ATLANTA (AP) — Of all the animals peering sadly through the cage bars of shelters across the country, 25% of them once had an owner who gave them up for one reason or another, according to national statistics.

Those who did because they could no longer afford a pet have been getting some help over the past decade from a program operated by The Humane Society United States that provides food, medical care and other support.

In this Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2019 photo, Sylvanus Jackson brings his dog out to meet Lizzy Trawick, a coordinator for LifeLine Animal Project’s Pets for Life program in Atlanta. Trawick visited Jackson’s neighborhood to complete door-to-door outreach for the program, which provides free resources to pet owners in need. Jackson said he has benefitted from the program and thanked the representatives who visited. (AP Photo/Andrea Smith)

Launched in 2010, the Pets for Life program now operates in at least 27 cities and towns, including Atlanta, where it began in 2012. The program provides free or low-cost veterinarian services, supplies and food. It also has provided about 100,000 free surgeries to spay and neuter animals. Animal welfare organizations advocate spaying and neutering to reduce pet overpopulation.

Pets for Life is helping animal owners “by allowing them to keep the pets in their homes even if they’re going through a hard time, and it’s keeping the pets out of the shelters,” said Lizzy Trawick, a program outreach coordinator in Atlanta.

The Shelters Animal Count national database shows that about 25% of the U.S. shelter population consists of animals that were formerly owned and later given up, for a variety of reasons: financial struggles, lease problems in housing units, animal behavioral problems or a loss of interest in owning a pet. Strays make up most of the shelters’ populations.

In this Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2019 photo, Brandon Jordan pets a cat while conducting door-to-door outreach for LifeLine Animal Project’s Pets for Life program in Atlanta. Jordan is a community outreach coordinator who visits mostly low-income neighborhoods to explain the program’s free services, such as pet supplies and vaccinations. (AP Photo/Andrea Smith)

Atlanta’s Pets for Life program, initiated by the Humane Society, has been managed since 2017 by the LifeLine Animal Project, an Atlanta-based nonprofit organization that conducts door-to-door outreach multiple times a week. Team members knock on doors and ask residents questions about their pets, including whether they’ve been spayed or neutered, and leave information about the program’s services. The program has served 8,801 clients as of Aug. 30, said Atlanta’s Pets for Life director Andrea Peterson.

Dog and cat owners can spend more than $5,000 on health services throughout their pet’s lifetime, according to research firm NDP Analytics. Carmen Webb-Davis, an Atlanta resident and a regular Pets for Life client, said the program’s support has been necessary for her to keep her pets and maintain their health.

“Your pet is your child,” Webb-Davis said. “It’s your baby, so you want to have things right for them.”

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