A Q&A With Our Office Manager
Today, we will be introducing Laura Brown, Feeding Pets of the Homeless’ office manager. She is the mother of three children and has been married for 33 years to her wonderful husband. She is responsible for managing our emergency veterinary care program, overseeing our case managers and volunteer coordinator, managing our database of clients and pets, and providing payments to veterinarians for approved treatments. She reports to our executive director and ensures our entire process runs smoothly. She has worked with Feeding Pets of the Homeless for a little over six years.
What does working at Feeding Pets of the Homeless mean to you, Laura?
Working here is very fulfilling because ever since I was four years old I have experienced the human-animal bond between pets and their owners. I have felt the love my dogs have given me over the years. They are like one of my children and I know how important a pet is in one’s life.
The human-animal bond for the homeless is extraordinary, do you have a special case you would like to tell us about?
It’s not uncommon for dogs to eat things they shouldn’t. We hear about it all the time and the things doctors have told us they’ve pulled from dogs’ stomachs is amazing.
We’ve had several cases of dogs eating towels. One case, a dog ate a blanket hem made of nylon thread and over a foot long and aluminum foil. These obstructions stop the dog’s processes and the dog cannot fully function. We paid for the diagnostics and provided assistance for a life-saving surgery. The dog was then able to live out the rest of his life with his homeless owner. It’s extremely touching to know we saved that pet’s life.
We pay the veterinarian hospital at the time of service so we don’t give the homeless any money. Instead, we pre-approve all treatments for our cases after we do an intake, we bet the person to check they are homeless, and then we pre-approve all treatments and pay the veterinarian directly.
Our statistics tell me we had over 8,400 calls last year. What are people calling about?
People call to find free emergency veterinary care, to find pet food, to inquire about shelters that allow pets, and to get vaccinations, spays, and neuters. They are hoping to find free services available to them because they do not have the means or money to pay for this care.
Another example of a fulfilling case was we recently helped a woman who was involved in the Oregon wildfires. During the evacuations, her cat disappeared. She ended up losing her entire home and everything that was in it. Her cat, Sonny, ran off.
Four days later, the cat was located. When they found him, he had a dislocated front shoulder and a large open wound on his leg. We were able to approve and find assistance for the exam and diagnostics. Sonny’s shoulder was broken and his leg needed to be amputated.
This was such an impactful case because the woman had lost everything. All she had left were her two kids and Sonny. We were able to help her get the emergency care Sonny needed. We assisted with $900 to have Sonny’s leg amputated, and then we were able to reunite him with his family. It’s awesome to be able to help someone who has lost everything be able to keep their pet.
I’m so glad she was able to find us! Many times the homeless don’t call us in time. Those are the cases that break our heart. Would you like to tell us about one of those, Laura?
Unfortunately, we do sometimes have to deal with euthanasia and that is very difficult on us. We rely on our partner veterinarians’ professional experience to determine and discuss these options with our clients.
Recently, we had a case in Los Angeles. A woman named Maria and her dog, Chiquita – who was a perfectly healthy German Shepherd – lived in the riverbed. Because of this, they had to walk extremely long distances all of the time. One day, Chiquita slipped a disc in her back, it could not be repaired, she couldn’t walk anymore, and unfortunately had to be euthanized.
Maria’s lack of housing is why this happened and unfortunately, the dog suffered.
Maria also had another little dog and we had approved dental extractions for this dog. The day the surgery was scheduled, the dog died. Her second dog passed away just five days after the first. These dogs were all she had in life and it was a devastating loss for her.
I personally took on this next case, a couple who owned a little Yorkshire Terrier. They were participating in a rehabilitation program – they were both drug addicts – and their little dog had a string in him and couldn’t defecate. There was an obstruction of over twelve inches of a hem of a blanket with nylon thread. The string went all the way through the dog’s intestines.
The case started on a Thursday and the hospital called me the next day saying there was no way the owners could afford the surgery. I said we could give our maximum assistance and asked, could you do the surgery for that? They said no, it was too involved.
I called another organization in San Diego and got them involved. We were able to come up with enough assistance to get the dog the surgery. I believe that if that dog had died, those two people would not have stayed in their rehabilitation program because they would have been devastated.
They were literally getting ready to get permission from the owners to euthanize this dog, and I stepped in, stopped it, and saved this dog’s life. It was a really good feeling.
It is also so hard on us when a veterinarian recommends euthanization for a pet. The dog could have cancer, be extremely ill and in pain, and the owner won’t listen. They take them back out onto the streets with minimal pain medication, and we know that pet is suffering. It’s so sad when that pet is suffering and we wish they would have listened to the veterinarian’s advice.
I know how hard it is on our case managers to hear anguish from the callers, how do you manage the compassion fatigue that comes with this job?
Well, we discuss our cases. The managers get together at least every other week and we talk about the cases that have affected us. We do this so we can get it out in the open and off our chests. We practice breathing techniques, but sometimes we still have to stand up, walk away, and take a walk around the block.
The first three years I worked with pets and the homeless, it was hard for me. I have learned how to let these stories go. Talking about the stories amongst other case managers helps us get it off our chest, share, and let it go, because you have to let it go.
How can people listening help Pets of the Homeless?
You can visit our website and make a monetary donation. Every dollar helps! We average about 47 cases a week. You can also become a volunteer with Pets of the Homeless and recruit donation sites.
If you are a business, you can become a donation site and collect cans of pet food. These can go to your local food pantry or homeless shelter where the homeless can congregate and get free food for themselves and their pets.
Veterinarians can become a partner and join our network of over 1000 veterinarians across the country. They can also create donation sites in their offices and collect pet food. Veterinarians are also eligible to apply for grants with Feeding Pets of the Homeless and we will sponsor wellness clinics in their community.
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