We met Leon a few years ago. He had eight Shih Tzus at the time. He signed up for spay/neuter, but as he puts it, “It wasn’t a priority for me.” We had trouble reaching him for his appointments so we moved on in the long list of pets in our queue.

A year later, we got a frantic call. His male dogs had gotten in a fight over a female in heat, leaving one of them with a ruptured eye. One emergency eye removal later, we started that conversation again. He also noticed lumps and masses on a few of the female dogs and learned they were mammary tumors, which can be prevented by spay. He made spay/neuter a priority, and we slowly started the process of fixing his now ten pets.

In December, I got another frantic call. Leon received an eviction notice. He had no idea what to do or where to turn. He wanted to keep his dogs, but realized the difficulty in finding another place that could house his ten pets.

We offered to help with finding a rescue, but he was hesitant. So instead we shared a resource with him called Rehome by Adopt-a-Pet.com and the Petco Foundation. This website empowers pet owners to rehome pets themselves, hand picking where they go. We also gave him a few resources for veterans to prevent homelessness. His phone turned off for a few months and I worried and worried, but couldn’t connect with him.

Turns out, he reached out to one group we recommended called Hope Recovery Center who set him up temporarily at a hotel, helped him find a new place in the city and paid his first and last month’s rent. He had used Rehome to find homes for most of his Shih Tzus–He knew where each one went and trusted they have great lives with their new families. He needed help with a pet deposit to keep the remaining three, which we happily paid. And one was still an unaltered senior. We paid to get her spayed and get a mammary tumor removed.

Leon now lives in a beautiful duplex, with a big fenced in yard. His dogs–Sofie, Pup Pup and Bella–love sprinting through the green grass while he sits outside to watch them play. He intends to pay back the pet deposit when he is able, and has expressed interest in volunteering at our new facility in East St. Louis.

“I am extremely happy for the organization Gateway Pet Guardians,” Leon says with a smile, holding Pup Pup in his arms. “They are truly guardians for not only pets, but the people that love them!”

I share this story, with Leon’s permission, because I believe this is the future of animal welfare. Rescue is still a big piece of the puzzle, but providing resources to pet owners to prevent pets from entering the shelter system entirely makes an even greater impact. Building relationships and delivering on promises are key, and also supporting pet parents through the difficult curveballs life throws. Families living at or below the poverty line deserve to keep their pets, and often, with a little support, they can. Equitable access to pet resources and social services, veterinary care, and other forms of support should be at the heart of animal welfare if we want to truly make a dent in the population of homeless animals.

We work with families every day that experience obstacles and setbacks, and their pets are the constants in their lives. They need them. Which is why we have created several programs to support pet owners. Our East Side Pet Crisis Fund provides emergency veterinary care in times of crisis. Our Spay/Neuter and Trap-Neuter-Return programs help sterilize and vaccinate pets in the community. Our partnership with the pet food pantry allows pet owners to access pet food despite living in a resource desert. We’ve covered pet deposits, grooming expenses, return-to-owner fees, and deliver supplies on a daily basis to help assist families with their pets. And now, we are about to embark on a great journey to provide even more support to the Metro East community–opening a Pet Resource Center in the former Miles Davis School in East St. Louis.

I also share the details of our story because it is a reminder of the longevity of this work. Our mission to end animal homelessness is a marathon, not a sprint. We’re in this for the long haul, and with each new family we meet, the Gateway Pet Guardians family tree grows ever higher.

A huge thank you to everyone who has helped us get where we’re at, and thanks to those showing support for our future. We have a lot of work to do to make this dream a reality, but I am confident knowing we have your support. Thank you, on behalf of myself, Leon, Sofie, Pup Pup, Bella, and the hundreds of other pets and families that are eager and excited for this move!

Janet Alderson
Community Director
Gateway Pet Guardians