One month ago, something incredible happened that is setting the stage for a hyper-launch of life-saving and life-enriching efforts in the East St. Louis Community. One month ago, we closed on a building that is going to be the largest pet resource center in the region!

Our service area in 2012.

Now, we didn’t intend for it to be the largest BUT it was set up so perfectly for what we needed (and wanted) that we knew we had to have it. For the past 15 years, Gateway Pet Guardians has been tackling the homelessness of animals in East St. Louis. And, up until about 2015, the streets were full of wandering dogs. Yes, dogs… not cats, like you see in other urban cities. Big, unaltered, mixed breed, dogs having litter after litter in abandoned houses. This created a large, feral dog population roaming the streets searching for food. No one wants that in their community. The residents don’t want it, the city government doesn’t want it and we, as animal welfare professions don’t want that. But what is a city to do that is devoid of resources and who’s residents live close to or below the poverty line? We think we have the solution and we’ve been tailoring our programming for the past eight years to achieve it.

I want to share with you some other statistical and historical information to further tell our story. In 2011, we started to look at data. We wanted to factually see how many animals were in need in the area we served. We could see the uncountable number of animals wandering the streets with our eyes but how many were we really talking about. We. Were. Shocked.

In 2011, almost 9000 animals came into our municipal county shelter, St. Clair County Animal Services. 25% of those animals came from our service area (East St. Louis, Alorton, Centreville, Cahokia and Washington Park). The math on that…2250 animals entering AC, not including the 100+ we (and other organizations) took in and the hundreds still roaming. In addition, the worst part was only 23% of the total county intake was making it out alive. I was overwhelmed. Something needed to change. More needed to be done. And we were definitely never going to rescue our way out of this.

In 2012, three things happened with us to start impacting those numbers. May 2012, we opened our first shelter next to Hillside Animal Hospital in St. Louis City thanks to Dr. Ed Migneco. August 2012, we had our first spay/neuter clinic for East St. Louis residents. And October 2012, we started transferring animals from St. Clair County AC because we were seeing dogs there that we had been caring for on the streets.

Coincidentally in 2012, East Side Health District (same municipalities we served) also released their health report and one of the top THREE health concerns of the residents was stray and wandering dogs. Can you imagine living in fear at your own home because of stray dogs? No one should feel that way.

In January 2014, East St. Louis Mayor, Alvin Parks and his Executive Assistant, Lauren Parks sat down with us to talk about the successes we had seen and asked what they could do to help. Just sitting at that table was helpful. We changed and updated some laws and discussed programming. But this was the starting point of our strong relationship with the city’s government.

By 2015, the numbers declined dramatically! We could see it with our eyes but what did the data say? 4200 animals came into St. Clair County AC with 50% making it out alive! Going in the right direction on all accounts! Our service area STILL accounted for 25% of the intakes though. How the heck do we change that?

In 2016, the county passed a No-Kill Resolution to save 90% or more of the animals by 2020. (Spoiler alert, the number has been reached! But now, GPG has some important work to do to serve the community better – we still account for 25% of the intake into AC eight years later.)

For years, GPG leadership has known that the way to end homelessness is a multifaceted approach: sterilization, affordable or free healthcare and supplies (including food) for pets, collaboration, partnership with our municipal shelter, judgment-free intake, intake intervention (simply asking why and providing solutions if possible), eliminating barriers to adoption, strong leadership and a robust foster program. I can guarantee I’m missing a few.

A lot of these things, we do already and do well. Some pieces are new to us. We are investing time and resources into continuing education to learn and put into place best practices from some of the most successful, life-saving organizations in the country. We are also increasing internal capacity by adding staff and tweaking current staff job descriptions to help us better manage programming. And finally, we are again using data to change, update or eliminate programming to adjust to our new, life-saving and holistic direction. We fully understand change can be hard but I encourage you to ask questions and stay along for this incredible ride with us!

We confidently feel by narrowing our focus on one geographical area (East Side Pet District), we can positively affect not only the people and pets in our community but the entire county. (Again, 25% of the county intake is from our community).

This is why we needed to make this huge move into East St. Louis. Why we needed a building big enough for us to tackle each piece of our puzzle. And why we are so excited!

Personally, one of the most impactful things that came out of last year was our decision to use data to drive our work. As a mighty organization in the St. Louis metro community, we have an important role to play in combating animal homelessness in our region. We have the capacity, leadership and support to make big (and I mean, BIG) steps toward ending animal homelessness and unnecessary shelter death in our region!

On April 13, we had a sneak peak of the building for all those curious about the space. Supporters have questions. Volunteers are excited and nervous at the same time (IL can seem like the other side of the world, I know.) And the residents are jazzed!

So many emotions swirled around our 54,000 sq ft building as 300-350 people walked through to view the “before” of the future pet resource center! Residents visited and told us how excited they were that we are here. Animal Welfare partners congratulated us and are sharing in our excitement. Volunteers and supporters flooded in to catch a glimpse at where they will spend their time and love. And well…staff and board members proudly showed off what we have been working so hard for over the last two years.

The community has their arms wide open welcoming us and we have dug in and planted our roots! Join us, arm in arm as we make big steps toward a community with no more homeless pets!

Each passing day, is another day closer to our doors opening. And it can’t get here fast enough for me! This is truly a dream come true.

We want to continue sharing our journey with you! Therefore, over the course of the next few months, our Directors will be sharing their perspective on our move, organizational changes and successes we’ve seen already! Stay tuned!

-Jamie Case
Executive Director