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Lawrence Humane Society aims to keep animals out of shelters by offering resources to pet owners

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Plus: See the Cutest Crowler contest winners; Paw Valley Challenge starts Sunday

In March, the Lawrence Humane Society provided 172 pets with free and low-cost vaccines, distributed 5,000 pounds of pet food, and gave away 800 pounds of kitty litter. None of it was used within the walls of the animal shelter.

These services are part of a movement to focus less on bringing animals in need into the shelter, and instead providing support to people struggling to keep their own pets at home.

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“We believe that the best way to help animals is to help people,” said Elina Alterman, director of development and communications for the LHS. “It’s the owners who pay the rent, and buy the groceries, and pay the bills. A lot of people love their pets, but they need help.”

LHS Director Shannon Wells says shelters are currently going through a “renaissance period” redefining how shelters can use their resources most effectively and with the best outcomes for animals.

Those who call the LHS today are not immediately given information about surrendering animals. They are first offered resources based on the specific situation they are facing. Someone who has found a lost pet, for example, is walked through social media and websites that often quickly reunite pets with owners. Someone with a pet that is misbehaving might be given advice or a training plan from behavioral experts to overcome those hurdles.

Owners experiencing hardships, a common theme since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, are supported with resources to enable them to keep their animals at home rather than surrendering the family pet to the shelter.

“We don’t want someone who is already struggling to layer trauma upon trauma by having to surrender their companion,” Alterman said.

Originally a social worker by trade, Alterman views the humane society as another social service organization in the community. To keep pets safe, the priority needs to be providing security to pet owners.

One of her first projects was to oversee the direction of the LHS Pet Resource Center, which provides information to pet owners including low-cost spay and neuter services, microchipping and vaccinations; a program to trap, neuter, vaccinate and return feral cats to their colonies; and information to law enforcement and concerned citizens for reporting neglect and abuse.

The resource center also gives information about the Crisis Pet Retention Fund, which provides support including veterinary services, pet rent and deposits, food and supplies, and assistance finding additional support services.

“Just because an owner is experiencing hardship doesn’t mean they can’t provide a loving home,” Wells said. “Helping with supplies seems like a better solution to us than uprooting pets from a family who loves them.”

In March, as part of National Pet Vaccination Month, the LHS increased their standard monthly vaccine services from one clinic to four – offering free vaccinations to pets owned by members of participating social service organizations.

Clinics serving clients of Just Food, Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center and the Douglas County Senior Resource Center provided vaccines to 140 pets from 83 households. The final clinic of the month was unaffiliated, leaving it open to community members who had made an appointment through the LHS. The unaffiliated clinic vaccinated 32 pets from 19 households.

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Monthly clinics continue year-round, and they rotate days of the week and hours of operation to accommodate a variety of schedules. The monthly clinics offer vaccinations and microchipping at reduced costs, but pet owners who can’t afford services won’t be turned away.

“We’re intentional,” Alterman said. “We encourage folks to have a relationship with a private vet who can monitor their pet over time, but we are here to provide basic essential care when needed.”

Making it happen

Major program sponsors including Hills Pet Nutrition and Petco Love, the philanthropic arm of the Petco corporation, provide support to the shelter itself as well as programs that keep animals in their homes, but the Lawrence and Douglas County communities are critical for LHS to maintain funding and support.

In April, the LHS partnered with the Lawrence Beer Company, 826 Pennsylvania St., to identify Douglas County’s cutest dog and cat, and feature their likeness on the brewery’s 32-ounce “crowlers,” or canned beer to go.

The competition, which ended April 15, crowned Ernie and Ghostopher as the winners. Their furry faces should appear on cans in June. The monthlong contest raised almost $23,000.

Ghostopher and Ernie, the cat and dog winners of the Lawrence Humane Society’s 2022 Cutest Crowler contest in partnership with the Lawrence Beer Co. (Lawrence Humane Society / Contributed photos)

Beginning Sunday, May 1, the LHS is starting a competition called the Paw Valley Challenge. Originally a one-day fundraiser known as the Paw Valley Festival and 5K, organizers reimagined the event in 2020 to eliminate large crowds and expand accessibility to people of all ages and abilities.

The $40 registration fee provides each participant with a T-shirt and access to an online tracking service. Though participation is not limited to local supporters, the LHS will be mapping routes around town to encourage exploration. Entries can be individual or team, and participants can track indoor workouts on treadmills and stationary bikes, or head outdoors to walk, run, roll, stroll or cycle.

Approximately 500 people participated in the 2021 event. Organizers are hoping to see even more people this year. Registration will remain open until May 9.

For those who are unable to participate in the Paw Valley Challenge, the LHS welcomes a variety of support. Donations of food and kitty litter are always accepted, and financial support can be used for operations. Those with extra time are encouraged to consider fostering animals.

“We are so appreciative of the community support that we get,” Alterman said. “We hear from shelters across the country that don’t have that kind of support. We’re so fortunate to have it.”

For more information or to register for the event, visit the Paw Valley Challenge website. Information about support services provided by the LHS can be found on the Pet Resource Center website.

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Andrea Albright (she/her), reporter, can be reached at aalbright (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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