Fighting for Fido

Humane Society supports pet owners through Safety Net Program

For many pet owners, the prospect of parting with their animal companion is an unimaginable ordeal, but for a family displaced by a fire, an individual struggling to pay rent in a pet-friendly complex, or an owner who can no longer take care of their pets due to a worsening disability, it’s an unavoidable reality.

In 2017, the Humane Society for Greater Nashua took in 291 owner-surrendered pets, some with heartrending stories of job loss, eviction, an owner’s passing or a move into a nursing facility where the owner isn’t allowed to bring their beloved pet.

Wanting to provide a solution to the tragic predicament of forced pet surrender, Humane Society volunteer Ann Bellamy collaborated with the Humane Society’s Director of Animal Care Services, Becky Longvale, and Director of Development, Laurie Dufault, to launch the Safety Net Program last fall. The program assists people who are struggling to care for their pets due to eviction, financial need, disabilities, domestic abuse, immigration, or being in transitional housing, shelters or rehabilitation centers.

“What began as a way to help keep pets out of the shelter due to surrenders, evolved into helping those struggling to keep their animals,” said Bellamy.

Now serving as project manager for the Safety Net Program, Bellamy reaches out to food, veterinary care and foster home providers, as well as works directly with volunteers interested in helping with the program and connects pet owners most in need with the appropriate resources.

Before the program, the Humane Society limited community services to vaccine clinics, neighborhood rabies clinics, spay/neuter clinics, dog training classes, puppy socialization and cremation/burial services. Realizing there was still a great need among pet owners at risk of losing their pets, they decided to expand on the organization’s community outreach initiative.

“Primarily, our services are adoptions and owner surrender of pets,” said Dufault. “For owned pets in our community we offer low cost spay and neuter, low cost immunization and some training classes, but that’s really all we were able to do under New Hampshire law. We get calls all the time asking for veterinary, housing or kennel services we can’t provide. The Safety Net Program was a way for us to address the growing need for these other services.”

Through a part of the Humane Society, the

program is run solely by five dedicated Humane Society volunteers: Melania Taylor, Tasha Hilson, Caroline Cline, Joanna Dumas, Marilyn Broek and Bellamy, who work to help pets and pet owners stay together through trying life situations. As such, the program can provide services and resources beyond what the organization is able to provide under state law. Because the program is volunteer-based and is still in its beginning stages, the need for food donations, foster care homes, veterinary care providers and other essential resources is especially great.

“Right now, we’re in the resource gathering phase,” said Bellamy. “We’re trying to get the word out because there’s definitely a great need, particularly for food donations, pet care providers and, especially, potential foster homes.”

The five main goals of the program are to provide pet food and supplies through a pet pantry, temporary foster homes, access and resources for low cost veterinary care, a list of pet friendly rentals and a network of pet sitters, day care, boarding and grooming. Something the Safety Net Program refuses to do is make judgments on any pet owner seeking the program’s help.

“We don’t grill people on why they need the resources or question whether they’d be better off surrendering their pet. Our role is to be a resource provider and address their needs,” said Bellamy.

The Safety Net Program provide foods donations in house and with the help of partnering organizations in the community. Volunteers are also available to direct pet owners to necessary resources including foster homes, if any are available, a list of pet-friendly apartments and referrals to low-cost veterinary care provider. Still, as the program is still relatively new, not every request for the program’s services can be fulfilled at this time.

“We have several people that call or walk in on a weekly basis. Many people who come in asking for services are low-income and can’t afford to pay the cost of a $3,000 knee surgery or other outrageously expensive pet bills,” said Longvale. “Ann is working on seeing if local vets will work with us on a case by case basis but, as of now, we do have a limit to what we can provide.”

Over time, they hope to secure enough resources to have a complete network of veterinary care providers, enough food to match the supply with the increasing demand and plenty of available foster homes to accommodate every pet owner’s unique situations. For potential foster homes they’re looking for people within a 100-mile radius of Nashua open to receiving home visits and with enough free time to give the animals the attention they need.

“The more we can take in, the more we can distribute. We can also spread those resources to other organizations that are working with us to address this need,” said Bellamy.

Through the Safety Net Program, Bellamy, Longvale and Dufault hope to change the conception that the Humane Society services are solely for animals.

“No animal walks into the Humane Society on their own,” said Dufault. “There’s always a person associated with those pets and we want to make sure both needs are met.”

Dufault, Longvale and Bellamy call on anyone who’s able to support the Safety Net Program through food donations, becoming a foster home or offering veterinary care services.

“There’s a great need out there and the more resources the better,” said Bellamy.

For more information, or to become a volunteer, call 889-2275, ext. 31 and leave a message or email safetynet@hsfn.org.