When asked if she always envisioned herself in her current career, Mandy Hood’s answer is a simple yet enthusiastic two-word phrase: “Oh, yeah.”
“I’d be really depressed if you tried to put me behind a desk,” said Hood, who identifies as queer. “If I didn’t get to do stuff like this, I’d be really sad.”
As part of her role for the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Hood coordinates outreach and education around the organization’s services. The outreach and humane education manager took PGN along for a trip to West Philadelphia last month, where she handed out fliers for an upcoming veterinary clinic for low-income neighborhoods.
Hood said the the PSPCA does not advertise this event on social media and focuses more on grassroots organizing, fliers and door-to-door visits to ensure the event attracts members of the neighborhood. For the first two years, the clinic was only for residents in the 19104 ZIP code; the PSPCA added 19139 this year. The event does not have any income qualifiers or restrictions; the only requirement to attend is that participants live in one of the two targeted areas.
“The reason that we do that is because we know the poverty rate in the neighborhood,” Hood said. “We don’t want to create any more restrictions for when people show up. We want it to be a positive experience so they don’t have to prove one more reason why they need to be here.”
Hood noted this clinic is “really special” this year. The event began as a vaccine clinic before expanding to include medical exams in partnership with HousePaws the following year. For the third-annual event, the PSPCA also included a wellness exam.
“Vaccine clinics are really important and they’re great because they’re a stepping stone but, oftentimes, if people are struggling with financial resources, their pets really need access to free medical exams and treatments. If there’s something minor going on, like an ear infection, a skin condition or something like that, we want to help address it before it becomes something bigger.”
As Hood walked through Saunders Park, she drew a map on her tablet of the event’s layout. A large percentage of the pets PSPCA sees through this event have never been handled by a vet before, and Hood noted how the park’s large space helps those specific animals.
“The more space we have for the clinic, the better, because then the dogs and cats won’t be stressed out and in each other’s face while waiting,” Hood said. “They can spread out, chill out and then they get their number called and go to different sections. The space helps because it causes participants less anxiety and stress being here.”
Hood said that providing services in low-income neighborhoods has always been her dream.
“There are a lot of reasons why pets get surrendered to shelters or pets end up in tough situations and it has nothing to do with owners not loving their pets,” she said. “It has to do with access to resources and services.”
Hood’s attitude about providing resources started in her childhood. Her mother worked in a hospital and the then-10-year-old took notice of the unit for elderly individuals. When she saw the patients sitting by themselves, she asked her mom if she could do activities with them. Hood went on to coordinate activities such as planting flowers, painting pots and other crafting activities until she graduated high school.
“I think that translated into my work because I am action-oriented. I wanted to do things that make a difference and I want to help to connect individuals with the services and resources they need,” Hood said.
She added she accomplishes these tasks through building relationships, problem-solving and being a “connector.” She put all of these methods into practice during her walk with PGN.
During one encounter, Hood spoke to an owner whose dog was roaming around the park. She started off by immediately telling the owner about the free pet medical clinic coming up in the park. But rather than simply giving him a flier and taking down his contact information, Hood took time to talk with the owner. She ended up learning his pet was a service dog and he likes to have her wander around as much as she can.
“I’m so glad we saw each other. You guys have fun. She’s beautiful,” Hood said, referencing the dog.
When asked how she relates to other people, Hood does not seem to think about it too much.
“I love doing community outreach so much, it’s something that naturally makes me happy.”
Later on, Hood walked up to a man on the street to inform him about the program. While the man did not have any pets of his own, he told Hood that he was in contact with the PSPCA about possibly adopting a German shepherd puppy.
“We occasionally get them but it is harder for sure,” Hood responded.
Even though this individual did not necessarily further Hood’s goals for the day, she still continued to assist him.
“This [clinic] is for people who have pets already, but do you have other questions about adoption?”
Hood proceeded to tell him to check the website every few days to learn what types of pets they brought in. She also advised him to have a collar and leash ready before adopting, but noted that the PSPCA also sells them.
“I feel like in my role, I have to know as much as I can about all of the different pieces of our program.
“The worst is when someone talks to someone and they’re like, ‘Oh, let me just bounce you over here’ and then they get bounced 15 times,” she added. “That’s not our model, that’s not what we want to do. We want to be able to answer any and all of the questions so that no one has to jump through hoops for the answers.”
Toward the end of the walk-along, Hood met another resident who said he could not bring his cat inside due to fleas and ticks. She offered to bring over a cat carrier so the resident could transport his pet to the clinic. She took down his contact information and said she would be in touch the following week.
“My overwhelming value in my work is that the only way we can improve the quality of life for animals in our city is to care just as much about the needs, values and lives of pet owners as we do their pets,” Hood said. “If a family is struggling, so are their pets and vice versa. Pets do not suffer alone, they suffer along with their human family. I think the value of knowing how much people love their pets helps put suffering into context and takes it a step further in solving an issue or connecting them to a resource.”
It looked like Hood succeeded in her outreach efforts, as the PSPCA, along with HousePaws, serviced hundreds of pets at the three-hour clinic Sunday. The organizations provided medical exams, vaccines, dewormer and nail trims for 142 pets; treated minor conditions such as ear infections, skin issues and flea infestations for 25 pets; provided free pet food, dog KONGs, cat scratchers, collars, leashes, harnesses and behavior consultations for 197 pets; and provided vouchers to 17 pets for the rest of their boosters.
For more information on the Pennsylvania SPCA, visit www.PSPCA.org.