It’s the end of a 12-hour Sunday. An exhausted, but fulfilled, team took a pause after the last client of the day. It was a moment to do 6-foot-apart high fives and catch our breath before cleaning up from the third Friends For Life free Drive-Thru Clinic + Pet Food Bank.
Cats arrived in pillowcases. Three of the 40 beloved dogs we tested were positive for heartworms. We ran feline leukemia tests, packed up loads of crates, food, and cat litter for worried pet parents. Some people had carefully written a list of questions for the vet. One pet parent filled a whole sheet of notebook paper about George, their 8-year-old Yorkie.
It ended with: “George is our baby and we’ve been so worried about him. THANK YOU!!!”
In a city of 3 million people, in an economy based on the free-falling oil markets, we can scarcely believe that we are the only such clinic here. But we are here. And here we’ll stay.
So far, we’ve dispensed 1302 doses of vaccines, 1711 doses of dewormer and flea preventative, 107 heartworm and feline leukemia tests, and more than 11,000 pounds of food. We’ve treated—and are thrilled to say saved—two dogs with parvo.
How do we begin to believe we can face the need? Because we have some wonderful friends.
Donations fuel a shelter’s disaster response.
We all know that.
Lesser known, is how hard we have to chase them. Forms, calls, deadlines, collateral we need to create, a waiting period. Sometimes, organizations pause their critical response to try to jump through the hoops that get the donations that will fuel their efforts. Sometimes, the team is so small—or the disaster so intense—that they cannot pause. They choose to respond to the disaster and hope that the support will come later.
When Friends For Life was asked to lead the animal response during Harvey at the Houston Mega Shelter set up at George R. Brown Convention Center, we knew we would incur some major expenses. Supplies, staffing, massive overtime for hourly folks, and expenses we couldn’t even predict—for bringing a shelter and a city through an unprecedented storm.
I got literally thousands of emails a day as Friends For Life directed the response. It was simply impossible to read even 10% of them. But we were certainly expending resources. One email caught my eye as I scrolled through on a night shift:
“READ THIS EMAIL. I WANT TO GIVE YOU GRANT MONEY.”
It was from Becky Robinson of Alley Cat Allies. I opened it, thinking “I don’t have time to fill out a grant application.”
The email began, “You are thinking you don’t have time to fill out a grant application. I know. So I filled it out for you. Sign this and send it to me.”
We have some wonderful friends.
And her support has never wavered. During our successive hurricane responses, Alley Cat Allies was there. They helped with food, money for medicines, and more.
Fast Forward to Friends For Life’s response to COVID-19 in Houston.
At the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis in Houston, we knew what Friends For Life needed to do: expand the community-focused model we’ve had for years.
We needed to continue to expand our care outside of the shelter walls, and into the community. We needed to continue to be Unsheltered.
Combine the drop off of an economic cliff for thousands of pet parents with a looming distemper and parvo season… you have a public health nightmare just brewing.
We saw the need in Houston evolve to include not just free pet food for terrified animal parents, but a clinic that offered things that it required a veterinarian to do—rabies shots, diagnoses, medical prescriptions, treatment plans.
And we knew it had to be free. Really free. Not income-qualified free. Not “bring your light bill and show us where you live” free. Not fill out a form telling us what you make free. But really free.
So, Dr. Lori Seelhoff, our medical director is volunteering her time. She works all week and then volunteers her time with us in 12-hour days to get free vet care to Houstonians in need.
Right on time, Becky Robinson reached out and said, “I know FFL will be responding to need on the frontline. Alley Cat Allies is here to help with an emergency grant.”
She quickly processed the grant. It allowed us to buy vaccines, diagnostic tests, dewormer, thousands of syringes, antibiotics, heartworm preventative, and flea preventative to quickly respond to the need. It also allowed us to use our shelter funds to make sure we do not lay off staff and continue to fund the care of the animals in our program.
When we were the first shelter in Houston to bring out a radical new model (no kill) despite all the “experts” saying it would never work, the Houston community had our back. You proved the experts wrong—Houston was, indeed, ready for a new way of sheltering.
Houstonians, we’ve got your back. And so do our wonderful friends.
If you are fortunate enough to be alright through this, we could use your help.
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