Humane Rescue Alliance

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Lisa's Blog
Lisa LaFontaine

HUMANE RESCUE ALLIANCE

LISA LAFONTAINE

Continuing Our Critical Care

Through all the many challenges 2020 has brought to our doorsteps, HRA has been on the front lines, moving animals from crisis to care and supporting our neighbors in need. Last month, we celebrated an incredible milestone as we welcomed Andrea, our 15,000th WayStation animal. Since the launch of the WayStation in 2016, our team has relocated thousands of animals from shelters struggling under the weight of pet overpopulation into communities with abundant adopters, but not enough animals.

We welcomed Andrea with a small celebration at St. Hubert’s, complete with a peanut butter milk-bone cake. In a matter of days this sweet dog – who had faced such an uncertain future – was adopted into a happy and loving home. 

Her story is especially meaningful to me because not so many years ago, we were that struggling organization. I remember how painful that was and committed that if we were ever able to pay it forward, we would do so. Most people think the WayStation is about the transport but in fact, that is just the beginning.

Through the WayStation’s ‘Sister Shelter’ program, we help build capacity in those overburdened shelters. With our support, they put programs and services in place to get at the root causes of pet homelessness in their regions – as we were able to do through the help of others.

Our vision for the WayStation is that one day, each organization we support can eventually become a destination shelter themselves, serving as hubs to welcome animals from shelters around them.

This beautiful video, created by our friends at Tito’s Vodka, highlights this important work. We are proud to be featured alongside our amazing partners from Wings of Rescue, who fly these vulnerable animals into communities where they have the opportunity for their best lives.  

During this public health crisis, we are expanding our services to help as many animals and people as possible. Our communities are experiencing job loss, economic uncertainty, health crises, and a host of other difficulties. To help people keep their beloved pets, we are doubling down to extend our safety net services wherever we can. 

Together with Urban Outreach, which helps people access groceries, clothing and support programs, we added a pet food and supply distribution event in DC’s Ward 7. Partnerships between animal and human social service groups are the way of the future; between March and August, we distributed almost 25,000 pounds of pet food and served approximately 1,000 families each month.

Prince George’s County, Maryland, has been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. In March, the county’s only animal shelter closed its doors for most essential services. HRA expanded our Pet Pantry by establishing partnerships with the Community of Hope AME church, the Prince George’s Office of the County Executive, and the Capital Area Food. So far, we’ve distributed over 5,000 bags of free pet food to Prince George’s County residents.

During our first pet food distribution in the county, the lead pastor of Community of Hope AME approached our team and with tears in his eyes. He said, “As people were lining up for their groceries, I announced we would also be providing pet food today. Everyone cheered. I’m not a pet owner myself, so I didn’t realize what a huge need there is for pet food. I’m so grateful you helped expand our ministry by meeting this need.”

We have also engaged in advocacy to help keep families together at this vulnerable time, and we’ve been collaborating with government officials and other non-profits to ensure that any policy solutions developed for the pending eviction crisis consider families with pets. I recently had a chance to sit down with Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and other passionate animal advocates to share my concerns about preserving families; you can watch that conversation here.

This social and mental health emergency is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. If people can’t stay with their pets while experiencing job loss, food insecurity, debt and possible eviction, one of their biggest (and in some cases only) means of emotional support will be removed from their lives at a time when they are in crisis. Through our seat on the Interagency Council on Homelessness, we are helping to establish policy for DC residents of all ages who are homeless, or at imminent risk of losing their homes. We also established a partnership with DC Legal Aid, to provide a stronger safety net for our clients. By linking arms with human social services groups, we can seal up some of the gaps where human/animal families are falling between the cracks.

These interventions make a profound difference for the individuals who are impacted. A couple of months ago Willow, a happy little Shih Tzu, was relinquished to us when her person, Althea, had to move to a place that wouldn’t allow pets. Althea was broken hearted when she came to us; she told us that when she and Willow watched the evening news, Willow would bark at all the bad news. We knew we had to go the extra mile, and we found a loving foster home for Willow. This gave Althea the time to find a home that allowed pets; Willow’s foster mom described their reunion:

 "I was standing at the door talking with Althea as she walked up the stairs. When Willow heard her voice, she came running out and jumped on her, wagging her tail and covering her with kisses. It was an amazing thing to be a part of.”

Willow

In these past difficult months, people in our community have gone to extraordinary lengths to keep their pets with them during a challenging time. Now, we must do everything possible to honor their efforts. Animals have given comfort to so many people and now it’s time to ensure that we can be there for them, keeping families together – where they belong.


Tenant Resources

For those facing possible eviction, there are several organizations in DC that specialize in aiding tenants. The mission of the DC Office of the Tenant Advocate (OTA) is to provide technical advice and other legal services to tenants regarding disputes with landlords; to educate and inform the tenant community about tenant rights and rental housing matters; to advocate for the rights and interests of District renters in the legislative, regulatory, and judicial contexts; and to provide financial assistance to displaced tenants for certain emergency housing and tenant relocation expenses. The OTA is a resource for all DC residents facing eviction that provides in-house representation for tenants in certain cases and refers other cases to pro bono or contracted legal service providers and attorneys. You can reach the OTA at 202-719-6560.

The Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia provides free attorney review of all potential eviction disputes with landlords, as well as, legal disputes related to consumer debt collection, family law, domestic violence and public benefits qualification. While their primary population of focus are those who are low income, making 200% or less of the Federal Poverty Level, they will provide other resources for those who they may not be able to represent and encourage anyone who believes they have a legal issue and may qualify for help to reach out. The DC Legal Aid Society general intake line is 202-628-1161, and they have a dedicated tenant hotline for rental housing questions at 202-851-3388.