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The Next Generation of Companion Animal Welfare – Reaching People and Pets in Underserved Areas

Aimee Christian, Amanda Arrington, Director Pets for Life, Lori Hensley


Most people are aware of how poverty and structural inequality create challenges and barriers when it comes to accessing healthy food, education, jobs, health care and housing. But there is less awareness of how limited affordable veterinary and pet wellness services create similar obstacles and therefore disadvantages millions of people and pets in the United States. There are 78 million dogs and 86 million cats in 80 million American households, and pet ownership crosses all geographic, racial and socio-economic boundaries. But while love of pets is a consistent value, scarce access to information, advice and direct care services produce hardships and heartache for many pet owners in underserved communities, making the denial of resources and support a social justice issue in its own right. 

Lack of access to resources is too frequently equated to people having a lack of care and concern for their pets. Instead of working to understand the systemic challenges created by poverty and finding solutions to remove barriers to information and services, many in animal welfare address the effects of poverty as a people problem coercing families to relinquish their pets or handing out citations and punishment. These strategies are often based on a belief that people living in poverty shouldn’t have pets. 

With an estimated 23 million pets living in U.S. families whose income level is below the poverty line-four times the number of dogs and cats who enter animal shelters each year-and millions more in working poor and middle class families struggling with the cost of care for their pets, availability of resources for companion animals is an overlooked national crisis. It’s time to acknowledge this crisis by bridging the gap in access to resources and honoring the human-animal bond that is universal regardless of income or zip code. 

The workshop will include the sharing of data collected from over 130,000 pets in underserved communities across the country through the Pets for Life program and a recent published study conducted by the University of Denver's Graduate School of Social Work on the role race and ethnicity play in accessing veterinary care. 

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