When she worked at a furniture factory near Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles 20 years ago, Lori Weise began noticing the hundreds of people living on the streets, many of whom had dogs.
She befriended some of those pet parents, who told her they would feed their dogs before they fed themselves. Unfortunately, many of their beloved pets ended up in animal shelters when they could no longer care for them.
“So many times, people feel they have to surrender their animals,” Weise told CNN, “when in reality, if they understood all the resources, they are happy to keep their animals.”
Weise was inspired in 1996 to start Downtown Dog Rescue, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing resources to low-income pet parents so they can keep their dogs.
DDR offers dog spay/neuter services, vaccinations, veterinary services, boarding, food and more — all free of charge to pet parents in need. These free services help keep 2,000 dogs out of shelters every year.
“The areas where we work tend to have higher crime rates, are densely populated and there are lots of animals,” Weise told CNN. “We’re really addressing the effects poverty has on pets. This is more than animal welfare, and keeping pets out of the shelter. It’s social welfare, social justice — basic services that people deserve.”
Weise is a nominee for the 2015 CNN Hero of the Year award, and is this week’s featured CNN Hero. The award honors “everyday people making extraordinary efforts to change the world,” according to the network.
Shelter Intervention Program Keeps Dogs with Their Pet Parents
Weise also launched the South L.A. Shelter Intervention Program, where volunteers at two local shelters inform people surrendering their dogs about the free services DDR provides. The volunteers are often successful at changing the pet parents’ minds.
“We’ve had people break down, their knees buckle. They’re on the ground just shaking because they love their dog so much,” Weise told CNN.
DDR also has a facility for dogs it has rescued from shelters. “The kennel is set up like a little house,” Weise said. “So the dogs kind of get an idea what it’s like to live in a home before hopefully they go to their forever home.”
Jobs for Unemployed Pet Parents
Weise now owns that furniture company she worked for 20 years ago. She’s been able to hire dozens of the pet parents she’s met through DDR.
“Everybody in life needs to find their purpose,” Weise said. “For me, it was helping people with their animals. I put myself in their position, and I think I’d want somebody to help me.”
Her favorite part of her work? “Knowing about a resource and sharing it with somebody who has lost all hope,” she told CNN.
The CNN 2015 Hero of the Year will be announced this fall. Each of the top finalists will receive $25,000 for their cause. The winner will receive an additional $100,000.
To make a donation to Downtown Dog Rescue, click here.
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