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Pets in Need Project Reaches Homeless Pet Owners During Trying Times

ElleVet Sciences staff members embarked on a 2-month journey through California to provide free veterinary services and supplies for pet owners experiencing homelessness.

Andy ZunzExecutive Editor, NAVC

Pets in Need Project Reaches Homeless Pet Owners During Trying Times
Dr. Gabe Rosa treating a patient in the Skid Row neighborhood of Los Angeles. Photo courtesy of ElleVet Sciences

As disease transmission and economic hardship forced most of the country to stay home, ElleVet Sciences co-founders Christian Kjaer and Amanda Howland decided to hit the streets.

“Right from the beginning of ElleVet, we wanted to give back, but COVID-19 and the economic hardships that resulted prompted us to accelerate the philanthropic part,” says Kjaer. “The need is now, so we wanted to help when it is most needed.”

That mission prompted ElleVet—a company that produces hemp and CBD oil supplements for pets—to create the Pets in Need Project, a 2-month-long journey through California that allows its team to provide free veterinary care and supplies to pet owners who are experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity.

An estimated 151,278 people in California experience homelessness on any given day, according to a 2019 report.1 And studies estimate that anywhere from 6% to 20% of homeless individuals own a pet, potentially leaving thousands of companion animals vulnerable without necessary medical care.2,3

The team of veterinary professionals that includes ElleVet staff members and volunteers from local practices saw about 200 patients in the first 3 weeks of the project, which started in San Diego on May 19 and is scheduled to include several stops before finishing in San Francisco. The team is making the trip in the “ElleVan,” an RV that allows members to travel together and provide care as a mobile practice.

“We are seeing a variety of health issues in the field, but the majority of the time we administer vaccines, flea and tick preventatives, deworming, and general checkups,” says Kjaer. “We have seen ear infections, eye infections, and unfortunately a few with cancer but for the most part the pets we have seen are pretty healthy. It is a self-selecting group, though, as the people who seek out our help and stand in line are caring pet owners. The ones we don’t see are the ones we are concerned about.”

In all, Kjaer hopes the team can treat 600 to 700 pets by mid-July with the help of supply and pet food donations from Victor Medical Company and Annamaet.

Kjaer says his experiences prove that the human-animal bond transcends economic means.

“One thing that really hit home is one person who told us that they have been on the street for years, and could have a home, but the low income housing places and shelters will not allow dogs, so he stays on the street. It’s extraordinary, and if we can do anything at all to help, this trip is a success.”

Many organizations, such as The Street Dog Coalition and Pets of the Homeless, perform similar services throughout the country. Kjaer says he hopes to continue the impact beyond this summer.

“We do not want to be a one-hit wonder and just come in and leave,” he says. “This is meant to be a long-term project and an integral part of ElleVet. We plan to have multiple RVs deployed around the country providing care and returning at regular intervals to areas of need. The ultimate goal is to partner with veterinary schools to have students do a rotation on our vans and have the experience of treating street dogs and cats (and also rats, snakes, birds and turtles).”

ElleVet is chronicling the project on its Instagram and Facebook pages. Follow along to see updates in real time.

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1. California Homelessness Statistics. https://www.usich.gov/homelessness-statistics/ca/. Accessed May 2020.
2. Cronley C, Strand EB, Patterson DA, Gwaltney S. Homeless people who are animal caretakers: a comparative study. Psychol Rep. 2009 Oct; 105(2):481-99.
3. Irvine L, Kahl KN, Smith JM. Confrontations and donations: encounters between homeless pet owners and the public. Sociol Q. 2012; 53(1):25-43.