Episode 136 – Renee Lowry

Renee Lowry Renee Lowry Renee Lowry is the Executive Director of Pets of the Homeless. She has been on the board since 2008 and an employee since 2011. As someone who is passionate about animals, being able to work in this environment is very rewarding to her. Pets of the Homeless is the only national animal organization focused on feeding and providing emergency care to pets of homeless people. It is a national nonprofit that helps out all over the country through four key programs providing pet food, emergency veterinary care, wellness clinics and crates for temporary stays.
Website: http://www.petsofthehomeless.org/  “Welcome to the Animal Professionals podcast, where our goal is to introduce you to amazing people helping animals and share how you can get involved. This podcast is proudly sponsored by Doobert.com. Doobert is a free platform designed to connect volunteers with rescues and shelters and the only place that automates local rides and transports. Now, on with our show!  Renee Lowry is the executive director of Pets of the Homeless. She’s been on the board since 2008 and an employee since 2011. As someone who is passionate about animals, being able to work in this environment is very rewarding to her. Pets of the Homeless is the only national animal organization focused on feeding and providing emergency care to pets of homeless people. It is a national nonprofit that helps those all over the country, through four key programs, providing pet food, emergency vet care, wellness clinics and crates for temporary stays.  Hey Renee, welcome to the podcast today. Hi, Chris. Thank you for having me. I’m really excited to have you and to learn more about you and what you do. So start us off. Give us your story and how you got into this? Sounds great. So back in 2008, Genevieve Frederick, who’s the founder of Feeding Pets of the Homeless, she thought of this grand idea to have pet food donation sites at different businesses, here in Carson City, and it was very successful, and she started feeding pets of the homeless. And that was like I said, was back in 2008 and she brought me on board, I’m her daughter, and we, you know, started, she started the board of directors and I was a part of that. And a couple of years later she was interviewed by AARP magazine, and an article went out about pets, Feeding Pets of the Homeless, and it just exploded from there and she became a nonprofit, and that’s how it all started. And she asked me to come on board as the executive director, and I did, and I love my job. I’ve been an employee of Pets of the Homeless since 2011. And I come to work every day and fully enjoy my job and what I do and helping pets out. That’s really cool. Now, what was your background before this? Before this I was in mortgage, so I did escrow and title and also was in the loan mortgage company. So my background. So, different than what you’re doing today. Yeah, definitely different.  So tell me a little bit more about Pets of the Homeless and what you guys do? So Pets of the Homeless, we are a national nonprofit and we are national, so we are all over the country. We have four different programs. We have pet food like I explained before. And then we also have emergency vet care, which is our most expensive program. That’s where we’re actually helping out with emergencies. Homeless people contact us, and we set up an appointment for their sick or injured pet. That’s emergencies. We also have a wellness clinic program, where we have veterinarians that donate, volunteer their time with their staff and they’ll go to say, a church or somewhere where they can run a wellness clinic where homeless, you know, congregate and they can get vaccines and a quick well check. So we have that and then we also have our fourth program is our crate program. And that is where homeless shelters can reach out to us, if they are interested in having a homeless person come into the shelter. Because, as you know, most shelters do not allow pets inside, unless they are that person’s service animal. So that is and I’ll elaborate more on all of those programs, if you like. So that’s what we do. Yeah.  So you started out with the pet food, you know? So donations. I mean, I guess tell us a little bit more about how that works and kind of how it’s expanded over the years. Yeah, absolutely. So, Genevieve, she had one of our local vets, here in Carson, start the program at his office. And by the end of the day, he put a bin in his front lobby, and by the end of the day, the bin was overflowing with pet food. So she knew it was gonna work. She knew that there was something there that the people, the public, responded to. So she, you know, had these bins in offices and other people started reaching out to her. I want to do this. And it’s not even at veterinary hospitals. It could be any kind of business that wants to be a donation site. Like, we have banks, nail salons, yoga studios. I mean every business. And once that bin is filled up with pet food, then somebody, either from the office or a volunteer, will go pick up that pet food and bring it back to a pet food provider, is what we call it, and that would be your, you know, shelter that has pets, not a pet shelter, but people shelter, that allows pets. It’s brought over to soup kitchens and places like that, where homeless people congregate. So that’s where the pet food all goes. Since 2008 we’ve collected over 688 tons of pet food, Yeah, and we have over 220 donation sites across the country. Wow.  So now how do people start up a new donation site? If I’m here in Milwaukee and I said, Hey, I want to do this. What would people do? Yeah, so they would go to our website petsofthehomeless.org, and then you would go to the tab that says donation site. And then how to become a donation site. And there’s a form to fill out, and it talks a little bit more about what exactly we want that donation site to do and the steps to have a successful donation site. Yeah. And then do you help connect them with local shelters, people shelters, like you said, to actually bring the donations to? Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. So, you know, either the person that is becoming the donation site, since they’re from that area, they may know of a soup kitchen that is close to them because we don’t want people to have to travel half an hour away. So we try to ask that in the interview process. Like, Okay, is there a soup kitchen around you? Is there a shelter? So we kind of get information from them and if they have no clue, no idea where they’re at, then we will definitely help them find one and get them connected.  Do you have any statistics with the number of homeless pets and people? I mean, I’m not sure how many homeless people actually have pets. I’m trying to kind of get an idea of the scale. Yeah. So there’s tons of homeless around the country, I don’t have that number, exactly. But we do say that it’s 25% of homeless people have pets and they go out, the government goes out, and on one night in January, they do a homeless count. But it’s kind of hard because a lot of people are living in, you know, where you think the typical homeless live on the street. They’re out in the woods. They are kind of hiding away from society. So it’s not a really good number, especially if they’re doing it on a night in January, with freezing cold. So those numbers we kind of disagree with, but definitely 20, we are figuring that 25% of homeless people that are outside, do have pets. Wow, that’s a bigger number than I would have thought. And now through connecting with the people shelters, as you said, kind of where people are congregating in soup kitchens, are you raising awareness to these programs that you guys have to help their pets? Oh, absolutely. So that’s how the word gets out about us is through caseworkers, social workers, these pet food provider locations. They have all kinds of information about us. So, you know, if somebody goes in to get pet food and people food, for themselves and they, you know, one of the workers there sees that their pet has a swollen eye or they could tell they’re just not feeling good. We try to give our information out to them so they can hand it off, and we can help that pet.  Now. How does this relate to such as the food banks? I know a lot of food banks often will do pet food banks as well. Is there any interaction or cross over there as well? With the food banks, Yes. In particular, we have one here in Reno that has, it’s St. Vincent’s Food Bank. And it’s for people to get food, and they also package up the pet food. So once the pet food is in a, you know, huge 100lb bag, that obviously they’re not going to give that to the homeless person to be walking around with, it’s too heavy. The food banks will actually repackage the pet food, with their volunteers and workers, and they will, you know, put it in gallon size bags and each food bank is different. Some of them, you know, have the people sign up for weekly food, monthly food, and so most of them will make sure that they’re keeping track that way. Yeah, really interesting how that has grown now over the years now.  So you started with pet food or generally started with pet food, and then you decided, Hey, we need to kind of expand the services and the programs that we offer. Exactly. So that’s where the emergency veterinary care came into place, was there was a homeless person that she was helping, and their dog was injured. And so she started that program pretty quickly after the pet food was successful. And then after she brought me on and I became a case manager, and so the emergencies, since 2008, we’ve helped 4718 pets, and that’s just with emergencies. Including wellness, we’ve helped out 16,688 pets. So, yeah, with those two programs combined. But the average cost for an emergency visit is $275. We’ve spent almost $1.3 million on just emergency cases alone.  So, like I said earlier, we definitely rely on our volunteers, social workers, and veterinarians, to refer homeless and their pets to us for verification, cause we do a, when a homeless person contacts us, say they, you know, call us directly and say, “You know, my pet was just hit by a car.” Then we talk to them, give them an interview, do an interview with them and they have to give us homeless verification. Which means that they need to go to their caseworker, if they have one or they need to contact their soup kitchen, where they get their food and have one of those, you know, one of those people give us a call. Say yes, this person, Jane Doe, she’s definitely here all the time. So before when this program first started, we were kind of just going off what they said, if they were homeless, because we’re obviously not face to face because we are across the country. So we’re not face to face with these people. So we don’t know, you know, what’s going on. But now, with this, weeding through and trying to figure out, are they in fact homeless? Because we were getting a lot of people that were scamming us. I was disappointed with people trying to take advantage. Yeah, I know. So we have definitely had to implement a different route on how too, you know, make sure that these people were in fact homeless. And it seems to be working out really, really well. We’re seeing a lot of pets, and it’s kind of weeding through the scammers.  Yeah, now. So where does the funding for all this come from? So the funding for all of our programs comes from foundations and individual donors. We get people that are, go to our website and donate directly there. People can mail in checks. And like I said, the foundations, Genevieve does our grant writing and she is busy doing that. So we get a lot of money from foundations, as well. Cool. So that’s good, you’ve got a supporting community. I mean, nationwide. It’s hard to run a program like this at scale. Exactly. It is.  So now. How did, you talked about providing crates, actually, for people shelters, right, so that the animals can stay with their owners. How did that come about? So that came about because not only do we, you know, our phones are ringing off the hook all the time, so a lot of them are emergency cases, but a lot of them are just resources. People are calling, “Help. How do I get pet food? How do I get this? How do I get that? And you know, some of them aren’t homeless, but we’re definitely there to take the phone call and give them resources if we can’t help them. And so the crates came about because we were getting so many phone calls, of people that didn’t know what to do with their pet, because they had just become homeless. And so we’re trying to help them and find pet-friendly shelters, and there are a lot out there, but they’re all for families, domestic violence, you know, those kinds of shelters. And the shelters that allow service animals and a lot of people, they can’t just go to the doctor and get your animal service. It takes a long time to have that certificate.  So Genevieve thought of that program, and it hasn’t been very successful. But I’m noticing that start of 2020, that it is definitely, it’s catching on. A lot of people are contacting us, and basically what we do is we will order crates on Amazon Smile and those crates get directly drop-shipped to the shelter. So the crate is property of the shelter. It’s not, the homeless person doesn’t take the crate with them. It stays at the shelter. So I’m in charge of this program and we’ve given out 95 crates since 2008, so it’s not as successful as we want it to be. But people are catching on to the idea that this is important. And what’s happening is these people become homeless, and are taking their pet to the shelters. You know what I mean? And then those pets sit in the shelter. So we want to keep the families together. And if they go into a shelter together, then they can get the resources they need to get out of homelessness and to get into housing. So that’s our goal. Our main goal is to try to get these people out of homelessness, through the crate program. Yeah, I love that. It’s an innovative program that you’re developing, based upon the need, right? As you’ve learned as things were going along. Yeah, definitely.  So now what does an average week look like for you? So we’re pretty busy. We’re here from 9-3, is our hours. But most of us are here full time, when the phones, we have to stop answering the phones and then we’re working on other stories and that kind of thing. So, yeah, it’s pretty busy with the pet food with all of our programs. And we have a volunteer coordinator that helps with people that are, you know, want to volunteer their time. And those people, the volunteers are the ones that go out and collect the pet food from the donation site. Or they will be out in the field and see somebody with a sick or injured pet and be able to give them our information. Nice. It sounds like things have really scaled here over the last few years. I mean, you’ve grown quite a bit since 2008. Yeah, definitely.  And there was a publication that went out, that said that 7400 families are being evicted, every day, in the United States. So we’re definitely busy, and we’re trying the best we can. Some statistics to tell you about. The people that we’re helping, 61% are women. So it kind of just shows you how, you know, a lot of people think that you picture a homeless person in your head and you’re thinking it’s older gentlemen, on the streets. But a lot of the people that we’re helping are elderly women and their husband has passed, and their Social Security just is not able to support them and their pets, living in a tiny apartment. So they’re forced to live in their cars. It’s really sad. It is really sad and something I don’t think many people, I know, I’m not necessarily aware of it. If you don’t see it, it’s kind of out of sight and out of mind. Correct. And with that, a lot of these women are in the shadows. They’re hiding, you know, they’re in parking lots that you would not see every day, you know, and that’s why they have their pet because their pet is their alarm when strangers walk up to their car and obviously keep them warm. And then 29% live in a vehicle, the people that we’re helping. Wow.  What does the future look like? What programs do you guys have in mind and what things you’re trying to do? So we’re basically just focusing on the main, our four programs. We’re busy with all four of them. And so we are, we’re definitely just moving along with those and trying to figure out what’s, you know, working and not working and trying to make each one better. And as the years go by, it’s definitely successful. We’re making a huge difference out there. Yeah, absolutely.  I’m curious. Renee, have you learned anything about yourself, through working through this, over the last few years? Oh, absolutely. I’m so thankful every day for what I have because I know that it could be gone tomorrow. So it’s just when you talk to these people and listen to every single story that these homeless people have and they definitely have, each is so unique and so different. You kind of think to yourself, Why hasn’t that happened to me yet or you know what I mean? So I’m just thankful every day for what I have for sure.  Well, I really love the organization. I love what you have been able to do. Is there anything else you want to mention before we wrap things up today? No, I think that’s it. I think we covered everything. Okay. We’ll, definitely people should check out PetsoftheHomeless.org and also you have a Facebook page and they can learn more about you. They can sign up to be a donation location. Get involved in the program. All those things. So It’s been really great talking to you today. I really appreciate you coming on the show. Thank you, Chris. Thank you so much.  Thanks for tuning into today’s podcast. Be sure to subscribe to your favorite podcast platform and feel free to leave us a review so we can help even more animals. Also, don’t forget to sign up with Doobert.com to join the tens of thousands of Dooberteers across the country and around the world helping animals and the organizations working to save them.”
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