Artwork created during Friends For Life’s June 2020 Awkward Pet Portraits event. Their current event runs through November 22.

What do you get when you combine the artistic prowess of a lawyer, a veterinarian, and a 7-year-old? Awkward. That’s what you get. And that’s what Friends For Life Animal Shelter is embracing with their second round of Awkward Pet Portraits. Through November 22, pet lovers can donate $20 to have their pet’s photo drawn by one of the 60+ artists that have volunteered their skills.

Despite the name, some of the artwork that has come out of this fundraiser is phenomenal—from the likes of published children’s book illustrators and local Houston artist communities. The artists are assigned at random, but the event runs through November 22, so you still have some time to play those odds.

This time calls for a radical shift

Embracing awkward art isn’t the only thing Friends For Life is doing differently, though. The shelter has also stepped up in a big way with Houston’s only free drive-thru wellness clinic and pet food bank. So far, the shelter has run 20 of these clinics. They even ran one in place of their annual gala this year.

This resource keeps pets in their homes, with their families, in a time when nothing is more important than being together. That’s a huge accomplishment, as the ASPCA in August released data that showed an estimated 4.2 million pets would enter poverty in the next six months as a result of the pandemic (a 21% increase over pre-pandemic times).

“As shelters, we’ve asked communities for help for years. This is our time to look beyond the walls of our shelters and pay that help forward. This is our time to get UN-sheltered, despite how impossible it might seem,” explained Salise Shuttlesworth, Friends For Life Founder and Executive Director. “It’s a good thing that doing the impossible has been Friends For Life’s jam from the beginning.”

The services provided at Friends For Life’s drive-thru clinic help keep families whole—tail or no tail.

And suddenly, you are doing the impossible

Rumbling beneath the surface of the COVID-19 pandemic was a crushing wave of animals coming into shelters because their family could not afford their care. Bubbling up amidst vet clinic closures was a puppy/kitten season filled with unvaccinated animals that were fodder for a distemper and parvo outbreak like we have never seen. Pet owners could not afford rabies vaccinations. That impacts all of us, not just pet owners.

Friends For Life has offered their free pet food bank—without income or area restrictions—since 2008. That part was not new to them. But in March, the uptick in desperate calls for veterinary help made it clear that the COVID-impacted community needed more.

Not wanting to reinvent the wheel, the team went to find examples of other free, drive-thru vet clinics in Houston. They came up empty-handed. So, this innovative tribe used what they learned during Hurricane Harvey, when they led the nation’s first cohabitated shelter (people and animals together) at George R. Brown’s mega-shelter. Over those 18 days, they cared for 1,500 families with animals and set up a veterinary hospital to treat each animal. With zero distemper/parvo cases and praise from the city and every reviewing agency, Friends For Life decided their drive-thru clinic model needed to be a version of that—but now with all COVID-19 precautions in place.

The Friends For Life free drive-thru clinic and pet food bank is one-of-a-kind in Houston, providing vaccinations, preventatives, vet exams, pet food, pet supplies, and ongoing support.

Through the clinics, Friends For Life has been able to help more than 1,600 animals, many of whom had never seen a vet before, raising the level of care for Houston animals amid a global pandemic. The team has distributed 21,500 lbs. of food at their clinics, and an additional 7,000 lbs. from their shelter-based food bank, since March 22.

“We’ll keep doing the clinics as long as we can assemble the resources to do them. We are creating a bridge—we are starting conversations—with people who have traditionally not had access to these resources,” shared Shuttlesworth. “Meeting those needs with compassion and empathy is something I’m very proud of. We’re all animal lovers, of course—but our Unsheltered way of doing things means our tribe also honors the human part of that human-animal bond. It is extremely rewarding to hear testimonials from people who feel safe and respected as they seek help. That’s a beautiful thing to witness, and it is the foundation for the authentic relationships that are the future of sheltering.” And there’s nothing awkward about that.

From Rebecca, September 6 clinic attendee: “I can't thank Friends For Life enough for seeing all three of our dogs. My daughter and I live together, and we are both waiters, so our income has been all but eliminated due to loss of job/business during COVID. We have never had to rely on charity or donations in taking care of ourselves and animals, and it was a very humbling experience to have to do so. It was nothing short of a godsend that I heard about Friends For Life. I LOVED every single lady that worked with me handling my dogs throughout the process. They were able to take care of all three dogs in 45 minutes! Their drive-thru layout was the most comprehensive COVID drive-thru I have encountered anywhere. Each young lady was cheerful, sensitive, and just utterly kind. I left there not feeling ashamed or embarrassed for needing charity, but with tears of gratitude at the sincere kindness they imparted.”

To follow the adventures of this unconventional team, find them on Facebook or Instagram, or visit their website, friends4life.org.

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