Hurricane Katrina separated 200,000 pets from their families, and few were ever reunited. Many pet owners who lost their homes were forced to give up their four-legged companions. Because shelters don’t typically allow pets, the newly homeless had a choice: give up their pet and accept free shelter, or keep their pet and live on the street.
Since Katrina, other natural disasters have forced hundreds of families to face similar decisions. The Journal of Traumatic Stress says the loss of a pet can lead to prolonged stress, anxiety, depression, and other psychological issues. That’s why PetSmart, the world’s largest pet retailer, has added PetSmart Promise to its array of community initiatives known as PetSmart Gives Back. Through PetSmart Promise, which started in 2013, the company is partnering with Family Promise to keep homeless families fully intact. Andy Izquierdo, the company’s vice president of corporate affairs, says the new program fits with PetSmart’s goals.
“We want to be true members of our community,” says Izquierdo. “We saw a problem that needed a solution and partnered with Family Promise to create one. PetSmart Gives Back is about recognizing the needs of our communities and helping to address them with our expertise and resources.” The program expanded from Arizona (where the company is headquartered) to Montana and North Carolina last year. This year five new facilities are being built in Ohio, New Jersey, Alabama, and Alaska.
Charitable donations PetSmart will make by the end of 2014
Hours volunteered by PetSmart associates in 2013
Organizations benefitting from PetSmart volunteerism
Izquierdo was born to Cuban parents and raised in Washington, DC. His love of animals grew after his family rescued a dog named Bruno. “Working with animals and giving back to the community is my idea of the perfect job,” he says. Izquierdo started at PetSmart in 2011 and has devoted his energy to create the PetSmart Gives Back program.
Prior to 2012, the company gave to local organizations but lacked a consistent focus. Now, national programs are helping brand PetSmart as a retailer dedicated to community issues. “We want to have a real impact where we live and work,” Izquierdo says.
Another community initiative, PetSmart Paws for Hope, sponsors pet therapy teams in hospitals around the country. “We believe pets make us better people, and we all know they make us feel better,” says Izquierdo. “Being able to support these programs is central to why we exist as a company.” The program, which was started at Phoenix Children’s Hospital and went nationwide in March, provides therapy animals and visits for people who could use a helping paw from a loving animal.
The newest PetSmart program is in partnership with Canine Companions for Independence. PetSmart for Patriots helps increase access to assistance dogs for veterans with PTSD, physical disabilities, and other service-connected afflictions. PetSmart kicked off the new program in February of 2014 and participated in an awareness rally last year in the nation’s capital. Today, veterans can walk into any PetSmart location for information on how dogs can help them live more independent lives.
This year, PetSmart will continue to look for innovative solutions to community problems. When Phoenix’s mayor recently called for creative ways to address land vacancy, PetSmart created its first ever portable dog park. The PetSmart P.U.P. (Pop Up Park) arrives in a jumbo shipping container filled with movable seats, fencing, and oops stations.
“It’s a creative way to use vacant land and bring communities together,” Izquierdo explains. This year, PetSmart is looking to bring five additional P.U.P.s to other cities. At the local level, each PetSmart district manger and distribution center receives funds for direct philanthropy with programs like meals on wheels for pets and pet food pantries. The company is also planning its first national volunteer week, during which associates will be encouraged to volunteer with local charitable organizations. Izquierdo is most proud of how these programs are changing—and possibly saving—lives. They keep families together, provide assistance to children and veterans in need, and unite communities.