Improving Lives with Pets for Life

May 28, 2013

Dr. Annie Hernandez examines a dog at a 2013 Pets for Life event in Los Angelees
Pets for Life could not succeed without the help of veterinary professional volunteers, like HSVMA member Dr. Annie Hernandez.
Ron Montoya

The Humane Society of the United States' Pets for Life program is a community-outreach effort that uses innovative strategies to reach animals in underserved communities. The program grew out of an increasing awareness that, because of economic, social, linguistic, or cultural factors, many communities don't have access to pet care information, resources, or veterinary and related services, despite an often great need. By providing assistance to these communities, the PFL program aims to reduce suffering and cruelty, prevent shelter overpopulation, and promote veterinary care, thus improving the lives of people and animals. HSVMA members – veterinarians, veterinary technicians, and veterinary and veterinary technician students – are an important component in this program.

Pets for Life has dedicated staff on the ground in four cities: Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles and Philadelphia. Through the generous financial support of PetSmart Charities, PFL is also able to provide training and mentoring for local groups in an additional 10 cities. To date, HSVMA members have taken part in wellness and vaccination clinics held in each of the four established program cities, plus Milwaukee, which is one of the cities where PFL is supporting pilot programs.

"The impact of HSVMA member participation in our program has really been significant," says Pets for Life director Amanda Arrington. "Without them, we wouldn't be able to serve as many people and pets at the events, and definitely couldn't be as efficient. It's also helpful that HSVMA vets 'get' what Pets for Life is all about and have a desire to give back to their communities. The relationship building they assist us with is invaluable to the program."

Reaching Out and Engaging Communities

Animals Served During Spring 2013 PFL Events


50-75% of animals that were unaltered were signed up for free spay/neuter after the events.

Because of these outreach events, PFL is reaching large populations of pets that have NEVER seen a veterinarian before, and about 80 percent of the pets attending are unaltered (nearly the exact opposite seen in owned pets, according to the 2012 American Pet Products Association survey¹). Of the 80 percent, PFL is usually able to sign up at least 60 percent for spay/neuter that day. The PFL team follows up with every family that attends to ensure every animal registered gets to their spay/neuter appointment, and also works to engage those pet owners who just weren't ready to sign up that day.

"It was very satisfying to be able to service more than 300 pets at the LA event," said HSVMA Leadership Council member Madeline Graham, DVM. "It was great to see how many folks care about their animals and were willing to wait patiently in a very long line to take care of them, and they were very appreciative of our services. Many signed up for the free spay/neuter services offered, and providing information to those owners that were unaware of the benefits of spay/neuter for their own pet may have changed some minds." Dr. Graham was joined by HSVMA member Annie Hernandez, DVM and three veterinary technicians at the Los Angeles event in Hollenbeck Park. The outreach event was hosted by the East Los Angeles Dog and Cat Hospital and the North Figueroa Animal Hospital.

For the pets that have outstanding medical issues that cannot not be addressed during the quarterly clinics, PFL makes note and local partner teams follow up with the client after the event. Again, this is what is unique about the PFL approach – every concern and issue does not have to be addressed in one day because the teams will still be in the neighborhood and at the client's homes after the event to deal with whatever care is needed. So for example, if a dog is in need of dewormer, that is noted and the team will follow up with the medication after the event or at the time of the spay/neuter surgery.

Local Partnerships Lead to Success of Program

What makes these events an effective way to reach out and educate the communities on pet care and health is the advance preparation of the host organizations. Thanks largely to the organization done ahead of time, on the day of the clinic the PFL staff, host volunteers, and veterinary teams work synergistically in something akin to an assembly line to minimize patient wait time. The goal is to be as thorough as necessary with each client while also being as quick as possible. Vaccinations are already drawn and paperwork has been filled out before the veterinarians see each patient. The efficient intake provides enough time for an examination, a short conversation, an opportunity to answer any questions the client may have, and to perform the vaccinations.

People lined up for the Pets for Life event in Chicago
People lined up early for the PFL event in Chicago.

HSVMA members Jennifer Malin, DVM and veterinary technician Christy Pennisi were integral team players in the PFL Chicago event held in the North Lawndale neighborhood, one of the city's poorest neighborhoods. Dr. Malin served as the "runner vet" for the reactive dog line, while Christy assisted the lead veterinarian for the wellness and vaccination clinic. Free spay/neuter surgeries for that event is being provided by the Animal Care Center of Chicago, PFL Chicago's full-service veterinary care provider partner.

While one PFL event was happening in Chicago, HSVMA members Susan Krebsbach, DVM and Audrey Whang, DVM took part in another PFL clinic at Franklin Square Playground in the Lindsay Heights neighborhood of Milwaukee. Drs. Krebsbach and Whang joined four other veterinarians and six technicians at the PLF outreach event hosted by the Wisconsin Humane Society. PFL and the HSVMA team credit the outreach efforts and preparation of the WHS Education and Advocacy Manager, Jill Kline and her team for the number of families that showed up and the quick and efficient manner in which their pets were evaluated and vaccinated.

Dr. Susan Krebsbach and other PFL volunteers pose with a client and his dog at a Milwaukee Pets for Life event
Dr. Susan Kresbach (left) and other PFL volunteers pose with a happy client and his friendly Pit bull dog.
Susan Krebsbach, DVM

"Being a part of the Pets for Life event in Milwaukee was truly an honor and a privilege," said Dr. Krebsbach, who also serves as a veterinary advisor to the HSVMA. "The goal of the Pets for Life program is to keep pets at home and healthy, and this program does just that by reaching out to underserved urban populations of pets. By engaging the local community, providing wellness care and vaccinations, and education about spay/neuter with follow-up sterilization services, the program is able to reach an untouched population of animals. Not only do the animals benefit, but the clients do as well. My heart was touched when a client returned a couple of hours after I did a physical exam and vaccinated her beloved dog just to give me a hug and let me know how much she appreciated that I was volunteering my services to help the animals in the community."

Dr. Whang echoes these thoughts. When asked to reflect on her experience she said, "I had an amazing experience at Pets for Life. The pet owners were warm and kind and appreciative. I was thanked again and again and told that we were doing something special for their community that they had never seen before. I feel that just a few hours of my time made a tremendous impact on pets that would not have received care otherwise. I am very proud to have volunteered and I plan on volunteering again next year."

Building Relationships

For More Information...

Watch a video about the Pets for Life program»

Read about other members' experiences volunteering with Pets for Life from a veterinarian's perspective and a veterinary student's perspective.

Community outreach events are just one piece of the program, allowing PFL to serve lots of pets and people in one day, but the bulk of the work happens daily in the door-to-door outreach by the PFL teams and their local partners. So these events are different than what most groups do in that it is not one day in-and-out; it is just one step in building a long-term relationship with each community.

The main goal of events such as these is to build trust with and be of service to communities that lack access to information on and affordable options to general pet wellness. These communities love their pets and want to make the healthiest decisions for them, and the Pets for Life program helps remove any barriers they have in doing so.

Learn more about Pets for Life at»
Interested in becoming a volunteer? Email [email protected]»

1    American Pet Products Association (APPA): 2011/2012 National Pet Owners Survey.