularly review the invoices for these services, and it is striking how hard the families are working to find every solution possible for their animal. Many of the medical expenses exceed $500, and I see on the invoices that the person makes up the difference with cash payments and/or Care Credit to offset the remaining costs.
These are necessary medical procedures – dental treatments, abscess removals, ear infections, fracture repairs, and more. All are painful or threats to the animals’ long term health and well-being. The one-time fix resolves the problem and another family and pet continue their loving relationship. Care vouchers can also be used to assist with pet food, repairing fencing, training, temporary boarding for pet owners experiencing homelessness, or other challenges pet owners have in keeping their pets.
The Los Angeles County Animal Care Foundation is a nonprofit organization that supports animals served by DACC. The Care voucher program is supported by private donations and grants. Its largest benefactor for the Cares Vouchers is the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) who recognizes and supports the need to help in this important area. DACC and the Foundation are grateful for their ongoing partnership.
Some people think that others should not have pets if they cannot afford them. Certainly, the long term costs of pet parenting should be taken into consideration before a person obtains a pet. However, the pet owners who approach us for help have been responsibly caring for their animals for years but now have a difficult financial situation. With the rising costs of goods and services, the dollar doesn’t go nearly as far and people are forced to make decisions they never thought they would have to make. Helping them during this time reaps benefits for pet owners, their beloved pets, and DACC.
When I think about providing the Care vouchers, I am reminded of two widely different cases I had early in my career as an animal cruelty investigator. One involved a complaint of a purebred Irish Setter that was kept in a crate most of the day. It was owned by a very wealthy family who lived in a gated community. I had to be buzzed in through the security gate by the housekeeper of the complainant. The owner wasn’t home, so I left a note to call me. He did and berated me for checking to see if his dog was OK and refused to allow me to see the dog. Because there was no indication of abuse or neglect, just a diffident approach to caring for a pet, I couldn’t pursue this any further (this was also in Texas in the mid 1980’s, with different laws we now have in California).
Then I responded to a call for another dog, alleging it was not receiving the care it needed. I arrived in a very low-income neighborhood and approached the house that was in dire need of new paint. A faded and worn couch was on the front porch and the yard was unkempt. I met the pet parent of the senior German Shepherd dog that lived there. Her love for her animal was abundant. She showed me all the medications she had to keep her dog comfortable. It was well-cared for, and her greatest source of love and joy. She was forgoing any home repairs or other niceties so her dog could have everything it needed. I left knowing that dog was in the best place possible for it and needed no help from me.
When I see the Care vouchers help pet owners today, I always think of this wonderful woman and her dog. I know we are helping equally loving pet owners and the pets that are devoted to them.
To contribute to the Care voucher program, please donate at www.lacountyanimals.org
You can subscribe to Marcia’s blog here: https://animalcare.lacounty.gov/directors_blog/