Grants helping Houston pet families during the COVID-19 pandemic will continue

The Friends For Life wellness clinic and food bank helping pets during the COVID-19 pandemic has been so successful that the shelter plans to keep it going.
By Nicole Hamilton

Between the threats of losing jobs and catching a debilitating virus, the Houston community had enough reasons to be concerned when the pandemic came to town. The last thing families needed to worry about was how they’d care for their pets if they experienced a financial hardship or illness. Luckily, Friends For Life, a no-kill shelter and member of the Coalition to Save Houston’s Pets, was in their corner.

To help keep pets with their families and out of shelters during the coronavirus pandemic, Friends For Life organized a free drive-thru wellness clinic and pet food bank. The group has hosted seven of them so far, including one funded by a $10,000 Rachael Ray Save Them All Grant for COVID-19 relief that helped cover expenses for vaccines, heartworm and flea preventatives, heartworm tests, feline leukemia tests and other supplies to help keep Houston’s cats and dogs safe and healthy.

“We are proud to support a coalition partner that is providing such valuable and much needed resources in our community,” says Kerry McKeel, program manager for Best Friends in Houston. “Friends For Life has been able to serve thousands of vulnerable Houston pets in need, thereby helping to keep pets and their people together during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The first drive-thru clinic kicked off March 22 in the Friends For Life parking lot, and by the end of the day the medical team had administered more than 1,000 vaccinations and the pet food bank had distributed more than 10,000 pounds of pet food.

Person carrying two carriers holding animals into a Friends for Life van

“We couldn’t see everyone who showed up that day, so we held another, and then another,” says Lena Lieb, Friends for Life development director. Friends For Life runs the only free pet clinic and pet food bank in Houston, and Lena says plans are to continue this service for the foreseeable future, albeit with a location change as the Texas summer temperatures rise.

“Houston summers are brutal and as we move into the hotter season, the parking lot isn’t going to be a viable location,” says Suzanne Turner, the organization’s clinic lead. White Oak Music Hall donated space for the clinics so they can take place in an air-conditioned facility.

Free services for Houston pet families in need

All clinic services, as well as all pet food bank items, are free of charge. “Everything at the Friends For Life clinic is provided without restrictions on income level, location within Houston or number of in-home pets,” say Lena. “We are providing everything 100% free to attendees.”

Since the clinic began, Friends For Life has distributed tens of thousands of pounds of pet food, tested hundreds of animals for parvovirus, heartworm, the feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) and the feline leukemia virus (FeLV). “We’ve managed to see animals who have never been able to see a vet before and raise the level of care for animals in the midst of a crisis,” says Lena.

Person wearing a mask holding a tabby cat in front of some kennels

A model for shelters across the country

Given the current economic climate, the clinics have been an enormous success — so successful that they have begun running weekly clinics using scheduled appointments.

Since Friends For Life has received nearly 2,500 applications from pet families for the wellness clinic, the application process has been paused until a decision is made on the best way to scale up the program to handle all the requests. In fact, the staff at Friends For Life is hoping the clinics will become a model for other shelters across the country.

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Woman holding a white fluffy dog in front of the sign on the Friends for Life adoption building

Photos courtesy of Lena Lieb