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Humane Society in Vancouver helps pets of low-income people, those experiencing homelessness

Humane Society for Southwest Washington offers spay and neuter programs, emergency boarding

By Mia Ryder-Marks, Columbian staff reporter
Published: May 16, 2023, 6:05am

While most Clark County residents were turning on their coffee pots or taking their dogs for their morning walk, Laura Jean Skiles trailed through the nearly silent Humane Society for Southwest Washington building one Tuesday — omit the occasional bark or meow.

Skiles, the community solutions manager for the animal nonprofit, stopped at the desk in the east wing of the building. Before she knew it, the stillness was swallowed by more than a dozen cats and their owners for the Humane Society’s Spay and Save program, which offers affordable spay and neuter surgeries.

Homelessness is on the rise in Clark County, and community organizations are doing their part to alleviate the crisis and provide much needed resources to the people who are being impacted.

But one subgroup of homelessness that sometimes gets overlooked has four legs and a tail. That’s where the Humane Society for Southwest Washington comes in. The nonprofit aims to keep people and their pets together through multiple programs and services aimed to help lower income residents or those experiencing housing instability.


Interested in volunteering with the Humane Society for Southwest Washington? Visit https://southwesthumane.org/engage/volunteer/.

To donate, visit https://southwesthumane.org/donate/wish-list-and-supplies/.

Studies have shown that pets help their owners, especially those experiencing homelessness fight isolation, and improve mental health. There is also definitive research that domesticated animals improve communities through social capital.

“If making our communities healthier and happier is by having pets in them, we should be supporting that across the board — regardless of where someone lives or how much money they make,” Skiles said.

Services available

The organization hosts Spay and Save every Tuesday and Wednesday, a minimal cost service for low-income people. For a person experiencing homelessness, Skiles said they are eligible for free-of-charge care.

For $50, people who identify as low-income can have their animals spayed or neutered. Residents can also add on vaccines or microchips for an added-on fee. For additional information about how to sign up your pet, visit https://southwesthumane.org/services/spay-and-neuter-services/.

Families in need can receive temporary assistance with pet food through the nonprofit’s CHOW program. The initiative, which is open to any individual needing help, is supported by donations from the local community.

Families in Clark County can receive emergency boarding for their animals through the Humane Society’s Safe Haven program. The program assists families temporarily struggling or forced into displacement due to domestic violence, acute medical needs or other pressing circumstances prohibiting them from caring for their pets.

Space is limited in the Safe Haven boarding program.

Any resident can apply for a slice of the Veterinary Assistance Fund. Those selected can receive up to $750 for nonpreventive care for their animal, said Skiles.

For additional information about the services the Humane Society for Southwest Washington offers, contact the Community Solutions Team at receiving@southwesthumane.org or 360-213-2621.

“If we want to help animals, we have to help the people that love those pets — that’s the big thing,” Skiles said.

Shift of community needs

Officials from the nonprofit say that part of their overall strategic plan is to care for animals and their owners. Skiles said what the Southwest chapter of the Humane Society is doing is not “breaking ground”; she added other branches have similar programs.

“None of these programs are new,” said Sam Ellingson, director of communications and marketing. “The need has just increased so much that these programs have shifted quite a bit.”

Ellingson added that the CHOW program used to require people to provide proof of low-income status. Still, when the COVID-19 pandemic started, the program changed due to the inflated necessity of the community. Now, residents can receive food without providing corroboration.

“We aim to not make it harder for people who are struggling, or create more barriers for people and their pets to access food or any other resource,” he said.

Community Funded Journalism logo

This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.