Me: Tell me about Friends For Life. What makes your shelter and rescue program different?
Salise: We are the only no-kill LEED-certified animal shelter in Houston. Our mission is simple: every animal matters. Where other shelters define animals as "unadoptable" because they are too old, injured, have a medical condition, or simply because they are a certain breed, the Friends For Life army chooses to stand up and help them.
Me: Friends For Life has two unique programs - can you tell me about Fix Houston?
Salise: Fix Houston offers free spay & neuter services to cats in Houston's low income communities. Fix Houston is a proactive solution to stop the waves of unwanted pets arriving at shelters. Since 2013, we have prevented approximately 54,000 births! Friends For Life has partnered with the city animal shelter BARC, who offers a similar service for dogs through their Healthy Pets Healthy Streets program, and together we block walk - literally going door to door in a systematic way to help all those who need it.
Me: That's fantastic! How do the communities respond?
Salise: Like many things we do, this program is about building trust. In the past, there was a perceived fear about working with a shelter, fear that their pet would be harmed or taken away. I personally attended the first two years of clinic days to reassure pet owners. And over time, the program has become very popular. Clinic days are held once a month, and many pet owners line up at 4:30am to get their cat spayed or neutered. These pet owners truly care about the wellbeing of their pets and neighborhood community cats, but lack the necessary resources. Ms. Garza is a perfect example - the first time I met her, she brought one cat, and was wary about the whole process. But over time, she keeps bringing more cats and has become an advocate for Friends For Life, recommending us to friends and neighbors.
Me: Switching gears, tell me more about your Thinking Outside the Shelter program.
Salise: Most shelters focus on dealing with animals once they are brought into the shelter, but ideally we’d like to prevent animals from being brought in in the first place, if possible. Thinking Outside the Shelter is a program where trained counselors are available to speak to pet owners who are considering surrendering their pet. Many times, we are able to solve the real problem and the pet is able to stay with their owner rather than enter the shelter. Sometimes all it takes is a few months’ supply of free food, basic veterinary care, or obedience training, which in the long run is often less expensive than caring for the animal inside the shelter – a win-win! Last year, Friends For Life gave away 3 tons of free pet food and 500 hours of obedience training. Our vision is that the shelter should be a safe place where people can turn to for help with their pets.
Me: Is there a particular story that has touched your heart?
Salise: Yes, Tarleton’s story inspires me. What I love about his story is that there was never any hesitation to do the right thing – it was all about problem solving to save this cat’s life.
[Ed note: Tarleton was found stuck, or rather half-buried, in a bucket of molten roof tar. The team worked tirelessly to free him from the bucket, wash the tar away, and tend to his broken leg and burns. He did need to have his leg amputated, but he healed and was adopted soon after! You can see Tarleton's full story with pictures on the Friends For Life blog.]
Me: What's your favorite thing about your job?
Salise: There are so many! Every time I think I know my favorite thing, another cool thing happens and that becomes my new favorite. Just yesterday, an older lady came into the shelter, tearful, scared, and apologetic. She had 8 cats at home, had run into hard times, and was worried that she couldn’t afford to feed them. We were able to help her by providing cat food. At Friends For Life, to get help, the only thing you have to do is ask for it. We do not ever income-qualify those who seek help.
Shannon: My favorite moment was when Willow (now known as Bella), a brindle hound mix, was adopted. She is a sweet, easy-going dog, but for some reason kept getting passed over at adoption events. All in all, she was in a foster home for over 15 months until she found her forever family. Goes to show the dedication involved in getting our animals into good homes.
Me: Friends For Life has had many successes. How do you make saving animals look so easy?
Salise: The truth is that it's not always easy. But we have a very cohesive team dedicated to a clear and inspiring purpose. The hardest thing any human will do is allocate resources where the non-recipient may die. It is a duty that takes an emotional toll. We stay grounded in one main principle: every animal matters. Let me tell you about two animals currently in the shelter, both of whom would have been deemed “unadoptable” by traditional shelters:
First is Myrrh. We pulled her from the City shelter, where she had been brought in with a broken leg. The shelter amputated the badly broken leg. She got a pretty nasty infection and Friends For Life took her in. Now Myrrh is recovering here and receiving antibiotics and hydrotherapy. This case is a great example of the way that a private shelter and the City can work together to save lives. I’m really proud that in our program, animals who need extra medical care and time to heal get it.