Caring People Alliance
At a Boys & Girls Club in North Philadelphia, there’s a small animal zoo that’s doing big things. Run by the Caring People Alliance, the zoo’s bunnies, guinea pigs and pet rats teach youth about responsible pet ownership, build compassion for animals, and provide a space for troubled kids to relax and reset.
“Every day, I feel like I am making a difference, both to the kids and the animals,” says Jessica Bachrach, who serves as the coordinator for the program, called Caring Paws. “Sometimes we talk about the animals, but other times, we’ll talk about things that are going on in the world or in their lives.” Often, the animals serve as a bridge to important life lessons.
Given the animals’ relatively short life spans, nearly every child experiences the sorrow associated with saying goodbye to a beloved animal friend. “For some kids, it may be their first experience with death; for others, it’s an opportunity to talk about the death of a friend or family member,” Jessica explains. “We work through all those hard feelings together.”
When the children talk about how Caring Paws has impacted them, many say that it’s fun or they like helping to care for the animals. But some find bigger lessons, too. Before Sophia started participating in Caring Paws, she was afraid of rats. Now, she’s discovered that it’s not fair to judge animals based on their reputation. “I learned that not all animals are what they seem to be,” she explains and admits that the pet rats are now among her favorite Caring Paws critters.
That’s part of the magic at Caring Paws, where kids learn as much about themselves as the animals they care for. “Animals have a unique power to impact the lives of people,” Jessica emphasizes. “They depend on us for everything, so taking care of them can be empowering.” No matter your age, it seems we could all learn a thing or two from the kids and animals at Caring Paws.
Owning a pet brings plenty of benefits, and research suggests this is especially true for seniors. That understanding prompted Sheltering Hands, a central Florida-based cat rescue and spay/neutral clinic, to initiate its Seniors for Seniors foster program. The effort connects older Floridians with older felines, and sometimes, it results in unexpected pairings.
Elena Goulet, who chairs Sheltering Hands’ board of directors, recalls one such unusual match. An elderly woman was looking for a docile lap cat to snuggle and love. Shelter staff had the perfect feline in mind, but Dixie, a spitfire calico with plenty of attitude had other ideas. After five years of hissing and nipping at every prospective new parent, Dixie found her person. She let down her guard and crawled into the woman’s lap. The rest, as they say, is history.
“Dixie was not what the woman came in looking for, but she was exactly what she needed,” Elena contends. “They became a family, providing to each other the ‘unknown quality’ the other desperately needed.”
The Seniors for Seniors program is just one of the rescue’s many efforts to improve the livelihoods of unwanted felines. “We are the cat people,” Elena says, “and while we may be small, we’re making a big impact, bringing love in its purest form to cats and their human companions.”
Paws Between Homes
Suddenly homeless, Henry was forced to take refuge in his car – but there was no place for his beloved dog, Boss. He worried he would be forced to surrender Boss to the local animal shelter, a heart-wrenching choice. Then he found Paws Between Homes (PBH), an Atlanta-based non-profit that finds loving foster families for pets like Boss, in need of temporary care.
Three months later, Henry was back on his feet, ready to welcome Boss back to his new home. Sarah Rosenberg, vice president and co-founder for PBH, witnessed their happy reunion. “Henry’s joy was palpable,” she recalls. “Boss was his family.”
In the short 18-month span that Paws Between Homes has been in operation, the non-profit has provided more than 80 animals with temporary homes and veterinary care while their humans worked to find stable housing. Without PBH, many of those families would have been permanently separated from their furry friends.
“The upheaval caused by an involuntary move is massive,” Sarah emphasizes. “When people get back on their feet in stable housing, they should be able to do so without leaving their pet family member behind.”
Ohlone Humane Society
Founded in 1983, Ohlone Humane Society (OHS) aims to care for all animals – from family pets to local wildlife. It’s not a shelter, but the volunteer group has a major impact on the communities it serves, offering assistance for struggling pet owners, organizing foster care for kittens, rehabilitating injured wildlife, and spreading joy (and education) through its therapy-animal programs.
“Helping animals and people in the community is hard work, but so very rewarding,” insists Natalia Lebedeva, who serves on the group’s Board of Directors. Through her work, and that of OHS’s many dedicated volunteers, the non-profit strives to better the lives of all animals with a full-circle approach to community animal welfare.
The group’s Meals-on-Wheels program distributes 200-250 pounds of pet food each week and OHS’s wide-ranging animal-assisted interventions bring activities, therapy, education and fun to schools, senior care facilities, hospitals and similar organizations. They even offer regular “Read-to-a-Dog” sessions at the local library.
“The dogs are such good listeners,” says Raj, the father of a once-struggling reader. “They never corrected our son’s pronunciation or point out mistakes.” Instead, Raj says the canines’ happy attitudes rubbed off on the whole family, reducing anxiety and helping to transform a reluctant student into a voracious reader.
But OHS isn’t just for domestic animals. Each year, the non-profit cares for more than 800 injured, orphaned and displaced urban wildlife at its Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. Here trained volunteers nurse raccoons, rabbits, foxes, squirrels, birds, reptiles and more back to health. It’s just one more way OHS lives out its mission to advocate for all creatures, big and small.
John and Amy Henderson started Legacy Farmstead with a mission to help veterans and first responders battling post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and chronic stress. Aided by their team of therapy horses, along with a barnyard full of goats, cows, chickens, pigs and cats, the couple helps families reconnect and heal through their unique blend of equine therapy and farm life.
“PTSD not only affects the veteran or first responder that experienced it, but it truly affects the entire family,” John explains. “Legacy Farmstead is a place for individuals and families to retreat and get away from their troubles.”
The non-profit’s idyllic setting provides the perfect atmosphere for renewal. In addition to its caring team, Amy insists it’s the therapy horses that are the true heroes. The herd, all abused or abandoned by previous owners, have a magical way of connecting with Legacy visitors. One family, who had lost their two teenage children in a car accident, stands out.
“The mother would hardly talk to anyone or go anywhere,” Amy recalls. Desperate for help, her family heard about Legacy and came out for a weekend. She arrived quiet, sullen and terrified of animals, but Chief, a therapy horse with a difficult past, helped her transform. “By the end of the weekend, she wanted to be a part of everything,” Amy continues. “We’ve never experienced something so massive before.”
Animal Rescue Rhode Island
Reeling after the loss her husband, and a short time later, her beloved dog, Katie found herself overwhelmed with grief. Then, she visited Animal Rescue Rhode Island (ARRI) and met Frida – a lovely, but scared, lab mix. Drawn to the timid canine, Katie welcomed Frida into her home. In the months since, Katie and Frida have provided solace, comfort and healing to each other.
“Katie’s family will never be the same, but it’s now complete in a different way,” says Liz Skrobisch, executive director for ARRI, a private shelter dedicated to rescuing companion animals. “Their story highlights why we go to any length to nurture and revitalize the animals in our care, in order for them to become successfully adopted pets in loving homes.”
With roots in the community that date back to 1938, ARRI has served as a haven for countless dogs, cats and other companion animals. The shelter takes in abandoned, abused and surrendered animals without geographic limitation. In addition, it follows a philosophy where no animal is ever euthanized because of time, space, breed or a humanely treatable condition. In 2020 alone, ARRI found forever homes for more than 600 pets.
“There’s nothing more rewarding at the end of the day than knowing that a pet was given a second, third, or fourth chance,” says Liz. “Watching the animals flourish under the care of our staff and trainers is gratifying beyond words.”
Humane Animal Welfare Society of Waukesha County
The Humane Animal Welfare Society of Waukesha County, Wisconsin, embraces a two-fold mission, helping animals and humans through adoptions and education. The open-admission, no-kill shelter is first and foremost a safe haven for animals in need, but it’s also much, much more.
For 6-year-old Ayla, HAWS is a peaceful place. It’s where she and her best friend Emma volunteered together. Sadly, Emma passed away, succumbing to brain cancer before her ninth birthday. But Ayla is still a regular visitor, carrying on their shared passion for animals.
For the animals who call HAWS home, it’s often a second chance at life. Each year, the team at HAWS assists more than 8,000 animals, most often finding them new, forever homes through adoption. Sometimes, however, what is needed is a brief respite while their families get their lives back on track.
That was the case for two large dogs who found their way to HAWS through the shelter’s Safe Keep program. Their pet parents had lost their home. Rather than relinquish their beloved family pets, HAWS provided free board for the Akita and Labrador dogs, keeping them for a month until the family found stable housing.
In addition to its four-legged friends, HAWS welcomes more than 35,000 visitors annually. Many participate in pet training and youth education programs, another priority for the organization. “We are dedicated to the education of humane values as a means of improving the lives of all the animals in our community, not just those within our walls,” says Lynn Olenik, executive director for HAWS.
The hours are long, but Lynn and her team share a common belief: “Anyone who has owned a pet knows the difference that the animal made in their life.” At HAWS, their mission is to return the favor.
Motivated by stories of pet owners faced with the choice of feeding their pet or themselves, Yvette Teipel jumped into action. In December 2019, the non-profit she helped co-found, Protecting Paws, launched a Community Pet Food Bank to help those struggling to care for their four-legged friends.
The timing proved fortuitous, as the COVID-19 pandemic soon pushed even more pet owners into financial uncertainty. Volunteer Jacqueline Colpean sees those struggles firsthand, as she delivers pet food to families in need. “Our clients are doing whatever it takes to feed their beloved pets,” she explains. “Knowing that their animals will continue to be fed is huge relief, and one less worry for them.”
For Yvette, the community pet food bank was a natural extension of Protecting Paws’ initial program, which focused on providing animal care and welfare presentations at local schools and libraries. It also fit clearly with the group’s mission: to help end animal abuse and neglect.
“The pets we help are stars in their family’s hearts,” Yvette adds. “I’m thrilled we’re able to help those that are voiceless and give peace of mind to their families.”
Demi’s Animal Rescue
Lots of teens love animals, but few go to the lengths that Demi Merritt did. As a 14-year-old, she founded Demi’s Animal Rescue (DAR), transforming her family’s basement into a no-kill animal shelter. Ten-years later, she’s extended the Denver non-profit’s reach well-beyond the family home, with a large network of fosters, donors and volunteers.
Demi’s mission – helping to solve pet homelessness through adoption, spay/neuter programs and pet retention – has never wavered. She and her team of volunteers work tirelessly to keep pets safe and loved. Sometimes, that means supporting pet owners in need of a helping hand.
Demi recalls one such client, a homeless woman who needed a safe home for her cat Geo, until she got back on her feet. The woman called regularly to check on Geo, and ultimately found a stable place to live. “I will never forget the warmth I felt by helping keep them together,” Demi recalls. “It was so clear that Geo was dearly loved.”
Pet retention is a priority for DAR, as a first line of defense to lower Colorado’s euthanization numbers. In addition to providing temporary housing, the non-profit offers coaching, assistance with pet supplies, behavior modification and training, and veterinary help. Of course, as a rescue, DAR also takes in animals in need of new homes.
“We don’t discriminate against any animal in need,” Demi emphasizes. “Once an animal reaches us, our tagline says it all: It only gets better from here.”
ProMedica Hope and Recovery Pets
Hope and Recovery Pets has been doing incredible work for years in providing assistance to those with mental illness through pairing them with animals to love. HARP itself is a collaboration between the Toledo Humane Society and ProMedica, aimed at relieving the costs of pet care and adoption for those with mental illnesses that might be benefited by animal companionship.
Today the organization helps thousands of people and pets, by pairing them and covering all the costs of adoption, veterinary care, food, grooming, and other pet expenses. This has helped the cause blossom into not only a cause for good that provides joy and healing, but also into an invaluable source of medical data. After years of demonstrating positive outcomes from increased human-animal interaction, the world of mental health medicine has gained invaluable information about the social and psychological benefits of animal companionship.
What are the benefits of animal interaction? The major improvements come in the form of reducing anxiety, alleviating depression, providing self-care motivation, and other psychologically therapeutic outcomes. In fact, no current HARP patients have experienced a psychiatric hospitalization after adoption. As incredible as that is, it’s not the only breakthrough the program provides. There’s strong evidence that pet adoption also brings with it a long list of social benefits that aren’t always immediately apparent. Patients are less lonely, and have an easier time relating to others and making new friends, after adopting a pet.
HARP is changing both human and animal lives for the better. But the most inspiring thing of all might be what their results mean for the future. The better we understand the relationship between human-animal relationships and mental illness, the closer we’ll be to a world where mental illness means less stigma, and less suffering, than today.
AgriScience Biotechnology Academy
Where a passionate student intersects with a special opportunity, lives can change for the better. That’s the philosophy AgriScience & Veterinary Assistance Academy brings to their mission of inspiring and educating the world’s next generation of animal science and medicine professionals.
The organization works with high schoolers and veterinary professionals to coordinate learning opportunities for secondary-education students. All students are welcome–both who come from a more traditional background, and those facing challenges, be they in learning style, mental health, or family resources. And the learning experiences they’re provided aren’t busy work either–the students are immediately on-the-job learning to heal, groom, and help animals. All the while, the students are working toward their Veterinary Assistance Certification, so that when their time in the program ends, they’ll be ready to join the workforce right away.
AgriScience & Veterinary Assistance Academy is doing something incredible. Not only are they helping an upcoming generation of students find gainful, rewarding employment with a practical educational head-start in medicine and agri-science, but they’re also helping animals. By ensuring the next generation of veterinarians are well-stocked, motivated, and inspired, they ensure a brighter future of care for the animals that will inevitably need it.
One AgriScience & Veterinary Assistance Academy educator, Holly Hultgren, said it best, “When they get into that classroom it sparks something and that can change their entire life.” These educators are giving students access to more opportunities, while animals give them a sense of belonging. And that’s giving all of us a brighter future.
Home for Life
Diego was just two years old when he arrived at Home for Life, but he already had a reputation as unmanageable. TC, saddled with several infected teeth that made it nearly impossible for him to eat, was painfully thin. Dodi had been removed from three rescues and two homes in just 18 months. Euthanasia was the next stop for all three, until Home for Life stepped in.
“In the world of animal welfare, shelters offer two doors: adoption and euthanasia,” explains Lisa LaVerdiere, founder of the Wisconsin-based non-profit. “We’re the third door – a care-for-life sanctuary.”
As one of the country’s only such sanctuaries, Home for Life helps desperate animals whose needs exceed the capacity of traditional shelters and rescues. Some 200 cats and dogs live out their days at this unique facility, receiving the medical attention and the safe, loving environment they need.
In return, many of the animals give back to the community through the group’s innovative Peace Creatures pet therapy program. “The adults and children we help can identify with our animals – they’ve both been through so much,” Lisa contends. Through the program, Home for Life provide solace and joy to the lives of 8,000 at-risk kids and adults every year.
“Dogs and cats who fall outside the parameters of ‘adoptable’ are overlooked or disregarded,” Lisa continues. “But we’re reminded every day that these special cats and dogs are not pariahs or outcasts. They still have much to give.”
Cheryl Kaletka started Fellinlove Farm for her daughters, who both have serious health issues. She wanted a place where they could learn about work and responsibility, practice socialization and just have fun. As she watched her daughters thrive, and as the Fellinlove Farm animal community grew, the Kaletka family decided to share their unique farm setting with others.
“Opening the farm to our volunteers and guests has allowed us to share the intense joy experienced from connecting with these amazing, diverse creatures,” Cheryl explains. Visitors have a chance to meet pigs, goats, cows, horses, donkeys, llamas, dogs, cats, bunnies and more.
Make no mistake, this is no ordinary petting zoo. Drawing on her experience as an early childhood special education professor and teacher, Cheryl created educational programs that allow guests of all ages and needs to enjoy the farm and its many animals. By far, the most popular is the farm’s adaptive field trip program.
In devising the program, Cheryl worked to make the farm and its many animals accessible to all. For those who struggle with anxiety in new environments, Fellinlove Farm offers an interactive virtual tour, enabling guests to see a “preview” before their planned visit. Wheelchair-friendly paths open the farm to guests with mobility issues. Plus, each adaptive field trip is tailored to the group’s unique needs, taking into account preferred learning styles, impairments, emotional and behavioral concerns, and more.
Cheryl’s commitment to inclusivity, aided by the farm’s 150 animal ambassadors, has made Fellinlove Farm a popular destination for school groups, families, and senior care facilities throughout western Michigan. “Through hands-on interactions with our gentle animals, we provide dynamic experiences for people of all ages and abilities,” she explains. “These intimate, individualized animal-human connections promote social, physical, mental and emotional benefits – and they’re a whole lot of fun, too.”
First Coast No More Homeless Pets
Before First Coast No More Homeless Pets entered the picture, dogs and cats who found themselves in a Jacksonville, Fla., animal shelter faced a bleak future. Of the 33,000 animals who walked through a shelter door in 2002, 23,000 were euthanized.
First Coast founder Rick DuCharme set out to change those sobering stats, cashing in his retirement savings to start what today is one of the nations’ largest spay/neuter facilities. First Coast also operates a low-cost veterinary clinic and a state-of-the-art veterinary hospital, in addition to other programs designed to keep pets in their loving homes and out of shelters. As a result of these efforts, Jacksonville shelter admissions have been cut in half, and last year, just 719 animals were euthanized.
Today, First Coast has a two-fold mission: supporting low-income pet owners, so they can keep their dogs and cats in their homes and out of shelters, and providing low-cost spay/neuter services, especially for feral and community cats.
“Many pet owners come to us after being turned away from other clinics because they couldn’t afford the care,” explains Mollie Malloy, director of grants for the Florida non-profit. “Because of our programs, these dogs and cats can thrive in their homes.”
It started with a single, stray black cat. Then another. And another. One by one, Katrin Hecker took the abandoned felines into her home. At eight cats, she realized her town of Hudson, N.Y., had a problem – one she was determined to help solve. In 2000, that vision became reality when the registered nurse-turned-animal-advocate founded AnimalKind.
Fast-forward to today, and the nonprofit animal welfare organization rescues more than 1,200 animals each year, places more than 1,000 canines and felines in loving, forever homes, and works to end overpopulation of unwanted animals through its spay/neuter programs. (Last year alone, AnimalKind assisted low-income pet owners by providing more than 2,000 such surgeries.)
Those numbers alone are impressive, but there’s more to the AnimalKind story. The program prides itself on going the extra mile to help pet owners in need, from its well-stocked pet food bank and emergency boarding services to its free- and reduced- cost veterinary care. Once, the shelter even provided temporary housing to a homeless, but devoted, cat owner.
“Every year we serve more than 5,000 animals in need through our various programs, reducing suffering and saving countless animals from euthanasia,” Katrin emphasizes. “Together, we are making significant progress protecting the animals in our community.”