Launched in April 2013, the goal of the South LA Shelter Animal Intervention Program was to intercept 400 dogs from entering the shelter over the following year. Instead they helped 2635. That’s impressive. And so are the people behind it.
The brainchild of Lori Weise, of Downtown Dog Rescue, the program employs Amanda Arreola as the first, full-time Intervention Counselor. I met with her at the South LA Shelter, and received a serious schooling in non-judgment, and teamwork.
Ninety-eight, ninety nine per cent of people who come and surrender their pets, want them. That whole judgment thing, ‘Oh they’re just heartless dumping their animals at the shelter’ is not true. Everyone needs help some time in life. If there’s help, they’re grateful and they take it.
Sometimes that help is as simple as a rabies vaccination, or bag of food. Other times it’s getting urgent care for a pet, a fence fixed – or even training. “A lot of people don’t understand the difference between a high energy and an aggressive dog,” says Arreola. “So, we have group sessions and trainers who work with them one on one.”
Whatever the issue, for Arreola, the Shelter Intervention Program is about keeping pets in their homes. It’s about educating the community on the importance of spaying/neutering/vaccines, and how to be responsible pet owners. Here is where the teamwork comes in. “Thankfully, we have a shelter that’s so on board with this program. If someone comes in to surrender a pet, they send the owner to our office. If we can’t help them, we’ll find somebody who can.”
Yes, the budget is limited. But working with rescue-friendly vets, other organizations such as The Amanda Foundation, and rescues like Angel City Pit Bulls (who run the office on Amanda’s days off), the program has not turned anyone away so far. In a perfect world, every pet could be saved. Some people, however, are just not able to keep them. Still, the teamwork continues with volunteers networking animals, taking photos etc., to help with adoption or rescue.
Though she works 5 days a week and is a mother of two, Arreola also volunteers at her own rescue. Focusing on sick and injured street dogs, The Watts Project reveals the key to her kindness, and dedication to the Shelter Intervention Program. She grew up in the community. She’s dealt with poverty issues. She just gets it. “There was a time in my life when my husband had back surgery and was on disability and in that same week I got laid off so I had to decide, ‘Do I feed my children or my dogs?’ The dogs did eat, they just ate what we were eating, and not dog food.”
Ultimately, it’s compassion and the willingness to help both people and pets, which are making The South LA Animal Intervention program so successful. And it’s inspiring others. Volunteers have now started The North Central Shelter Invention Program .
We can only hope that Lori Weise’s vision spreads across the US shelter system so that many more animals can be saved. As Arreola concludes, “We can’t blame people for what they don’t know. We need to tell them what resources are out there to help. And until you walk in someone’s shoes you shouldn’t judge.”
SLIDE SHOW OF SHELTER INTERVENTIONS: