Sit! Stay! Speak with Poverty Pets’ Lisa Yearwood. (Good Boy!)
BY BRYCE RUDOW // PHOTOS BY FRANC ROSARIO
As founder of Poverty Pets, a non-profit organization that provides financial assistance to pet owners unable to afford veterinary care, Lisa Yearwood is dedicated to making sure that every pet who comes in sick as a dog, leaves as healthy as a horse (sorry, couldn't resist). As a self-professed "Doctor Doolittle", Lisa understands the positive impact that a beloved pet can have in people’s lives, but she also realizes the financial burden that caring for a furry or feathered friend often entails.
In 2008, Lisa founded Poverty Pets to help income-sensitive owners avoid tough decisions, like: Do I pay my rent? Or get my pet the care she needs? From a (lovingly) cat-scratched chair in her Washington, D.C. office, Lisa told us more about Poverty Pets and its mission to help “families and pets before the shelter."
Lisa working hard in her Poverty Pets office. The only rule? No paws on the desk.
Zipcar: Have you always loved animals?
Lisa: Always. Even as a college student I would spend my money helping stray cats around our neighborhood. My friends would tell me I was crazy to spend my last $5 on cat food, but I couldn’t turn them away.
What sparked the idea for Poverty Pets?
I worked in business development and as event support at the Humane Society, but I wanted to be more hands-on with the animals so the CEO created a new position for me as their Shelter Coordinator, which was a huge change. I was used to working with celebrities and going to galas, so being in direct contact with the animals was a huge shock. I realized that so many of the animals surrendered to the shelter were just sick and could be easily cured. In fact, many of the pets only needed antibiotics to get healthy, but their owners just couldn’t afford to provide that care. I had to explain that if they turned their pets over to the shelter, the animals would likely have to be put down.
That must have been extremely difficult.
It was hard, especially because most people would break down when faced with the decision. They would ask, ‘What do I do?’ and at that time there was no solution. Humans can go to the ER and the hospitals can’t turn us away, but when it comes to animals, you have to pay upfront before your animal can get care, no matter where you go.
How does Poverty Pets help?
The services we provide are in the form of small grants up to $500 to cover veterinary costs. We have great people who donate to help out these pets.
Humans can go to the ER and the hospitals can’t turn us away, but when it comes to animals, you have to pay upfront before your animal can get care, no matter where you go.
How do you find your donors?
We do it all, including email and social media, but word of mouth is everything. I have a great team who works really, really hard.
How have you seen your vision grow and evolve over time?
When I first started out, people didn’t fully understand the need. But now vets are referring people directly to Poverty Pets. They hand out my pamphlets and even have people call me from their offices. I’m blown away with the kind of responses we’re getting these days. Just today, we were able to donate $700 to one of our pets after only a few emails! We still need to work hard to get grants. We’re nowhere near the big boys, but we’re strong and growing.
What role does Zipcar play in your business?
Zipcar has changed how my team and I do business. Whether we are running to a grocery store to collect dog food donations or getting to the mailbox and the bank, I can use a car or van without having to own one. For a business my size, that’s critical. Plus I used to feel so anxious taking the train with cash donations to deposit, but now I don’t have to worry about it. Zipcar is just such a relief.
What’s next for Poverty Pets?
We want to grow so that we can help more people and their animals. I want to continue to work on animal care education programs, and connect with pet insurance groups so that we can work together in a greater capacity in the future.