Pets and Mental Health

By Meredith Ayan, Executive Director

It may seem obvious to long-time pet parents, but pet ownership provides numerous mental health benefits. Amidst the pandemic, more and more people are learning what many of us have long understood – pets boost our wellbeing with their unconditional love, quirky habits and daily needs. They provide emotional support and zero judgement.

HABRI (the Human Animal Bond Research Institute) has even coined a term called “The Pet Effect” to describe the mutually beneficial relationship between pets and humans. Their research has found that pet owners benefit from companionship, a sense of purpose and confidence. They also found a correlation between pet ownership and overall health, showing that pet ownership saves billions in healthcare costs each year!

Fortunately, in my work at SPCA International, I get to see the bond between humans and their pets on a regular basis. Nearly every soldier who contacts us for help transporting a pet to their home or next duty station, speaks of their love for their cat or dog. They share stories of pets helping them overcome the depression and anxiety of deployment and of the role their pets play as they assimilate back into civilian life.

Furthermore, it fills my heart with joy when SPCA International helps match lucky dogs and cats with loving forever homes. Some of these pets have suffered incredibly, but they still have so much to give, and they go on to bond deeply with their families.

Today I’m reflecting on all the animals who have lifted my mood over the years; pets that were family members and even the hurt, scared and lonely animals I have held in my work with SPCA International. As we look back on the past year of quarantine and uncertainty, I know there are many of us who are thankful that our animals were there to get us through.

Senior Pets Still Need Love

By Meredith Ayan, Executive Director

All too often, senior cats and dogs are left to languish in shelters. These animals often make some of the best pets because they are mature and calm. After losing our senior dog, Lilah to degenerative myelopathy at the end of 2020, I couldn’t shake my thoughts from the statistics that show many senior animals are surrendered to shelters at the end of their lives. I felt lucky to have been able to give Lilah the care and stability to peacefully transition at home in our arms.

The confusion and stress a senior animal feels when thrust into an unfamiliar shelter situation is quite high. These situations are often emotionally intense for the shelter staff that try their best to give these animals the best quality of care at the end of their lives.

No matter how good the facility and the staff are, nothing takes the place of a home.

Flare’s story caught my eye on MidHudson Animal Aid’s website. She was surrendered to the shelter at age 16 by a family who was moving and could not take her with them. She spent a year and a half at the shelter and had some interest from other families who were ultimately scared away by her medication schedule. She didn’t get along with the other cats at the shelter so she lived in the office 24 hours a day which gave her a lot of interaction with the staff but not a home of her own.

My husband and I decided to foster Flare for a month to make sure our home was the right one for her. I think we knew immediately when she came through that door, she was never leaving again.

We’ve made the adoption official and Flare is now Isadora – or Izzy for short. She just celebrated her 18th birthday with us on March 15th with some extra special treats and her standard 18 hours of sleep!

If you are considering adopting or fostering in the future, please consider a senior pet as the next addition to your family. Isadora has brought so much love and joy to our home and there are many other senior pets out there waiting to share their personalities with just the right family.

If you are caring for an older pet and the costs become prohibitive, you can find assistance through The Senior Dogs Project:

Woman’s Best Friend

By Meredith Ayan, Executive Director

I recently read this fascinating article that discussed women’s role in early human-canine relationships. In short, it is about how women are responsible for the co-evolution of dogs and humans and possibly played an even larger role than men in making dogs part of households.

After reviewing information from over 140 societies around the globe, researchers found “humans were more likely to regard dogs as a type of person if the dogs had a special relationship with women. They were more likely to be included in family life, treated as subjects of affection and generally, people had greater regard for them.”

These findings fascinate me because in modern times, the makeup of the animal welfare industry skews female. Time and time again, my work at SPCA International introduces me to strong, dedicated and innovative women who save countless lives of animals. I’m proud to lead a team of passionate women who know that improving the lives of animals improves our communities, homes and health.

Time and time again, we have seen how the companionship of animals can improve mental health. This has been especially clear during the global pandemic that has upended life as we knew it. Our animals have helped us navigate loss, grief and uncertainty by being positive, consistent forces in our lives. To know that our earliest female ancestors were leading the way in recognizing these bonds is an incredible discovery.

This March, Women’s History Month, I hope you’ll join me in celebrating the many women and the organizations they lead on behalf of animals. Seeing incredible women-led organizations all over the world helping animals confirms what these researchers found: the bond between women and animals is strong.

Thank you to all the women who continue their dedication to animals as pet parents, foster parents, rescuers and activists. The animals of our world are better off because of you.

Australian Bushfires – One Year Later

By Meredith Ayan, Executive Director

One year after the Australian Bushfires made headlines around the world, SPCA International is celebrating the incredible work our partners have accomplished. I am so thankful that our supporters stood up to help organizations in Australia when they were rescuing scared, hurt and displaced animals in early 2020.

At the time, our commitment included a promise to reserve some funding for rebuilding and preparedness efforts. I am thrilled to report that our strategy continues to make a positive impact for the animals of Australia.

Native Arc is just one of the organizations to receive bushfire preparedness funding. They organized the Wildlife Rescue Team to react to future bushfires and other natural disasters. Recently, their planning was put to the test in response to a bushfire north of Perth.

The fire has destroyed 86 homes, and farm animals, pets and wildlife have reportedly lost their lives. Fortunately, Wildlife Rescue Team was immediately invited by the government to organize animal rescue and treatment efforts. For the first time in history, they brought a methodical approach to wildlife rescue that included a preemptive approach to rescue. This included a phone number for reporting missing and found animals and coordination with firefighters, police and first responders on a protocol for getting injured animals into proper care.

Wildlife Rescue Team has made new inroads with the Australian government through their careful planning and quick response to this bushfire and we expect they will be called on to coordinate animal rescue responses in the future. This is critically important for the health and safety of animals because too often, an organized animal rescue response is not implemented for days or even weeks.

I look forward to sharing more about Wildlife Rescue Team’s work with you in the future. For now, thank you to everyone who supported SPCA International’s 2020 Australian bushfire response. Your support made this grant possible and has changed the future for Australia’s wildlife.

February is Spay and Neuter Awareness Month

By Meredith Ayan, Executive Director

Spaying and neutering our companion animals may seem commonplace, but it remains the most effective way to prevent animal overpopulation and suffering. Many SPCA International partners work in areas of the world where sterilizing animals is often not common, so they must work hard to promote this humane approach to population control. We know this is key to improving the quality of life for community animals.

I am proud to announce that this February, in honor of Spay and Neuter Awareness month, SPCA International has committed $100,000 in grants to organizations leading spay and neuter initiatives. Funding will support organizations on the front lines of caring for animal populations around the globe.  

Our partner organizations are carrying the message to rural villages and urban cities that spaying and neutering is humane and practical. Beyond educating the public, they are also setting up free and low-cost spay and neuter campaigns to ensure people can access the care their pets need. In many remote places there are no established veterinary clinics or regular access to veterinary care which makes these low-cost campaigns incredibly important.

Organizations like Spay Panama operate regular, low-cost clinics that make spay and neuter surgeries available to those who may not be able to afford it but want to do what’s right for their animals.

Helping Paws Across Borders organizes volunteer veterinarians to run sterilization and education clinics in remote areas that do not have regular access to vet care.

ADAN Morocco has helped thousands of animals before and during the pandemic while educating the community on the importance of spaying and neutering.

Across the globe, millions of animals are born, live short lives and die on the streets. These animals experience extreme suffering, which is 100% preventable with proper population control and care. Every animal spayed or neutered saves several thousand potential animals from suffering. At SPCA International we will continue to work toward the day that no animal has to suffer from simply being born into an inhospitable environment.

The bottom line is that spaying and neutering animals saves lives and improves community health. We are proud to be working with these partners that are bringing compassion and awareness to the world.

Learn more at SPCA International’s spay and neuter awareness page.

A New Shelter for Furry Angels Haven

By Meredith Ayan, Executive Director

This has been an extremely difficult year for everyone, including the animal welfare community. The COVID-19 pandemic has made it even more essential that SPCA International show up to help solutions-oriented rescue and shelter groups across the globe. Today, I want to share the story of one exceptional group, Furry Angels Haven in Wuhan, China.  

Furry Angels Haven has been saving animals’ lives long before the COVID-19 pandemic began. The animal-loving founders, Xenia and Li, supported the organization from their own pockets. They duo kept most rescued dogs and cats at their shelter for just a short time, with their focus on finding the animals overseas forever homes.

Thankfully, with so much travel between China and the rest of the world, it was simple to find flight volunteers willing to add an animal carrier to their baggage and safely deliver dogs and cats to waiting families.

Unfortunately, as COVID-19 hit Wuhan, Furry Angels Haven lost the lease on their shelter. They were forced to close the shelter’s doors, leaving them no choice but to bring the rescued dogs and cats into a small apartment while they looked for a new shelter location.

As Xenia and Li frantically searched for a new shelter, Wuhan went into lockdown and they were completely stuck. Compounding the situation, the cases of animal abandonment began to rise rapidly during this tough time. Many pet owners were out of town and couldn’t return, so pet caretakers left dogs and cats on the streets to fend for themselves. Other pets were left behind because their owners were hospitalized or had passed away from COVID-19.

Between animal meat vendors and police who were instructed to kill strays, dogs and cats were at extreme risk. Knowing that certain death awaited animals left on the streets, Xenia and Li scrambled to rescue as many dogs and cats as possible. During the most difficult time, the two found themselves personally supporting the needs of 67 dogs and 40 cats out of one small apartment.

The love and compassion that Xenia and Li have shown towards animals is undeniable. The SPCA International team is thrilled that we were able to provide Furry Angels Haven with a grant to help them build a new shelter.

The shelter is set in a beautiful and safe location on former farm land. The animals in their care have access to food, water and love from their caretakers, so much more than they had on the streets. They currently have 180 dogs and 40 cats in their care, all looking for their forever homes.

I’m thrilled to share a tour of their new facility with you!

video courtesy of Furry Angels Have Wuhan

Helping Animals in the New Year

By Meredith Ayan, Executive Director

As we enter into a new year, we are all looking for ways to start fresh and make the best of the months to come. For those of us who are animal lovers, our minds often turn to how we can give back to our furry friends across the globe. Here are a few helpful reminders of how we can all make the world a better place for animals in 2021.  

Resolution #1: Don’t buy animals as gifts.
As tempting as it can be to give a loved one a fluffy pup or tiny kitten, its best to wait until an entire household can make this big decision together. Animals given as gifts are often rehomed because the receiver doesn’t have the ability to care for an unexpected companion.

If you want to adopt a pet for your own household this year, consider working with your family members to understand the commitment and make a decision together about the kind of animal that best fits your unique situation. 

Resolution #2: Support your local shelter.
Local shelters are always in need of help. Donations of food, toys, and bedding are usually in short supply. Many shelters provide a list of items that they need on their websites, and others will surely share their needs if you give them a call. Also, volunteering to walk shelter pets is a good way to engage in low-contact volunteering while COVID-19 remains a threat. 

Resolution #3: Make a donation in honor of your loved one.
Whether you want to honor a beloved pet, family member or friend, there are many great animal welfare groups that can use the support. Consider donating locally or to SPCA International this year.  

To You, Loyal Donor

By Meredith Ayan, Executive Director

I can’t thank you enough for continuing to give during a global pandemic. This has been a challenging time to say the least, so I hope you know how deeply you are appreciated.

As the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic set in this past spring, I feared donations would stop and the shelters and rescue groups that depend on support from SPCA International would be forced to close their doors. My stomach was in knots wondering what would happen to so many vulnerable dogs and cats.

Amazingly, YOU kept giving. I know many people’s financial realities have changed and you may not have been able to give as much as you normally would have, but thanks to you, shelters and rescue groups are making it through. They are able to fill bowls, clean kennels and provide medical care because of your generosity.

Thanks to you, SPCA International was able to provide months of care for dozens of soldiers’ pets in the Middle East, eventually bringing them all home on a special rescue flight.

It would have been so easy for you to decide this year was too difficult to prioritize donations. Instead, you decided to continue giving what you could to animals in need and, in doing so, you made a huge impact.

I am so proud of the way the SPCA International team has risen to the challenge during this global pandemic, and yes, our team includes you. Together, we continue to respond quickly and compassionately to keep animals safe and healthy around the globe.

If you are interested in supporting vulnerable animals every month, please consider becoming a monthly donor. I’m excited to see what we can accomplish together in 2021.

Big Cat Public Safety Act Passed by House of Representatives

By Meredith Ayan, Executive Director

Here at SPCA International, we are thrilled that the Big Cat Public Safety Act was approved by the House of Representatives on December 3 and we look forward to tracking its progress through the Senate.

Personally, I believe this is one of the most important pieces of animal welfare legislation. It will prohibit the possession of lions, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, jaguars, cougars, or any hybrid of these species by individuals who are not licensed by the US Department of Agriculture.

Many people became aware of the abuse big cats experience because of the popular Netflix series Tiger King. Thankfully, our society and our leaders are standing up to put an end to the trade and exploitation of big cats in our country.

Please take a moment to contact your senators and let them know how you feel about the Big Cat Public Safety Act. You can also track the progress of the legislation to find out when it will be considered by the Senate. Together, we can stand up for big cats everywhere.

Emergency Preparedness Keeps Animals Safe Too

By Meredith Ayan, Executive Director

Widespread forest fires in the U.S. have caused so much destruction over the past year. In the wake of natural disasters, we always hear heartbreaking stories of evacuees struggling to find shelter with their pets, along with devastating injuries sustained by farm and wild animals.

Here at SPCA International, we stand ready to help our partner organizations across the globe when natural disasters strike. We are proud to have supported organizations in the wake of fires, floods, hurricanes and tornadoes.

We are particularly excited to be partnering with organizations in the U.S. and Australia, creating emergency preparedness plans that take animals into account.

Recent support includes a grant to Luvable Dog Rescue in Oregon. The area they serve was hard-hit by wildfires this year, and many people who lost their homes are now living in temporary shelters with their pets. Luvable Dog Rescue is providing much needed donations to displaced families caring for animals and they are working on a community-wide plan to ensure they are ready to respond to natural disasters in the future.

Communities and rescue groups everywhere can work to put their own plans in place to make sure animals are cared for when disaster strikes. At SPCA International, we’ll do everything in our power to make sure our furry friends are protected.