Next Doors: Meeting the Challenge
“Oh God, so much has changed.”
That’s how Jodi Polanski, the founder and executive director of Lost Our Home Pet Rescue, describes the past few years. Some of thatchange is for the good; some not so much.
Lost Our Home was founded as a no-kill shelter in 2008 by Polanski, a former mortgage broker who witnessed people losing their homes in the fallout of the housing crisis. The work extended beyond people who wereunfortunate in the real estate market to those in the kinds of crisis that might lead them to abandon their pets.
So when 2020 rolled around, Polanski and her team saw many of the same challenges they saw in 2008. And as the pandemic slowed, the foreclosures seen in 2008 were mirrored by the evictions of 2021 and 2022.
“We haven’t seen as many abandoned pets this time around, but there are a lot of stray pets right now,” she said. “People are just letting the dogs and cats loose outside, versus leaving them in homes.”
But Lost Our Home was nimble enough to get through the pandemic by expanding its foster programs and identifying ways to integrate itself into the community. As a result, it’s now enjoying a couple of significant growth opportunities.
First, they are taking a formerly leased space in their Tempe building and constructing a 4,000-square-foot pet clinic, allowing them to care for animals in-house as well as providing a new resource for pet owners in the community that may not be able to afford full vet care and training.
“It’ll be really great because right now, we have to load up all our pets into a van and transfer them to a veterinarian a few times a week,” Polanski said. “It’s a lot of work and a lot of stress on the animals, so having our own clinic will alleviate all of that.”
Once capacity ramps up at the clinic, the plan is to launch services such as low-cost pet vaccine clinics, pet training and dental care for the public, areas that are a significant need in the community.
But the biggest opportunity is on the open road. Lost Our Home and partner agencies Arizona Pet Project and Heidi’s Village just received a $1.5 million grant from the State of Arizona to take their programs and services statewide, including into rural and disadvantaged communities.
“We’ll be taking our temporary care program statewide, and we’re also going to be starting a daycare for the first time —like a day-boarding program for people who are homeless. But if they want to go to work, for example, there’s a place to bring their pet,” Polanski said.
Lost Our Home has also had a particular focus on working with victims of domestic violence, including partnerships with Sojourner Center and A New Leaf, both organizations that aid individuals and families working to escape domestic abuse.
“We’ve worked with domestic violence for almost 15 years,” she said. “We were one of the first organizations in the nation to have that kind of experience. Even with our temporary care program, we were the first in the nation to have that program. Now, we help organizations around the country start the program up and give them advice.”
Funding is always an issue for nonprofits, as is inflation —both from a payroll standpoint and the literal price of dog food, which Polanski said has gone up dramatically over the past few years.
“Our mission is helping people and pets in crisis,” she said. “We’re helping the most vulnerable people and pets in our society, and that’s an expensive endeavor. It’s not the easy cases that come and go —it’s the domestic violence victims, it’s the homeless, people who are really in crisis.”
But Polanski said there’s been a great deal of progress in the animal rescue world since she began working in it 15 years ago.
“There are a lot more resources now than there were in 2008, and a lot more understanding about the human-animal bond,” she said. “This idea has come into a great place in animal welfare and among human welfare agencies and government agencies. People understand that connection inthe human-animal bond, and they want to try to keep pets and people together.”
To learn more, visit lostourhome.org.