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Humane Society Offers Free Services to Low-Income Pet Owners

Eileen, outlier dogs/Flickr

Milwaukee's 53206 zip code has one of the highest poverty rates in the city. And according to the Wisconsin Humane Society, it also has one of the highest rates of stray and impounded animals.

Executive director Anne Reed says this is no coincidence - there's an established link between human poverty and animal welfare. 

"Wherever there is human suffering there is animal suffering," she says. "The same kinds of causes and dynamics and forces that challenge our communities where people live also challenge animals in those communities."

So the WHS is reaching out to the community with a new program called, Pets for Life. The WHS provides outreach teams that go into the community to learn what pet owners in this area need.

"The core of the program is people knocking on doors," she says, "and it has been so great just getting to know one family and then the family next door and then that person's sister and then the family next door to them, and understanding what kinds of things do they need to know about how to care for their animal well and how do we transmit that information and those services."

The program offers free spay and neuter surgeries for pets whose owners live in 53206, courtesy of The Humane Society of the United States and grant from PetSmart Charities.

And it's making a big difference in the community. Reed says about 90 percent of pets in Milwaukee's underserved communities were unaltered. The WHS street team reached out to about 800 pet owners in the zip code, but only 73 pets had been neutered. Since the program has been implemented, half of those 800 have been altered.

Reed says the outreach team was also shocked to learn that the area has not a single veterinarian.

"The service levels in Milwaukee's really challenged communities are so low that a lot of what is needed is just plain service," she says. Owners often struggle to find affordable food, pet care and even the right kind of leashes for their big dogs.

Reed says the WHS has offered free vaccinations at its site for years, but the street teams learned that transportation is often a barrier to these services for pet owners in this zip code. So it has brought its vaccine program into the community.

"The way to make change is not to go and shake your finger at somebody and say you should change," she says. "The way to make change is to figure out what's really needed and come in from a point of view of 'How can we help?' What helps that animal is to go out and make friends with the person who loves that animal and give that person what they need to care for the animal well."

The Wisconsin Humane Society's Racine Campus will also received a matched donation up to $75,000 for any gift given during the month of September, courtesy of the Sam and Gene Johnson Community Fund.