You know the Humane Rescue Alliance (HRA) as an animal welfare organization, and indeed, the welfare of animals is at the very heart of what we do. And as we convey with our tagline, “Animals, People, Community”– humans and animals are inextricably linked. To ensure the welfare of animals means that also caring for their human family members and the communities in which they live. To that end, HRA is further expanding its work to keep people and their pets together, with even more urgency after more than a year of the COVID-19 global pandemic.
The tremendous surge in pet adoption and fostering during the pandemic has underscored the value and importance of the human: animal bond. When faced with the most frightening and uncertain of times, more and more people have turned to animals for support. But while everyone who wishes to share their life with a pet deserves the opportunity to be supported by the love and companionship an animal brings, not everyone has the same access to that experience. From housing restrictions to expensive veterinary care, to pet care deserts, people in DC and beyond face barriers to providing care for their animal family members.
At HRA, we know that the work of an animal welfare agency is more effective when it is centered around reducing those barriers and providing pet guardians with the resources and support, they need to care for and keep their pets. As a result, we are addressing immediate needs while also tackling the complex systems that create barriers to pets staying in their homes.
A key strategy to achieve this is our new Pet Help Center, a single access point for pet-related needs. The Center is an ambitious effort to disrupt our normal way of doing things in two ways:
- Taking a holistic, people-centered approach that uses proven case management techniques to assess and treat every animal and their family as individuals. Through this approach, we provide a single access point for pet-related needs and a full spectrum of care so we are meeting the needs of both pets and people at every stage of life. Rather than treating individual problems, case managers provide several resources to support a whole family model to prevent unnecessary pet surrender.
- Tackling complex systems that create barriers to pets staying in their homes. We’re addressing immediate needs through direct services, like emergency pet boarding, access to discounted veterinary services, providing information about housing rights and resources and more. We’re building and deploying long-term strategies, including the use of technology to increase access to pet resources for communities in pet deserts and advocating for policy solutions to intuitional barriers, such as the lack of pet-friendly affordable housing. We’re building partnerships with more community stakeholders doing the work with us and more intense partnerships with human social services organizations.
Through this Center, HRA assists our community with activities such as:
Helping Families Navigate Economic Insecurity
Our Pet Pantry and Help Out, Partner and Engage (HOPE) programs provide free and low-cost pet food and supplies to DC residents in need, in addition to free spay and neuter surgeries, low-cost vaccines and more to those who live in ZIP codes with the greatest need and fewest pet care resources. HOPE program community specialist Shakela Brown works in close partnership with our clients to better understand their needs, as well as with organizations like Building Bridges to a Better Life, which connects families experiencing homelessness with housing, education, health and employment services, to ensure that people are able to provide care for their beloved pets.
Partnering for People and Pets
We are building partnerships with human service organizations across the city. For example, this year we launched the Senior Pet Connect project with the DC Department of Aging and Community Living to make HRA a go-to resource for seniors and their animal needs and to provide meaningful connections between seniors and animals to support their emotional well-being.
Pet-Friendly Housing Solutions
HRA believes all families should have a safe home to live where pets are permitted to live with them, but the presence of pet restrictions in housing means that this is not a reality for everyone. To enable pets to stay with their families, HRA advocates against breed-specific prohibitions, collaborates with insurance companies and works in other ways to support pet-friendly housing solutions.
Breaking Down Digital Walls
HRA is making sure our organization’s information and resources are easy to use and accessible for the public, including individuals who are native speakers of other languages, those with disabilities and those with limited access to technology. This includes ensuring that our digital presence is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, shifting to new software to make the adoption process easier for clients, and making our information more accessible for those using smartphones and tablets.
As we shift into a post-pandemic future, our Pet Help Center will build on and expand our community and customer-oriented efforts to help animals continue to bring joy and love to more and more people across our DC community. Even more exciting, once we have successfully built this program in DC, we will create a protocol for other animal welfare organizations to follow so they can help even more animals and people in the communities they serve.