Looking at the line of people in the parking lot at Whittier Narrows Park at 6:30am this Saturday morning, knowing they ventured out long before dawn to be here, I am reminded of the long lines that used to stretch down Hollywood Boulevard for days and nights before the opening of the newest Star Wars movie. People camped, had tents, sent out for food. The line itself was as much of an event as the movie was.
But the folks who have come today aren’t waiting to be one of the first to see George Lucas’ latest vision; they’re here for the health and benefit of those they brought with them: their pets. Their dedication to be here isn’t just about their pets; by being here today, they affect their community and contribute to the greater good.
Two or three times per month Bark Avenue Foundation holds mobile spay and neuter clinics in the Los Angeles area. Each weekend they offer absolutely 100% FREE spay and neuter services for low income individuals within grant funded zip codes. For those based outside the allotted zip codes for that day, the services are heavily discounted.
Like the very best in small business, Bark Avenue Foundation’s services are mainly spread through word of mouth. Volunteers and staff canvass the neighborhoods, knocking on doors to talk about the importance of spay/neuter. People who have come before share the experience with their friends. Those of the digital age share Facebook posts and Instagram photos.
The line of people and their pets is diverse.
There’s a woman juggling two cat carriers. An eight year old boy holds tight to the leash of a husky almost as tall as he is. An older man has one Yorkie at the end of the leash and another zippered up in the front of his jacket like a baby in a Bjorn. Under the easy-up, three volunteers sign people in and give them paperwork to complete. While they complete their paperwork, waiting in another line, a volunteer walks the line with boxes of Advantix II.
“Who here needs some flea and tick medication?”
A young woman raises her hand. “How much does she weigh?” he asks of the little grey terrier mix in her arms. She tells him, and he pulls out the appropriate dosage pack. He then shows her how to apply it. She thanks him with a smile, and he moves on to the next person.
Most medical procedures come with an air of anxiety. But here everyone is smiles and assurance. The dogs and cats are welcomed as are the people who have taken their Saturday morning bettering the life of their furry family member.
Just as every person has a story, every pet has a story. And that pet’s story becomes our story the moment they enter our lives. Each person tells me in loving nostalgia how they met their loved one and why they are here.
“I found her on the street,” one young woman says of the shivering Chihuahua in her hand.
“My neighbor knew someone whose father died and no one wanted to keep the cat. I didn’t want the cat to go to the shelter, so I took him in,” another says, looking in at the cat inside the carrier.
Like a hopeless romantic poet, some animals upright choose their person and will go to whatever length necessary to make it happen.
One man tells me: “I was in Temecula one weekend for my son’s wedding, and there was this dog wandering around. I asked the people whose it was and no one knew. On the second day we were staying there, I asked a neighbor and he said that the dog had been wandering around for a few days. No one had laid claim to him. So when we left the next day, I saw the dog again, opened my passenger door and said, ‘Hey, you want to come?’ And he hopped right in! He was great on the ride back. He always wants to go for a ride—it doesn’t matter where we go.”
The shepherd mix is a bundle of energy, bouncing on me and practically pulling the man’s shoulder out of its socket. After getting him to sit for a brief moment, he continues, “I came home from work and found a Bark Avenue flyer on my door about this event. I hope getting him neutered will calm him down a little.”
Across the way, one young woman has three little dogs at ends of the leash: a tan Chihuahua, a Yorkie mix, and another terrier. I asked her to tell me their story.
“This is Mila, this is Delilah and this is Chewy, short for Chewbarka. These two are my foster dogs, and Chewbarka is my friend’s foster dog.” She tells me about her co-workers who all do rescue, and how they coordinate fosters among themselves. All of her own pups are foster failures—the term used when a pup finds his or her home right where he or she landed as a foster. Sometimes a forever home isn’t even as far as your front doorstep.
I asked how she heard about the clinic. “A friend of mine told me about it, and I am so grateful.” She spays and neuters all her fosters, but a service such as this helps her be able to afford to do more.
I was reminded of what volunteer presenter Laura had taught in her Humane Education class: people help people helping others. It’s a domino effect. I found this to be true when I transported dogs. At gas stations and rest stops, when I told people that I was chauffeur to a dog on his freedom ride from shelter to rescue or rescue to forever home, they all wanted to help: give me gas money, find out where to sign up, and for those who could do neither, they offered me their blessings and well wishes . Doing good is infectious. It starts with one person and spreads out as quickly as dogs and cats double in population when they’re not fixed.
Imagine that: instead of one unspayed female having six kittens who in turn have six kittens until seven years from now there are 370,000 potentially homeless cats, let’s each do six acts of kindness… and ask six people to do six more acts of kindness. That’s seems like a pretty effective way to #AlterTheFuture—and make the world a better place right here and now.