September 30, 2010.
That was the day PRCKC Founder and CEO Michelle Rivera realized something that was going to change our organization, formerly known as Spay and Neuter Kansas City, forever.
“We’re going to help everyone,” she said. “People and pets.”
Our team, which consisted of less than a dozen staff members at the time (a quarter of the size that our team is now), got a call from a woman who needed help feeding her three pets: a Rottweiler, a pit bull and a terrier mix. Back then, we had just started our outreach program, and a home visit was required in order to participate in our pet food pantry.
The team arrived at her house, and, from an outsider’s perspective, it didn’t look like a very good situation for pets to be in; the grass hadn’t been cut in months, and, from what what they could see, there were dog houses and dirty, chewed up bowls scattered throughout the yard. When the dogs finally emerged from the knee-high weeds, they were extremely thin.
“My dogs get the same amount of food as my daughter and my husband. So if all we have is a box of macaroni and cheese to split, the dogs are included in that.”
We understand that, in a situation like this, it can be very easy to pass judgement and go straight to dialing animal control. But that wouldn’t be fair because we knew this was a woman who wanted, and desperately needed, our help, which is what we’re here to do. So the team went up and knocked on the door.
She answered and very kindly asked how she could help the strangers standing on her porch. They introduced themselves, said they were from Spay and Neuter Kansas City and that they were there to check on her dogs. She offered them something to drink and then politely asked if they could wait a moment while she went inside to get her husband and daughter.
A few moments later, she wheeled her husband out in a wheelchair. And then she went back inside and wheeled her daughter out in a wheelchair.
They all gathered around the table on their front porch, and the mom explained to our team that she had just lost her job of 16 years the day before the home visit. Her husband was also out of his job because of an injury, and her daughter had a disability. She didn’t know how she was going to take care of them on their fixed income, let alone her pets. But she looked Michelle in the eye, and she promised her one thing.
“My dogs get the same amount of food as my daughter and my husband. So if all we have is a box of macaroni and cheese to split, the dogs are included in that,” she said.
Despite the struggle this family was going through to make the most of what they had, those dogs were happy. They had fresh water, even if the bowls that water was in were chewed up and dirty. They were being fed, even if the best they could do was give them table scraps.
And, above everything else, those dogs were so loved.
“That was the aha moment when I realized we really have to be there for people,” Michelle said. “I didn’t want them to ever worry about feeding their dogs, at least let that box of mac and cheese go to the rest of the family.”
We reached out to the community and everyone was so moved by their story that we were able to gather enough donations to give them a year’s supply of dog food; some folks even went above and beyond and purchased gift cards so that the family could also buy groceries.
“If I was in their situation, I would want someone to do the same thing.”Michelle Rivera, PRCKC Founder and CEO
If there is one thing we’ve learned throughout all the years we’ve spent boots on the ground in the community helping people with pets, it’s that, oftentimes, the ones who are struggling are too afraid to reach out for help out of fear that they’ll be judged. Or that they’ll just be turned away like they have been time and time again in the past.
If we’re not there for them, who else will be?
Michelle has empowered all of us who work at PRCKC to always do what feels right in our hearts. To use what resources we do have to help pets and people, regardless of whether they can afford it or not.
“If I was in their situation, I would want someone to do the same thing,” Michelle said. “My pets mean everything to me. I couldn’t imagine not being able to get access to whatever I need for them.”
With a little support, education and understanding, we can keep loved pets off the streets and out of shelter so that those spaces are reserved for pets who are truly homeless.