Portland Animal Welfare Team
SHELTER OF THE MONTH
pets of the homeless and those living in acute poverty. As part of our respect for
animals we are implementing a policy to provide only vegetarian or vegan
foods at our clinics and events.”
According to a June 2015 point-in-time report, there are nearly 4,000 homeless men, women, and children living in Multnomah County (of these, 3% said they slept outside with their pet). Most homeless shelters do not allow residents to bring their animals with them, so many people are on the streets with companion animals who are considered family members or best friends—their presence often the only reason their guardian has not given up. Countless others have extreme financial difficulties, making it hard for them to purchase food or medical care for their animal friends.
In addition to mobile clinics visiting sites such as Dignity Village, the country's only city-sanctioned homeless encampment, PAW Team has a permanent clinic which recently moved into a new home central to downtown. We talked with Executive Director, Cindy Scheel, about PAW Team's critically important programs.
We are a volunteer based organization; our free vet clinics attract people from a broad range of backgrounds with a variety of interests in our work. We impact both human homelessness and animal welfare, but the one thing in common for all of our volunteers is that we love animals. This July we moved our clinic to provide better access to the homeless; this seemed like the ideal time to formalize our policy of an animal-friendly menu for our volunteers.
How have your staff/volunteers/supporters taken to the veg menu policy?
The policy has been well-received. Volunteers are on site on clinic days for six or more hours; We feel it's important to provide quick nourishment as well as an opportunity to socialize after the event. We typically provide vegetables, chips/crackers, fruit, hummus, cookies, cheeses, etc.—plenty of choices and variety. Volunteers are also welcome to bring their own food if they wish.
Why do you feel it’s important to adopt such a policy?
We feel this policy subtly helps to underscore our mission to help animals. Essentially, we are modeling positive behaviors.
What are some of the events that your organization puts on? What might be on the menu?
As part of our annual fundraising efforts we put on at least one event a year. Because we serve the homeless, we feel that lavish events are not appropriate for our organization and our events tend to be casual, serving appetizers and beverages with the program including information, education, and entertainment. We're fortunate to be in the Pacific Northwest, which has an abundance of exceptional produce from locally-owned, organic farms.
Any advice for shelter directors or event planners that may be on the fence about adopting an animal friendly menu policy?
Even if your organization does potluck events, providing foods that are animal-friendly is easy. A good caterer can be your best friend! Vegetarian menus don't have to be boring. To keep your guests and volunteers buzzing about your event (and organization) be sure to provide them with a menu that is in line with your organization's ethos, and go the extra step to make it creative and beautiful. This will help guests/volunteers—no matter what their dietary preferences or restrictions—see that a vegan or vegetarian menu can be as delicious and beautiful as any other menu, and that can help folks adopt these menu choices in their personal lives.
We have a unique mission that helps both people and pets. One of the greatest joys in our work is when, through our veterinary care for pets, we help people get off the streets and into housing with all of their family members—no matter how many feet they have! So many stories… so little time! Here's a recent one:
Last week Colleen contacted us saying she had finally—after more than 18 months on the waiting list—gotten a call saying she could get into transitional housing. She had once had a "normal" life until a major medical crisis left her disabled and forced her to wipe out all of her savings; ultimately she lost her apartment, car, and her belongings. Worst of all, Cosette, her 11 year old cat, had to be given to a friend for safety while she was on the streets. She had been living in shelters, on the street, or sometimes couch surfing when should could find a place to stay for a night or two. Now, she had a chance to get off the streets, but could only take Cosette with her if she could prove the cat had her vaccines, a county license, and flea control. Within two days of contacting PAW Team, Cosette and Colleen attended one of our clinics and they left with everything they needed to get into an apartment and back together for the first time in close to two years. Colleen's friend who had been caring for Cosette while she was homeless hugged Colleen and the cat as she cried with happiness. "I can't believe it!" Colleen told me. "For the first time in way too long I get to have my cat with me. She always slept on my bed. She's never leaving my side again, thanks to you guys."
What are some of your future plans for PAW Team?
The PAW Team has been serving the homeless and low income for more than 16 years. We just relocated to a facility that has been serving the same population for more than 40 years. This move has helped us be far more accessible to people that are homeless, as transportation, particularly when you're with your pet, is often a challenge. We are working to help ensure that the pets of the homeless—people that live on the streets, in shelters, and transitional housing—receive basic veterinary care. We help keep the streets safer from zoonetic diseases such as rabies, we help people keep their pets safe and by their side with supplies such as harnesses, leashes, and licenses. Our goal is to provide access to basic veterinary care for those who are the most disenfranchised in our society so that no one ever has to choose between getting off the streets and keeping their pets with them.
PAW Team is the only organization that has such a tremendous, positive impact on two issues I care passionately about—animal welfare and homelessness. We're a bridge between human welfare and animal welfare. We're doing something very meaningful, something no one else is doing in this area. When you see, first-hand, the difference we are making in the lives of people who have virtually nothing but their beloved pets, it just makes you feel great."
CONGRATS, PORTLAND ANIMAL WELFARE TEAM!