Ep69 Amanda Arrington
Yeah. You turned into the community cats podcast ready. Let's cal. Welcome to the community cats podcast. I'm your host. Stacey lebaron. I have been involved helping homeless cats for over twenty years with the Merrimack river feline rescue society. The goal of this podcast is to expose you to amazing people were improving the lives of cats. I hope these interviews will help you learn how you can turn your passion for cats into action today. We're speaking with Amanda Errington. Amanda is the director of the pets for life program at the humane society of the United States and previously served as the North Carolina State director for the HFS US lobbying for humane state legislation in our current role. Amanda leads initiatives that increase access to critical pet wellness care services and information for people and pets living in underserved communities. Amanda is also the founder and executive director of the coalition to unchain dogs a group based in. Durham North Carolina. The organization builds relationships in communities by providing free spay, neuter, fences Pet Supplies and medical care. Amanda, welcome to the show. Thanks for having me. So how did you get involved in animal welfare? I personally started work in animal welfare whenever I was living. Where I grew up in rural east, Texas, and was helping an issue that was pretty prevalent there, which is street dogs. Even though is a rural area that there are a lot of dogs that you see on the side of the road that for a variety of different reasons didn't have homes, and so that was sort of the the beginning of being in that world for me. And then whatever I moved to North Carolina. There were a lot more opportunities to get involved officially in so volunteering with with local groups, and my career, I guess you could say started officially when I began my own nonprofit in North Carolina about ten years ago, and then not long after that whenever. Was hired as the North Carolina State director for the H S U US and somewhat connected to the work that currently with pets for life being service to people in addition to animals, my interest in social Justice really started. When I was very young. Were you concerned about people? Did you see things happening that you may made you wanna be able to change the situation that that people were in in their communities a did where where I grew up again, it was very rural in east, Texas and saw a lot of issues with access not having the ability to obtain services for yourself or for your pets. There's a lot of difficulty with the ideas of equality and a lot of different ways. And so it was something that was just kind of part of the narrative in the world that I grew up in and for whatever reason, I remember it from being very very young. Something that I had a concern for and that I saw there is a lot of need for people to to recognize that there was injustice that was happening around them you notice that certain things seemed to bit unfair. And that it was it needed to change. Exactly. And then you took that energy in brought it into wellness programs. Outreach 'em, actually, the sort of the essence in the bedrock of pets for life. So eager to talk about this program with you today. I think I'm gonna sort of just jump right into it. Can you tell me a little bit about pets for life? And how was started in the essence of the program? Really is sure it is really all about connecting people in pets in underserved areas to services and information, and what that means for underserved areas. What we focus on our communities that have high rates of poverty in little to no access to to pet wellness services. And not surprisingly the the. Areas aren't just under served on the animal side, but they also under served in many different ways for the people. And so we provide free spay neuter, vaccinations, medical care supplies, essentially, whatever is needed for people in pets to stay together until live happy. Healthy lives are approaches unique in that were Riveria proactive in we utilize sort of the traditional grassroots organizing methodology literally going door to door street by street to build trust in relationships with people who have had either very little interaction with animal welfare providers before or the interaction they have had has been largely negative or punitive. There's not a community in the United States that doesn't have a segment of it that is underserved. And so it's a really important issue for us in animal welfare to be aware of for us to talk about and for us to really start kind of incorporating into. Our our missions than the program right now, we are in thirty four markets across the country. Four of those locations are operated directly by the Jess US. So we have our own team in staff that's out in the community, everyday doing the work, and then the other thirty supported through thunders like PetSmart charities, and we call them, our mentorship. Markets where we work with local shelters animal control agencies spay neuter clinics in even rescued groups bringing pets for life into their organizational structure and mission. I surf was trying to think of the analogy we've heard with regards to food referencing food deserts, we kind of reference these may be spay neuter or community medicine desert's, we use that comparison all the time, and we call them animals service desert's, and the the parallel is is usually the same in every community where food desserts are identified. They are. Animal service desert's. Well, so there are not veterinary clinics that are in those communities. There are not pet supply stores, even big bucks retailers. And so it's extremely difficult for people to access spay neuter and just simple things like fleeing tick medication or just sort of like preventative care, or maybe minor medical issues really is just out of reach for people both geographically but oftentimes financially as well. So those communities where you do have sort of spe neuter lack of availability for any spay neuter resources, how do you help resolve that issue? So it depends on what is available on each of the market that we work in every place is different. And so we put together a strategy. Some have maybe a for profit veterinarian that were able to work with. It's only a few miles away men. Some places we are working with. Ryder. That's forty five minutes from the community that we serve end. So transportation becomes a big part of connecting the people in pets with the services in. So we do in the program a lot of transporting dogs and cats too in from their Spaniard or appointments to other medical appointments, in some cases, there are mobile units that that are working in an area. And so we're able to bring them into the community, and even in a few places we have veterinarians that go out into the community with us can you touch upon some of your greatest challenges and greatest successes from the program. I think that one of the most prevalent most common challenges that we faced his been really from within our own field, much more. So than a challenge from the community side, you know, when we first started pets for life in having these conversations about the issue of people pets. Poverty. There are a lot of misconceptions in animal welfare. You know, we have believed for a long time that certain communities or certain segment of pet owners on were opposed to Spain neuter or on their cultural differences that impact someone's decision to spay neuter their their cat or dog in what we have found is that that just isn't true that it's almost always about access and about affordability, men's I think that challenge was a big one in the beginning that we still see we start in each new community is with ourselves in having a very honest conversation about maybe some of the judgements that we've made in how to get past them in order to to really connect with the people that need to services the most in the same vein. Think that's one of our biggest successes is really impacting the entire field in sort of the conversation. That's being. Had on the last frontier. So to speak of people in pets that need to be connected to us as the service providers, and the people who really hold the information so just trying to capture late this in thinking about, you know, it's not our place to make decisions for others. And so we need to go out and provide information, but not be the actual come with our biases too sort of pre decide what direction someone's going to go in. He can sum it up. I think with some terminology uses ensure you've heard and have probably used as have I the term education. You know, that were we need to be out educating people providing education to community, and that was something that as we began really doing the work in collecting data in seeing the results murder like, okay, wait, a second education. Implies that there's a imbalance that you have a teacher in you have a student, and that's really not at all what we see in the community it. It's about information sharing because we have as much to learn as we have to give. And I think that that sort of represents what the program is about what you were just saying that we're not trying to convince people were not trying to strong arm. Anybody really wanna share information make services available in a very easy way for people? And when that happens the majority of folks make the absolute best decision for their pets. And now, let's take a moment. Listen to a few words from our sponsors ready to make a big difference for cats in your community. We've got an exciting opportunity that can jump. Start your efforts. The community cats podcast has launched community cats grants when you qualify for this innovative program, you'll gain valuable knowledge about how to raise funds for your spay neuter efforts plus will match the funds you raise up two thousand dollars. Doubling your -bility to make a difference for cats fundraising doesn't have to be scary. We'll be with you every step of the way check it out. You can find all of the details on the community cats podcast website under our education menu. Let's join forces to make the world better place for community cats. Who is the brainchild of the pets for life program? Was it you was it a group of people. How did it get started? I started with the coalition unchain dogs many years before getting hired by ages US. And that's where I learned a lot of lessons where I really have my eyes opened to the reality for so many people who were living in struggling with poverty every day in how that impacts the decisions that they make him what they have available to them as far as options for their pets in. So through that learning I was able to sort of recognize other people who had an interest in these issues who had some experience knowledge that they could share and from there really became a collaboration of how do we make this a larger program? Once I started working with the issue as the North Carolina State director, I was able to have a lot more connections. And in a lot more. Interactions with with people who could help make it happen. Thank you so much for making this a national program. I mean taking a small idea with a small organization, and then being able to grow it to be able to help so many different communities across the country. It you said the total number was thirty four is that what's currently going on? Or is that the total number of communities that have been involved with pets for life so far. So that's what's currently going on. And that's very direct in official. So where we either doing the work ourselves. We've provided the financial support and training for a local group to do. But it's obviously the the philosophy is much broader than that in in through the pets for life community outreach tool kit that we have available for free online. A just a ton of groups there's thousands that have taken advantage of that in in some way, whether it's just pieces or it's kind of in full with the program. Really started to utilize these ideas and change how they're delivering services and what they are doing in their community. So we've seen in the last few years just the idea of it, which is what the most important piece is really taking off of how much need there is, unfortunately, this is issued that isn't going to be going away anytime soon because the income inequality in our country is greater than it's ever been. And there are one in six Americans now, and it seems to be increasing. Every census that's done or living below the federal poverty line. And so again, you know, any community that anybody listening is working in. There's gonna be people in pets that they will probably say, yes this fits, you know, there's this certain area certain neighborhood that really need services doesn't have them. So in the past for life program, can you touch on the specific ways that it helps? Community cats in an area yet the program right now we serve about fifty percent dogs. Fifty percent cats which surprises a lot of people for some reason. A lot of folks started thinking that the program was mainly about dogs in it definitely is not a large number of those cats are community cats that that we we serve we work from within the community to identify the people who love in care for the cats in offer free services. Just like we do in general, free speech, nude or medical care. And I think on the surface we've seen folks think that cats in certain neighborhoods are not cared for or or not connected to people. But what we found is that most are in some way or another. But it takes us engaging with people in having conversations in listening investing the time to create that trust. And then when we do, you know, they're usually at least one per. Oftentimes, many that are caring for these mainly outdoor cats in varying degrees of social behavior in in friendliness. But that have people who really are looking out for them in love them. It's funny. I keep on thinking about community Katzen actually surprised you would say people think they're more dogs for I would think it'd be much more on the cat Rome than the dog room. Just because I have over the years. I've often referenced cats being pets of the poor. Yeah. Because I had a statistical reference once that said as your income levels go up the number of dogs. You have go up as your income level goes down the number of cats. You have goes up. So there's this inverse relationship, and therefore it provides a much greater impact on your local shelter on your community in general. So I would have anticipated almost sixty forty or seventy thirty relationship. But maybe that's because I'm pretty cat Centric. You know? But I, but I think that you have an inside in that probably a lot of people don't I still think there's a a large segment of just the general public who view community cats as less than a pet. And so maybe that's why a lot of people see dogs as more connected to the people in the cats as being less individual in more communities that might, but you having the experience in sort of information that you do you understand that most of those cats have people? So Amanda, I mean ask you what what would think would be a simple question. But maybe it's not so simple. If you saw a stray cat on the street. What would you do? We know I kind of answer that from the perspective of pets for life in in what our approaches in. We obviously see cats that are loose outside all the time. And the way that we handle is to start talking to people in the area in vine. Finding out the full story of who may know the cat who is carrying for the cat either individually or potentially multiple people the cat is more independent or part of a colony. And then once we are able to get that information offer the appropriate services. That's really how we go about it. And sometimes we're able to gather those details within a couple of minutes. Sometimes it might take us a couple of days in knocking on many doors or using folks that we know to tell others that were not there to get them into trouble in they can trust us. That's what we work hard to make sure that we are doing that. We exhaust every possible option to identify the humans that are involved. And then start talking to people in saying this is what we have to offer. You know, does the cat need to be spayed. Is there an issue with a medical condition that we can help with sometimes food is really really helpful. And then just sharing information on what the benefits are two different services in a lot of the communities. We work in the majority of animals are not spayed or neutered less than ten percent actually nationwide, which is pretty staggering in underserved areas. And so folks have never had an altered pep before. And so they don't always know what that means or they might have misconceptions about it or with cats specifically how we utilize the traps in what the processes in people have questions on. Does it hurt them? You know, how when do they come back so really just talking to people and and kind of shining allied on what we're able to to do in how're able to help them be of service. And in the rare case if it's a true. Stray to us. That means no connection to a person than we notified the groups who handle those issue. So as pets for life. We are not bear to to trap and remove or anything of that nature. So whether it's animal services or local rescue group. That's when we use our relationships in connections, and let others get involved sounds grew. Amanda, if people are listed in finding out more about pets for life. You'd mentioned that handbook earlier which will try and get a link for show notes today. How can they find you to find out more about that or to be part of the mentoring program? So everything can be connected to from our main web page, which is humane society dot org backslash pets for life. There's a linked to the community outreach tool kit from there. There's a link to information on mentorship. And how to get up to be notified when the grant process is open. So from that main page, there's all sorts of information that people can. Get access to in. In learn read more if they would like is there anything else you'd like to share with our listeners today. You know, I think just sort of reiterating what we've talked about that in the pets for life work in very much from from what we've learned we believed that it's important to have seen success in treating cats as part of the overall community in not ostracizing the issue or approaching people any differently than we do on other issues. And we recognize of course, there are logistical nuances to each situation in each community. But the philosophy really is always the same as to engage people with respect in understanding and be of service in in the most comprehensive way, we can with emphasizing the resources in in using our resources to keep people in pets together in that that very much includes community cats. Manda thank you again for green be guest on my show. And I hope we'll have you on in the future. Thank you. A pleasure. Thank you for listening to community cats podcast. I really appreciate it. If you would go to items lever review of the show. 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