Below is the third and final post in a series featuring Gateway Pet Guardians and their progressive approach to reimagining the future of animal sheltering aimed at keeping people and pets together. In the first post in this series, we shared an overview of how they operate and how they’ve pivoted since COVID-19 hit. The second post focused on tactical ways your organization can build community programming, and this post shares ways to overcome common barriers when trying to implement community programming.
While Gateway Pet Guardians (GPG) have been reimagining a new model for animal sheltering and community programming for quite some time, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing. Jamie Case, Executive Director of GPG and Janet Alderson, Community Director, share specific barriers and their advice on how best to address them.
Forming collaborations with other organizations is not a one-step approach. When GPG began to build their community programming, a lot of it had to do with changing the narrative to a message that says pets are family, no matter where you live.
“We’ve lost a lot of people along the way because this is a big cultural change,” said Alderson.
While forming collaborations can be challenging, it doesn’t have to be. “A lot of it has to do with cultural buy-in from the organization. It’s either one side or the other, sometimes it’s top heavy,” Alderson shared. To gain cultural buy-in from other organizations, she recommends interacting with staff on a regular basis, using statistics and anecdotes and helping people empathize with the community to understand where families are coming from.
GPG also used sharing as a tool to reshape their narrative to show that these families love their pets. “It can be scary to share posts and stories about what you’re doing, but share. Most families are eager to share their story and make a difference.” Alderson continued, “Be ready for trolls. Be armed and ready to stick up for families especially if they stick their necks out to share photos of their pets.”
Establishing pet food pantries (and how to grow them)
GPG pet food pantry receives a lot of donations. They recommend pouring all of the donations into one bag instead of a bunch of different bags. “This leads to less upset tummies since they are getting a mixture every month,” said Alderson.
Their pet food pantry has brought the community together in a multitude of ways. It is heavily volunteer driven, but also provides a space for community conversation. Alderson said, “I like bringing people out into the community because it starts a dialogue about what’s going on, and the injustices that are out there, and what we’re doing to bridge that gap.” They’ve also been able to expand their reach by partnering with the Salvation Army’s human food pantry.
Providing additional services to a community in a resource desert
Establishing a food pantry is a great way to provide better access to food for underserved communities, but there are still ample services that families are unable to access due to cost. Grooming is one of them. “When you’re looking at resource deserts, look at availability of grooming. Even if there is grooming, there are a lot of things required to get pets groomed, including vaccinations, the cost can be astronomical, transportation issues, etc.”
GPG’s solution was to put a pet spa in their building for low-cost groomers to come in and serve the community. They also have a self-serve dog wash, as some families do not have space inside their homes to wash their big dogs, and some are forced to do it outside in the winter.
Gaining veterinary support
When developing community programming, organizations may find themselves with local veterinarians voicing concerns of how their programs might impact their business. Over the years, GPG has acquired a lot of veterinarians to support what they’re doing. How did they do it? They invited veterinarians to come to clinics in the underserved communities for them to see the pets that aren’t getting serviced.
“Once you bring one veterinarian into the community, it’s usually word of mouth for more to come. Then veterinarians started thinking this should be part of the curriculum, so they’d send veterinary students to shadow and intern. I’d take a lot of them out into the field as well, to show them the power of incremental care and equitable access,” Alderson shared. “The response has been great. Taking donors out has been a different story, as it’s hard to see the hard stuff. But it always opens up a conversation, even if it’s uncomfortable.”
Getting the word out to underserved communities
More so than ever with COVID-19, spreading the word to the community about resources available to them is heavily reliant on technology and social media. But what happens when the community is unable to access these platforms due to a lack of resources? What did work was boots on the ground efforts, and it got them more bang for their buck. “We knock on doors. We go to community events, so like a big block party or rally, we’ll try to collaborate with promoters to see if we can tag along and have a booth there,” she said. “Newspaper is a good way to reach people in our community. Facebook is kind of a bust for us. We also have a text service.”
Case adds that word of mouth spreads like wildfire. “It’s low-tech. If someone has a good experience, they tell everyone they know. People get upset if a cousin lives outside of our service area and we can’t serve them, even though I refer them to others, they want to work with us,” she added.
In case you missed it, be sure to check out the first two posts in the series, Could Gateway Pet Guardians holistic approach for animal sheltering be the model of the future? and 7 ways your animal welfare organization can build community programming to keep people and pets together. If you want to learn more about Gateway Pet Guardians, check out their website to get the latest updates and learn more about how they’re modeling the future of animal sheltering. If you want to learn more about how you can help reimagine shelters of the future, check out the Human Animal Support Services website and get involved.