The Wisconsin Humane Society has been in Milwaukee for more than 130 years. It’s the most recognized shelter in the state, has one of the nation’s largest wildlife rehab hospitals and each year provides critical medical care for 20,000 animals.
Yet less than three miles away from its doors, in the 53206 ZIP code, is an area with one of the city’s highest rate of stray and impounded animals. An estimated 15,000 animals live within its boundaries, 90 percent of which have not been spayed nor neutered. No veterinary clinic exists there to address the need and only 5 percent of the nonprofit’s clients for its low-income spay/neuter clinic come from that area.
Through a new community outreach program called Pets for Life, the nonprofit is working to bridge that gap, boost vaccination and spay/neuter rates and, as a result, become a trusted resource among area animal owners. Through door-to-door canvassing and outreach events, the program provides free vaccinations, spay/neuter surgeries, educational materials and other pet wellness resources such as leashes and collars.
“The whole program is a simple concept, but it is really effective,” said Jill Kline, the agency’s education and advocacy manager. “It’s about building relationships and removing barriers to build sustainable change for animals and people of the community.”
The agency was selected to operate the program in Milwaukee, through a partnership with the Humane Society of the United States and PetSmart Charities. The program also operates in Atlanta, Chicago, Philadelphia and Los Angeles.
“The 53206 ZIP code stood out as one to us with immense economic disadvantages,” Kline said. “We saw the most need and population in that area.”
While cost may be part of the reason for the high unaltered rates, Kline said lack of information and education are additional barriers. Since November 2012, a full-time community outreach coordinator and group of volunteers have tried to remedy that by spending four hours, twice a week, visiting neighborhoods. They share information on resources and services and address questions people might have about their animals.
Though it takes time to build relationships and trust among residents otherwise unfamiliar with the agency, staff have seen early victories. To date 730 people showed up at two outreach events and 354 spay/neuter surgeries have been conducted. One woman, whom the team met early on in their outreach, initially slammed the door upon their visit. Eight months later, she is the first to welcome volunteers as they pass through her neighborhood and she has since gotten her dog spayed.
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$750 to cover the costs of five afternoons of door-to-door outreach, reaching more than 100 families and their pets
$5,000 to cover a month of comprehensive community outreach, including developing strategies to reach new clients, connecting clients to life-saving resources for their animals, and building relationships through door-to-door outreach, phone calls, and personal visits