The Blog

To learn how you can support Hand2Paw's efforts, please visit our Donate page

Pet Adopters – To Screen or Not To Screen?

In our years of volunteering in Philadelphia animal shelters, we have seen many animals come back to the shelter after adoption, either through their owner surrendering them or, worse, showing up as a stray. Some of these animals simply got away from their owners and are reclaimed but others show up emaciated or sick and their owners never come looking for them. We always ask ourselves, “could this have been prevented?”

Every time a horrific cruelty case is in the news, it is usually followed by an intense online discussion about whether shelters should do a better job of screening potential adopters. Rescue and shelter policies vary widely. Most foster-based rescues generally have detailed adoption applications and require references and home checks to ensure as much as possible that their animals are going to appropriate homes and the new owners are up to speed on the best way to orient the animal to a new environment and introduce him to family members and other pets.

In contrast, at most shelters, including open admission shelters but not necessarily limited to them, the trend has been away from detailed adoption applications and toward open conversations. Few shelters have the luxury of doing home checks. They may or may not require children or other resident pets to come to the shelter to meet the potential new family member.   Leading national organizations such as the ASPCA have been advocating for policies that reduce barriers to adoption sometimes referred to as “open adoptions.” That means a very simple adoption application, no vet or personal reference checks, no home checks – a hassle free process designed to give nearly everyone a chance to adopt. The theory is that this maximizes the number of adoptions and minimizes euthanasia. It asks shelters to assume that the vast majority of people will be at least moderately responsible pet owners. Those who support this approach, admit that, of course, a small percentage of animals will end up in dangerous and even life-threatening situations but they rationalize that either 1) it is worth it to get the additional adoptions that an easy application process provides and/or 2) a more arduous adoption process may not have screened out those irresponsible or cruel adopters.  It is true that we all know examples of adopters who looked fine on paper and even seemed sincere in person who turned out to be neglectful pet guardians (or worse). In addition, people who know they would not pass a screening process can circumvent it by simply having a friend or family member complete the adoption application.

When rescues utilize more intense screening, they often get criticized for having adoption application processes so arduous (e.g. mandating a 6 foot fence, requiring a vet reference which has the effect of screening out first time adopters, etc.) that good adopters get turned away. For this reason, supporters of open adoptions also argue that, If the adoption application process rejects potential adopters, the adopters will not necessarily not get an animal; many will simply go to backyard breeders and the shelter thereby loses its connection to that adopter and any ability to provide education to help them become a responsible pet owner. This argument presumes 1) that education and resources are actually provided and 2) that these potential adopters that might otherwise be rejected will take advantage of these resources. Neither of those assumptions is necessarily true.

In our view, if shelters choose to have no or minimal screening of adopters in order to maximize life saving, they have a responsibility to educate and provide support to new adopters. An open adoptions policy should be coupled with: 1) active help from staff or experienced volunteers in choosing an animal that is a good fit; 2) counseling (both orally and in handouts) at the time of adoption about training methods, how to introduce a new animal to strangers and other pets and where to go if problems arise; and 3) follow up calls to every adopter to answer questions and offer resources. With limited budgets, many shelters simply cannot allocate sufficient resources to give each adoption this level of attention. For this reason, it is crucial for shelters to work cooperatively with volunteers to be able to offer this kind of help to adopters to maximize the chance that every adoption is a lasting and happy match.

Redefining “Normal” Through Humane Education

mizuandcat

This summer, we are beyond proud to have interns working simultaneously at two different animal shelters.  Every intern who comes through our program teaches us something and helps us improve our program and we are grateful for that. Some show us where more guidance is needed. Others highlight the humane education aspect of our work in a whole new way. Let me explain.

Our interns go through an interview process just like they would for any job. We talk about their schooling, work experience and their experience with animals. Most of them have had pets as well as other kinds of exposures to animals. Sometimes it is difficult to disguise what I am feeling when young people talk about their personal experiences with animals.   When we ask them if they have had pets, most will say they have had many pets. Unlike most of us who have grown up with a few animals who lived out their lives with us, most of the youth that we work with either have experienced an unstable housing situation that led to surrendering their animals to shelters and replacing them when they could or simply a family economic situation that meant their animals frequently were given away to friends or family members who might be, at least temporarily, in a better position to care for them.  Each of these stories is moving as we think about how we would feel if our beloved pets had to be given away. Then, there are other times when the humane education element of our mission really comes to the fore.

First, there was the young man who proudly told us he had ten dogs, 8 of them puppies. He said he tried to keep the male and female dogs apart when he knew it was “that time” but he had messed up. He was grateful to learn about programs where could get free or low cost spay/neuter services. Then, there are the more painful stories when it is difficult to keep from wincing. Just recently, we asked one young interviewee about her experience with dogs, and she told us about a relative who had dogs that he kept outside on the lot of his auto repair business. He wanted them to be “tough” so they would provide security for the business so she told us that he beat them “so they would be mean.” When the dogs responded to these ”training” methods by biting a friend, her relative got angry and shot and killed them. She reported this as you or I might report a normal childhood event. She disagreed with what he did and was sad about it but it was an otherwise unremarkable part of her growing up. Another candidate mentioned that she had rescued animals herself. We asked about that and she calmly told us about some neighborhood kids finding a small stray dog and saying “let’s go kill that dog.” She instead talked her mother into taking the dog in, at least temporarily.

This is what we have to work with. For many of our young people, we need to redefine what is “normal” treatment of animals. No, it’s not normal to beat animals as a means of training. No, it’s not normal to shoot or kill animals when they misbehave or you are otherwise done with them.   We usually highlight the fact that our program provides better lives for shelter animals and job training for young people who need to get a leg up but it’s times like this that remind us that humane education– –teaching youth about respect and compassion for animals and how to pass it on– –is an equally significant part that mission.

 

Is Your Puppy A #RealRescue?

120

We want to launch a movement: #realrescue. We consider it part of our mission to encourage people to adopt adult dogs and cats rather than puppies and kittens. Why? Mainly because adult dogs and cats need our help the most and may not make it without it. Puppies and kittens usually have no problem getting adopted, at least in our area. Another reason we like to see people adopt adult dogs is that many puppies up for “adoption” or “rescue” are actually the product of backyard breeders who like to take advantage of people’s desire to rescue rather than purchase their next pet. “He’s a rescue” is something many people want to say when someone comments on their dog. But many of those people also want a young puppy and/or a specific breed that is not often found in shelters. This has given rise to a profit opportunity for unscrupulous backyard breeders. Since most people begin their search for a new pet online, It can be difficult to tell the difference between a legitimate rescue organization who happens to have puppies available for adoption and a backyard breeder whose profit from the sale will encourage them to produce more puppies. We have also seen pet stores with signs out that say “puppies for adoption,”  when those puppies actually came from breeders.  We need to take back the words “rescue” and “adopt” by educating the public about what #realrescue looks like.  Here are some signs that should be red flags that this is not a #realrescue:

1, They do not interview you. Backyard breeders are making a sale. They focus on marketing the puppy and won’t ask you much, if anything, about your home, your family and your lifestyle. A reputable rescue will have you complete a detailed application and want to know who lives in your home and your history with pets. They will often want to do a home visit before finalizing the adoption. Don’t be offended by that. They want to make sure that the match is a good one. In contrast, a breeder, or someone working with one, will often simply meet you, take payment and hand you a puppy. If the process is that easy, an alarm should go off in your head. This is not #realrescue.

2. The puppy is under eight weeks, not up to date on shots and/or not spayed or neutered. In order to turn a profit, backyard breeders frequently sell puppies at too young an age, without all of their shots and unaltered. If you are offered a “rescue” puppy under eight weeks of age, without its shots and/or without being spayed or neutered, run. This is not #realrescue.

3. They do not give you a contract to sign stating that they will take the puppy back at any time for any reason. Any reputable shelter or rescue will have you sign an adoption  contract and one of the terms will be that, if you ever have to re-home the dog for any reason, you should contact them and they will accept the dog back.   A relationship with a backyard breeder is once and done. Once you take the puppy, they do not want to hear from you again (unless you want to buy another puppy). A relationship with a reputable rescue lasts a lifetime.

4. They provide no education about the dog and/or the breed. A rescue wants to know that the dog will be happy in your home and you will be happy with your new pet. They want to see you succeed and they will help by providing you some of the tools to make sure that happens. Responsible rescue organizations are matchmakers, not retailers, and they will want to make sure you know the basics of things like housebreaking and training. They will answer any questions you have and tell you about the behavior they have seen so far and give you tips on how to move forward from there.

Again, we encourage you to first consider adopting an adult dog because, not only do they need your help more, their personality is already evident and you can be more confident that he or she will be a good fit for your home. But, if you prefer to adopt a puppy, please use the tips above to make sure you are supporting #realrescue and not getting swindled by a pretender and unwittingly supporting a backyard breeder.

How to Help Shelter Animals on Social Media … Do’s and Don’ts

12240885_916115225131765_9172216455590892872_o

If you’re reading this, you probably consider yourself an animal lover.   Maybe you’re even an animal advocate. Animals are your passion and you want to do what you can to reduce the number of companion animals euthanized or languishing in shelters. But how can you make a difference? Some ways to help homeless animals are obvious: adopt from a shelter or reputable rescue, talk to your friends about adoption, foster if you can, donate to nonprofit organizations you know and whose mission you support and report any suspected animal cruelty to authorities.   Social media is also a means through which millions of people try to help homeless animals. Sharing is caring, right? Well, maybe.   Social media has undoubtedly helped to find many homeless pets their forever homes. We are obviously big fans and share many of our shelter friends in an attempt to get them noticed. But, many social media posts and shares about animals accomplish little more than annoying your friends and followers while dulling them to the message of what they could really be doing to help homeless pets.

At the risk of offending some people, here is our list of “do’s” and “don’t”s for using social media to help shelter animals:

DO share animals that you or your friends know personally with honest descriptions of their personality, likes and dislikes. If they need a home without other animals or would be too high energy for small children, say it up front. Anyone serious about helping will need to know what kind of home would be best.

DO add your own comments or at least copy and paste the comments from the original post. Just hitting “share” is nowhere near as likely to attract any attention.

DO share happy stories and before and after photos. Show people that people just like them with kids, other pets, full time jobs and busy lives are finding time to volunteer, foster and adopt shelter animals.

DON’T say anything that sounds like any of the following: “somebody please save him,” “I would help but [fill in the blank] (“I have a full house”, “I live 1000 miles away”, “My dog hates other animals”, etc. etc.), These types of comments may make people feel better but they accomplish nothing and frequently crowd the comments section and bury the useful offers of help.

DON’T criticize the shelter staff for being “murderers” if the animal is in danger of being euthanized. The vast majority of shelter employees are caring individuals just like you and the last thing they want to do is euthanize an animal. They have likely reached out to no kill shelters and rescues with whom they have relationships and not found an appropriate placement. The post you are sharing is an attempt to reach out to the broadest group possible to find the right foster or adopter and criticizing them for doing it or acting as if they have a better option and are just not trying hard enough does not help.

DON’T say you pledge $10 or any other amount unless that is specifically what the person posting is looking for. In most cases, what is needed is a place for the animal to go and a few hundred dollars will not create that. In some cases, a foster home has been located and funds are needed for medical care but, if that is the case, the message will be clear and a link will be provided. When a temporary or permanent home is what is needed, vague, unenforceable pledges of money in Facebook comments are usually worthless.

Social media is a wonderful tool for connecting with like-minded people and for helping homeless animals find new families. Following these tips will help to ensure that your efforts are as productive as possible.

The Dog Days of Summer Campaign

Years ago, I received a mailing from Philabundance, that I remember to this day. If you   don’t know them, Philabundance is now the primary food bank for the Greater Philadelphia area. But it started out as one woman in a station wagon picking up leftover food from restaurants, bakeries and grocery stores and distributing it to organizations that fed the homeless. At the time of the mailing, they were still a relatively small organization that was using almost exclusively volunteer labor to pick up the food, thereby keeping expenses at a minimum with the thought that the money they raised would stretch further that way. But then they took a step back and re-examined that assumption.   Was an all-volunteer labor force really allowing them to accomplish the most good? They arrived at a different conclusion.

The mailing explained to donors why they needed to spend the money to hire paid drivers rather than rely exclusively on volunteers. They knew that people saw how much they were able to accomplish with volunteers and would question the need for paid staff. Philabundance management explained that the restaurants and other organizations providing the leftover food needed the reliability of agreed upon pick up times that remained constant week in and week out, something that is difficult to accomplish with volunteers with variable schedules. Inevitably, family and work priorities sometimes trump volunteer commitments. They found that the investment in paid staff multiplied what they could accomplish and more than justified the expense.

Hand2Paw finds itself at a similar crossroads.   We have looked into working with more animal shelters and more organizations assisting at risk young people but we are constrained by the geography and availability of our volunteers to both put these programs together and to execute them. We believe we could materially increase the human and animal lives that we can touch with a paid staff person whose efforts can be devoted to coordinating with the facilities we serve and marshaling volunteers to assist the youth during our shelter visits.  It is difficult to accomplish all that while working a full time schedule. We now have a paid staff member in the Summer supervising three interns providing much needed enrichment and attention to the animals at the Pennsylvania SPCA. This allows us to see how much more we could accomplish with a year round staff person and inspires us to ask for your help.

This brings us to the Dog Days of Summer Campaign. We are small and your donation has a real impact on us.   This is kind of embarrassing to admit but we rejoice over every check and every PayPal notification we get. J Our tails wag and everything! Since we trust you love dogs as much as we do and the Dog Days of Summer are upon us, we are asking you to sign up during August as a monthly supporter in any amount you are comfortable with. Monthly support we can rely on will provide us the security we need to bring on a staff member.   We will thank every donor publicly on social media (unless you don’t want that) and film a video especially for you of a shelter dog jumping for joy in a baby pool! How’s that for immediate gratification!

Thanks so much for your commitment and support.spotjumppool

Sign up to donate here.

Adoption Through A Dog’s Eyes – Let Time Be On Your Side

greg and tiger 

When we see one of our animal friends leave the shelter with a new family, sometimes there is a mix of feelings, but the primary feeling is joy. Our buddy is getting out of the kennel and into a home and will have a chance at a new life. When we see one of our friends back in the kennel because he was returned, our collective hearts sink. We want every adoption to be successful and every dog to find his or her forever home.

Why do dogs get returned? For all sorts of reasons, of course, but one recurring theme is that they were not allowed sufficient time to adjust to their new home — too much was thrown at them too quickly. Try to put yourself in the dog’s head for a minute. You are coming out of a highly stressful kennel environment where there is constant barking and little human interaction. You can hear and usually see the other dogs but you can’t interact with any of them, which you find very frustrating. What human interaction there is may involve medical procedures, getting surprised by water coming through when the kennel behind you is hosed down or other things that further frighten you and keep you on guard.   You may be house trained but not have gotten outdoors enough so that you were also stressed from trying to hold it in for hours or days at a time. If your family surrendered you to the shelter, you feel the pain of loss of your family, your home and everything you knew that brought you comfort.   Or, if you arrived as a stray, you may have been traumatized on the streets for who knows how long and had to go hungry and fight for food. Finally, if you arrived at the shelter with a humane police officer because your family was neglecting or abusing you, you may have suffered even greater trauma.

Now, you walk into a new home and your new family is so thrilled that they are able to provide you with the comforts of home again. They know you’re safe. But you don’t. Right now, this is just another strange place with strange people and maybe other animals you don’t know.

Every shelter dog needs TTA – time to adjust. Adopters may be anxious to have a new dog meet their friends and family and resident pets and establish friendships. That’s understandable but it’s a very bad idea. Meeting more new people and animals in this mental state is often overwhelming to dogs just leaving the shelter. Here are some tips for successful integration of a dog into your home:

  • He will need days, if not a few weeks, to adjust and learn that he is safe. Give him a separate place, including a crate if you have one, away from children and other pets to relax, catch up on his rest and adjust. Do NOT have him interact with children or other animals right away.
  • Do not introduce him to any resident pets until he is adjusted and relaxed and then, do it slowly. Let them see each other with a baby gate in between. If that goes well, try walk alongs with both dogs on leash one following the other. Keep control over the situation by keeping them leashed until you see that they feel comfortable. Look for low slow tail wags and relaxed – not stiff – body language.
  • Do not leave the dog unsupervised with small children. They do not know how to act around dogs and may hurt or scare them.
  • Do not leave toys around where children or other dogs may compete for them.

A week or two of down time is usually plenty to make your new dog feel like a member of the family. Make that investment and it will pay you back many times over. Here’s to may happy adoption tails!

 

A Voice for Quality-of-Life for Shelter Animals

slide5

Animal shelters serve a variety of purposes. They take in stray and surrendered animals; they provide veterinary care, they sometimes seize animals who have been victims of cruelty or neglect and they often educate the public on humane treatment of animals. Most shelters prioritize either minimizing the average length of stay for an animal or maximizing the number of lives saved through adoption or rescue or both of those. Since most shelters are nonprofits that always struggle to raise the funds necessary to support all aspects of their mission, the quality of life for animals in shelters often falls to the bottom of the list of priorities. Of course, the animals’ basic needs including medical care, food and shelter must come first but too often quality-of-life is relegated to the status of “optional,” viewed as a luxury they simply cannot afford. In addition, many granting organizations – those that provide critical funding to animal shelters – are increasingly requiring that shelters seeking grants demonstrate and quantify how many more lives will be saved if a particular grant is awarded. This funding for lifesaving is certainly valuable but it adds fuel to the argument that the only thing that matters is getting the animals out the door alive and any expense that doesn’t directly accomplish that should be cut.

Because of this, in many shelters (but certainly not all), enrichment and out of kennel time, other than for cleaning purposes, is left entirely to volunteers. There is little or no staff time allocated to take dogs out or give cats any human interaction.   It is seen as not vital to life saving because, even if a dog doesn’t get outside or a cat gets no human interaction in a day, they will still be alive when you get back in the morning, so it is not necessary to expend those resources. And this decision can then repeat itself day after day.  While it is easy to understand the need to conserve resources and use them efficiently, we at Hand2Paw believe strongly that providing a decent quality of life during an animal’s stay in the shelter is a vital part of every shelter’s mission and, in fact, a moral imperative. If a shelter decides that it must rely on volunteers to provide enrichment and exercise, then management should develop a strong volunteer base by communicating and collaborating with volunteers frequently and respectfully. Some shelter managers view volunteers as an intrusion and often criticize them for not following rules and procedures or not understanding the big picture.   But it is within the shelter’s responsibility and capability to establish regular two-way communication that avoids these problems and puts mental stimulation and physical exercise back on the priority list. Even if the number of lives saved remains the top priority, enrichment and out of kennel time is still valuable. Studies have shown, for example, that dogs who get out of the kennel enough to remain house trained in the shelter have lower stress levels, making them easier to adopt out and less likely to be returned. That study is discussed here on ASPCA’s blog aptly titled “Talkin’ Poo.”

You will see more on this topic in posts to come, as it is Hand2Paw’s mission to help fill this need and be the voice for quality of life for shelter animals.  What is your view?  Please join the conversation.

Three Common Misconceptions About SPCA’s

about-hand2paw

Many people refer to the “SPCA” without knowing exactly what they mean.   They have heard of many different regional SPCA’s and believe they are all related – part of the same network. In fact, most people don’t understand how shelters work and are confused by the use of common names that often include “SPCA” or “Humane Society.” Three common misperceptions have emerged:

1) All “SPCA’s” or “Humane Societies” Are Related

Many people have heard of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (“ASPCA”) and the Humane Society of the United States (“HSUS”) and believe they are parent organizations and related to local shelters with similar names. In fact, not only are they wholly unrelated to each other but they are also unrelated to any local animal shelters. Henry Bergh founded the ASPCA in New York, the first such organization in the United States. Bergh spoke out against animal cruelty taking place on the streets of New York and, in 1866, received a charter from the State for the ASPCA to shelter unwanted animals and also to enforce the state animal cruelty law. The ASPCA is now a $200 million organization engaging in advocacy, lobbying and public education. It also aids in emergency response in disasters like floods and hurricanes. As of September 2013, it no longer enforces the animal cruelty laws; it transferred those responsibilities to the local police. Other than the occasional grant, it does not provide direct funding to any local SPCA’s. Each local organization with “SPCA” in its name is a separate nonprofit operating completely independently of the ASPCA.

The other major national animal advocacy group in the United States is the Humane Society of the United States (“HSUS”) based in Washington, DC. Like the ASPCA, the HSUS engages in advocacy, public education and lobbying and also assists in emergency responses where large numbers of animals need assistance.   HSUS also employs a large number of lawyers on its staff in order to bring strategic lawsuits to protect the interests of animals. Although the HSUS provides occasional grants to fund, for example, local spay/neuter efforts, it has no corporate relationship with any local organization using the name “Humane Society” nor does it provide any direct funding for local shelters.

2) SPCA’s bearing the name of a state or county are affiliated with the government.

When founding local shelters throughout the twentieth century, many people named their organization after the area they wanted to serve: as in the “Montgomery County SPCA.”   That is merely the name they selected for their private organization to help communicate to the public who they could call about an unwanted animal or where they should look to adopt an animal; it did not mean that they were established by County government. They could have just easily been called “Bob’s Animal Rescue.”

3) SPCA’s receive public funding.

In Pennsylvania, neither the Pennsylvania SPCA nor any local SPCA bearing the name of the County where it is located receives any funding from the government. Although some shelters receive some funding if they contract with a municipality to take in their stray animals, that funding is a minimal part of their overall budget. SPCA’s are individual nonprofits that must raise funds to support their operations.

So, if you want to support animals through your charitable giving, it’s important to know the specific role that each organization plays before making your selection. Speaking of that, how do you decide where to direct your donations? Do you check organizations out online? Do you give to the larger organizations as a result of their mailings (electronic or otherwise)? Give us your thoughts below.

Why should you do something if you can only do a little?

So many of the problems we face seem insurmountable. People become convinced that the choices they make and the actions that they can take as individuals won’t have any meaningful impact. I don’t believe that that is true for any of the world’s problems that we face and I can prove that is not true for shelter animals or homeless youth.

Let’s assume that you have your own family, a job, a home to take care of and feel that you do not have any extra time to volunteer in an animal shelter or take responsibility for the guidance of a homeless young person. With the limited time you have, is there still something you can give that would make an impact? You bet there is and here are some ideas to get you thinking.

For the animals, how about you try one of these

1.  Foster kittens. Kittens are short-term fosters, are easy to adopt out and most need a home for just a few weeks until they’re big enough to be spayed or neutered. You can work with a shelter or rescue that will take you take them from you and place them for adoption in a retail location and your job is done. Fosters directly and immediately save lives.

2.  If bringing kittens into your home is too much, how about doing a linen drive among your family and friends or at your workplace? You will directly impact the quality of life of an animal waiting in a shelter who would otherwise be sleeping on a tile floor or newspaper in a cage. It only takes one trip to drop them off and you’re done.

3.  You can be an advocate. Speak up to your friends who are considering going to a breeder or buying an animal on the Internet.  Tell them that they are unknowingly supporting keeping the parents of those puppies in cages with no access to the outdoors, no human contact and often without necessary vet care. Be nice, be firm, do your research and offer them options.

For at risk youth,

1. Can you become a remote mentor? Partner with a young person who needs guidance. Check in with each other by phone or email once or twice a week. You can help keep them on track and let them know that someone cares about what happens to them.

2. What about an evening of service with a few friends? Service is easier in pairs or groups. Do you know how to do anything that one of your parents taught you that you could pass on to a young person? A craft? How to cook a great dish for a crowd? Young people living in a shelter would love to spend an evening having a caring adult pass along some family wisdom. You pick the night. Everybody can give one evening.

3. Have a drive to collect professional clothing so that young people have something appropriate to wear for interviews. Strive for a variety of sizes with everything in good condition – something you would wear yourself. More than once, we have witnessed our young volunteers wearing shoes that are too big and pants that cover their feet because the shelter did not have a sufficient selection of interview appropriate clothes for them.

Do not let yourself sink into the belief that what you do does not make a difference. Remind yourself that, if everyone did just one thing, the world would be a happier and more comfortable place for everyone.

The Parallels Between Homeless Youth and Homeless Animals

slide5

Our original rationale for pairing homeless teenagers with shelter animals was our founder’s observation that many young people living on the streets and under bridges had pets with them. Witnessing the strength of that bond, there was obvious potential to reach these young people through their love of animals and, at the same time, help chronically understaffed animal shelters through bringing in these young people as volunteers.

But the bond goes beyond young people’s love of animals.  There is a kinship between the two groups that we continue to learn about every day. In doing our work over the past five years, we have grown to see many parallels between the life experiences of the young people and the homeless animals we serve; similarities in how they arrived at their current situation in life and in how that makes them feel.  The same collection of reasons that lead to youth homelessness also send millions of animals to shelters each year.  For example, some of the young people end up homeless having fled an abusive home, choosing the uncertainty of the streets over the known danger of home. Others arrive at the shelter after a lifetime of more “benign” neglect or after the adults responsible for their care have disappeared from their lives to jail, drugs, another family or the unknown. In other cases, their families didn’t abuse them but were just ill equipped to provide them with the support, financial and personal, that they needed.

In the case of animals, the reasons for homelessness run a similar spectrum. Many of their guardians reluctantly gave them up, having no choice because of an inability to obtain pet friendly housing (or housing at all) or inability to afford their care, particularly veterinary care which is beyond the means of a significant percentage of people.   In other cases, the animals were seized from cruel owners who abused them, fought them or worse. Others were actively neglected through their guardians’ failure to provide adequate food, shelter or medical care.  Indeed, most of the animals in shelters end up there through the kind of passive neglect that leaves so many kids out on their own before they are ready. The adults that were responsible for both the kids and the animals were not sufficiently committed to their care to stick it out when things got tough,

Because of our work connecting these two groups., we are privileged on a regular basis to see that “I am not alone” light bulb go off in a young person’s eyes when looking into the eyes of a homeless animal. Even if before that moment, they may have felt that they had little value and nothing to offer, they clearly don’t feel that way about the dog they are playing with and they often make the connection that their lives also have value and that they too can bring another living being happiness and companionship. And, that, my friends, is the essence of Hand2Paw.

Therapeutic-Experiences