One of the most impactful exercises in my social work training during the early nineties was a mini simulation of what it is like to live in poverty. Participants in the training were given a “paycheck” equivalent to a month of full-time earnings at minimum wage. Our task was to plan a monthly budget.
At the time, 50 weeks of 40-hour-a-week minimum wage earnings equated to about $8,500. The poverty line for a family of two was $9,190. While it was challenging to plan for even the basics based on monthly earnings, it became impossible to make ends meet when more hurdles were thrown into the exercise. A child getting sick meant making difficult choices, like going without food to purchase medicine. The math just didn’t add up.
Food insecurity is not a new problem in our country, but the COVID-19 pandemic made things worse. It was estimated that one in eight Americans were food insecure in 2021.
Many families struggling to put food on their tables have pets who need food, too. It’s painful to know many people feel forced to choose between feeding themselves or their pets. Financial struggles can even lead families to the gut-wrenching decision to surrender their pets to a shelter.
Pasadena Humane and other shelters across the country are working to provide support services to pet families in crisis. The goal is for pets to stay with the families who love them, pets like Rede, Sophia, and Chloe, beloved Chihuahua companions of Pasadena resident Laura DiCesare.
At the beginning of the pandemic, doctors advised DiCesare to take a leave of absence from work due to a health condition that put her at considerable risk if she contracted the virus. The reduced income made it difficult to afford to care for her pets, especially since Sophia suffers from a seizure disorder that requires daily medication and routine blood tests.
DiCesare had visited the shelter in the past and was familiar with Pasadena Humane’s mission. Knowing some of the team members at Pasadena Humane, she reached out for assistance and learned about the “Helping Paws” program.
“Helping Paws” provides a safety net of Human-Animal Support Services to assist families in caring for their pets during times of need. The program is one of many resources Pasadena Humane offers in our efforts to be more than a shelter. Our goal is to prevent shelter admission whenever possible.
Since enrolling in “Helping Paws,” DiCesare has been provided free food for her three dogs through the program’s Pet Food Bank. The dogs have also been eligible to receive free vaccines through Pasadena Humane’s low-cost vaccine clinic.
Thanks to this support, Rede, Sophia, and Chloe have stayed in their home, avoided terrifying and heartbreaking separation from their human mom, and enabled Pasadena Humane to focus shelter care on lost, neglected and abused animals that truly have no other resource.
The recent escalation in prices for groceries, gas, and just about everything else will make things even harder for people living paycheck to paycheck. Thankfully, many animal-welfare organizations are ready and able to assist, so pet owners in crisis don’t have to worry about how they are going to feed and care for their pets.
Dia DuVernet is president and CEO of Pasadena Humane.