We learned about Emancipet from our friends at Project PetSnip and knew that this is the type of organization and work our Onpets community would also want to learn about. Read on for our detailed interview with Amy Mills, Emancipet’s CEO.
- How do spay/neuter programs impact the issue of animal abuse and abandonment?
We know that about a million households each year are forced to give up their beloved pets, mostly for financial reasons. What is heartbreaking is that many pet parents stated that if they had had access to spay/neuter specifically, and veterinary care in general, they would have kept their pets. So, we believe that increasing access to affordable veterinary care is absolutely critical to keeping pets and their people together. People love their pets. No one wants to give up their pets at a shelter, but without other options, sometimes people are just in too tight of a spot and they feel forced to make that choice.
- How do you decide on your clinic locations?
We believe that veterinary clinics are a critical part of the infrastructure of a safe & healthy neighborhood. Similar to grocery stores and health care facilities, vet clinics should be located within easily accessible distances for the majority of households in the area. We know that there are very few veterinary clinics in neighborhoods where the median household income is below $40,000 per year, and they become even more scarce as the median income approaches the poverty level. So, when we are looking for a location for our next clinic, we look for under-served neighborhoods where there are too few, if any, veterinary clinics, and where the median household income is below $40,000 per year.
- Do you provide other veterinary services, and if so, which ones and why those?
Emancipet operates seven Low-Cost Pet Health Clinics and each clinic’s services are designed with the community it serves in mind. While all of our clinics provide spay/neuter and healthy pet services (like preventive care, vaccines, and flea & heartworm prevention) some clinics also provide treatment and diagnostics for common diseases and injuries, such as heartworm disease, based on the unique needs of the community. Our Central Austin branch, for example, also provides additional, lifesaving surgical services, and dental cleanings.
- Do you provide services only to dogs and cats or to other types of animals as well?
We only serve dogs and cats.
- Do you work with other organizations to maximize the impact of your work and, if so, which ones and why?
Yes – we are big fans of collaboration. I think the most important collaborations for us are those with city governments, and with organizations that serve a similar human population but don’t usually address the needs of pets. For example, one of our favorite programs is a partnership with Meals on Wheels, where we provide free veterinary care to pets of MOW clients. We also partner in Austin with organizations that serve homeless people to identify those with pets so we can provide free veterinary care and other resources for them. City governments are such important collaborators on this work as well. We work closely with the City of Austin and the City of Houston to ensure that pet owners in the most low-income areas have access to the vet care they need – especially spay/neuter and vaccines. Governments have a unique stake in this work because the more they invest in prevention and partnerships with organizations like Emancipet, the lower their shelter intake and the stray animal population declines.
- Has your work had an impact on intake rates at shelters located in the cities where you have clinics?
Yes! We’ve seen the shelter intake per capita drop year over year since we first started in Austin. But just as important is the way our work changes the population of pets who do become homeless. Because we’ve served hundreds of thousands of pets in our area, the animals who end up in the shelter system now are far more likely to be healthy, micro-chipped, and already spayed or neutered than when we first began our work in the community. This means that fewer animals come in to the shelter, and the ones who do are easier and less expensive to either reunite with their owners or re-home.
How do you fund your work?
We are a non-profit organization and we fund our work through a combination of the fees we charge for veterinary services and traditional philanthropy. We charge very low prices for all the veterinary care we provide, and although those fees it don’t cover the full cost of providing the care, but they do cover quite a bit. The rest we fund through donations from individuals, grants, and fundraising activities like events and online campaigns.
- Do you do any animal welfare education activities?
Emancipet has a training program for other animal welfare professionals called Emancipet New School. The goal is to inspire and equip change-makers working inside animal welfare organizations to make real social change in their own communities. We also have a unique approach to community engagement in our clinics. Many of our clinics employ a full-time staff person whose entire job is to go out into the community every day, meet pet owners in their homes, and build relationships with them so we can serve them better. They offer free spay/neuter and other services, provide free transportation back and forth to our clinics, and most importantly, they are a trusted source of information about pet health care that is delivered in a way that is non-judgmental and kind.
- What is the best way to reach the widest audience about the benefits of spay/neuter?
At this point in our movement, it’s no longer about reaching the widest audience with a spay/neuter message. Over 80% of all pets are already spayed or neutered, which is great, and it means what we’ve all done in the past has really worked! What we know is that the people who have not yet spayed or neutered their pets tend to be lower-income, and live in areas without access to care. So the work now is less about finding a mechanism to broadcast a specific message, but finding a way to increase access to spay/neuter and vet care in general across the country. That’s what will get us over the finish line.
If you could make one thing happen to advance animal welfare, what would it be?
I’d love to see us all realize that the best thing we can do for the vast majority of pets is help them stay with their owners. If we can all commit to empowering pet owners with access to information, resources, and care, pets and their people would stay together – which of course reduces the need for shelter and rescue, but also ensures that the loving bond they have stays in place. That’s what is so moving to me about this work! People love their pets, and want to do what’s right for them, but they don’t always have the resources to do it. Our job isn’t to judge them or say they shouldn’t have their pet – our job is to help them stay together. We have to protect the bond between them just as much as we want to protect the animal. The love they share matters: it makes their lives so much more joyful and worthwhile, and I want us all to commit to honoring and protecting that.
- What else do you think the Onpets community should know about Emancipet and the importance of spay/neuter?
Emancipet believes very strongly that all pet owners love their pets and will do what is best for them when they can. Because of this, we’re dedicated to building a national low-cost veterinary care system to serve the underserved. We know that if we build clinics where they are needed, and we engage respectfully with the community and pet owners in the neighborhoods, everyone gets healthier and everyone wins – pets and the people who love them!
Amy Mills has been the Emancipet CEO since 2006. Amy has spent her career studying social change and developing strategies to solve tough social problems. Before joining Emancipet, Amy held several positions in Austin’s nonprofit community. She served as the deputy executive director of YouthLaunch, developing and managing youth empowerment programs focused on the root causes of social issues, created the Financial Aid Saturdays program while working at the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, and worked in fundraising for United Way for Greater Austin.
Emancipet’s mission is to make veterinary care affordable and accessible to all pet owners. To do this, Emancipet is building a national nonprofit low-cost veterinary care system, with clinics in underserved areas of Austin, Houston, Killeen, and Pflugerville Texas; and in Philadelphia as of February, 2017. Emancipet advocates for public policy that improves the lives of pets in underserved communities, and recently launched Emancipet New School, which equips and inspires animal welfare professionals in becoming change makers. Since it was founded in 1999, Emancipet has spayed or neutered more than 250,000 dogs and cats and each year serves more than 100,000 pets and their families. www.emancipet.org.
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