Pet Pals Mutual Aid raised money in May by selling art work “painted” by Xena, the puppy of co-founder Sheri Wander.

Jaz Brennan 

Groundcover contributor

Many of us know the great benefits that animals can bring to our lives. The connection we make with our furry, scaly or even feathery friends is one of a kind and individual to each pair. We work hard to share our lives with these beings, providing shelter, safety and other basic needs. However, when we are, at times, in need ourselves, it can be difficult to tend to our companions on our own. 

That’s why over the last year, Washtenaw County Pet Pals Mutual Aid was developed. This group of local advocates understands the important role animals play in our everyday lives and works to provide resources such as food, litter, toys and — at times vet services — to the community. 

The group started out of the “‘dreamin’ and schemin’” of Sheri Wander and Lisa Gizzi out of Peace House Ypsilanti, a local mutual aid home. Both women noticed that people were requesting animal supplies and having to let go of their pets when they weren’t finding those supplies. So, Wander and Gizzi jumped into action, pulling together a small group of invested folks throughout the community. This group has connected with local shelters, veterinarians, pet stores and animal specialists to help provide people with the education, supplies and healthcare they need for their animals. 

“[Pet Pals Mutual Aid] is about reaching across instead of down,” Gizzi stated. “It’s not about charity, but neighbors supporting one another and connecting to what’s available throughout the community.” 

Sheri Wander, who runs Peace House Ypsi, reports feeling surprised by the rapid growth of the group. While she recognized there was a need, there was no telling how important it was. 

“The community has been wonderful with regard to circulating supplies and staples like food, toys, litter, etc. and the Humane Society has been so generous in providing vouchers for spays and neuters.” 

For the future of Pet Pals, Wander would like to see the group develop a fund for emergencies. This could look like cash funds set aside to be used as needed, or more expansively, a connection to local vet clinics who would work with community members on various payment systems, sliding scales or even volunteer hours. 

“So many people live hand to mouth that when your pet has health needs, they end up having to give them away due to high expenses,”  Wander said.

Wander touched upon a narrative that has been present within our culture for a while: only the rich can keep animals and if you’re poor, you don’t deserve to have pets. Part of Wander’s mission is to deconstruct this fiction and change misperceptions and judgments. 

“People don’t always understand why folks won’t give away pets to go to a [homeless] shelter, or get pets when living in poverty. Pets are our therapists, exercise coaches and safe spaces. They change the quality of our lives exponentially — and we all deserve that,” Wander said. 

In this time of public health crisis, social and civil unrest and great expansion of consciousness, it is lovely to know and see the ways in which people are taking small actions to make big changes in our communities. Mutual aid efforts have arisen throughout the country and continue to show us that everything is malleable and there’s always the potential for change. 

“The benefit of mutual aid is finding community and meeting like-minded people,” Gizzi said. “Leading this kind of life and knowing there can be a different way of doing things.” 

Pet Pals Mutual Aid does pet supply pickups from Thursdays to Sunday mornings. Items are labeled and placed at 706 Davis Ypsilanti, MI, 48198 for pick up. Deliveries are available when volunteers are present. To request supplies, find Pet Pals Mutual Aid on Facebook and send them a message. 

Pet Pals is also currently in search of more volunteers to assist with building this program along with similar models in neighborhoods throughout the county. For more information, please seek out Pet Pals Mutual Aid on Facebook. 

Special thanks go out to the Huron Valley Humane Society, Wags to Wiskers Ann Arbor and Chelsea, and all the other community players, individual and corporate, who assist in making this group all that it is. Thank you to Sheri, Lisa, Mary, Karen and Zahara for the work you do — you are rockstars! 

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