Asheville Humane and Open Door step up to keep pet families in North Carolina together


I want you to imagine something for a minute. You’re someone who has experienced serious trauma over the course of your lifetime and you’ve even been without a place to call home at one point. You’ve overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges and the one constant in your life that brings you peace and comfort is your dog.

You find yourself in a threatening situation with a roommate and need to find a new place to live. But to get new housing, your dog needs certain vaccines that you can’t afford. So, you’re faced with a decision: find a safe place to live and give up your beloved best friend or lose housing and stability again and risk more trauma in your life. How much would it mean to you in that moment to know that you had a lifeline for you and your pet?

This is the scenario that a woman named Mandi and her dog, Suzi, faced in North Carolina not too long ago. It’s a heartbreaking one and, incredibly, a common one. More important, it’s a decision that nobody should ever have to face. Fortunately, organizations like Asheville Humane Society and Open Door Veterinary Care are working to make sure fewer people ever do in a state where more than 240,000 cats and dogs entered animal shelters last year and nearly 48,000 of them were killed.

According to a 2019-2020 American Pet Products Association study, two-thirds of households in the U.S. share their homes with dogs and cats. That’s about 173 million cats and dogs across 81 million households. Equally important to note is the sizable percentage of people with pets who need assistance of some kind and are only one unexpected bill away from a potentially devastating decision like the one Mandi faced. There are 29 million pets living in households that qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and that’s without taking the economic fallout of the pandemic into consideration.

Scenarios like Mandi’s in which people with a four-legged family member are facing personal and financial challenges and need help are not one-off situations that can be avoided by simply denying certain people the opportunity to adopt a pet. These are stories that unfold for people of all types in communities nationwide every single day. So, what are organizations around the country doing to keep those families together?

Since 2015, Asheville Humane Society, a Best Friends Network partner in North Carolina, has been focusing on the real needs of underserved and vulnerable communities and families experiencing crisis. While Asheville Humane’s programs provide a huge range of services and support (including assistance with pet food, behavior and training, and temporary emergency boarding), veterinary care assistance is far and away the most requested and needed resource. Open Door Veterinary Care, also located in Asheville, is a private veterinary practice that believes all pets and their people deserve access to quality care and strives to remove barriers to pets receiving it. Together, these two organizations have created a model public-private partnership that illustrates how things can and should work when everyone plays their role in their communities.

Asheville Humane’s Safety Net helpline (the one that Mandi called when faced with losing her home or her dog) receives around 350 calls a month, about 150 of which are specifically for veterinary assistance. By creating partnerships with local homelessness coalitions, the housing authority, Veterans Affairs, private practices and others, the humane society is able to quickly coordinate with community groups and ensure that people in need are connected with essential services.

When Mandi called the helpline, she outlined the multiple hurdles she was facing and, when speaking of Suzi, simply said, “I’m failing her. She deserves so much happiness and I’m failing her.” Nobody who loves a pet should have to feel this way. And thanks to a thoughtful, community-based partnership between a nonprofit humane society and a private-practice veterinary clinic, Mandi didn’t have to for very long.

Asheville Humane Society was ready to help Mandi and Suzi. They helped get Suzi vaccinated and groomed, assisted with transportation to and from the vet appointment, since Mandi didn’t have access to a car, and provided all of the preventives and other supplies that Suzi would need to stay healthy as she and Mandi started the next chapter of their lives together.

Because Open Door focuses on access to care for all and problem-solving for pets in need, the organization offers a range of financial support for situations just like these. Their payment plans and Stay Together Fund are models for the type of life-changing difference that can be made through strategic partnerships with nonprofit groups of all types.

These are the stories we need to be creating in communities nationwide. Stories in which human services and animal services go hand-in-hand. Partnerships and collaborative work toward a common goal: connecting people and pets in meaningful ways, keeping those families together, and ultimately saving more lives and creating a brighter, better future for animals and people alike.

Mandi told the helpline staff she spoke with that Suzi was the one good thing in her life. It should go without saying that Suzi feels the same way about Mandi, and that our job is to support loving relationships like theirs in whatever ways we can.

Cheers to Mandi and Suzi, and to the incredible organizations that collaborated to keep them together!

Julie Castle


Best Friends Animal Society