As homelessness continues to be a major political issue for the city and county of Los Angeles, concerns surrounding the dilemma can stretch even further than one may think.
Despite the circumstances under which an owner may be living for a given period of time, for one local veterinarian, all of the pets of Los Angeles should have the opportunity to live a healthy life — which is why Dr. Sehaj Grewal, who is also known as The Melrose Vet, has decided to lend his time and resources to help animals in need by working alongside the Underdog Community Project, a non-profit organization that was founded in 2021.
“Underdog Community Project is a new and upcoming organization founded by some talented students from USC, who provide monthly medical services to the homeless population’s pets in Skid Row and the larger downtown Los Angeles area,” Grewal told LAMag.
Liv Sigel, a University of Southern California graduate and actor, founded the organization after she’d spent the early part of the COVID-19 pandemic in the summer of 2020 doing outreach in the Skid Row community. Their services mostly include physical exams, flea and tick prevention, and food and medicine distribution. But Grewal notes that providing vaccinations is actually the most important step in helping dogs and cats survive while living on the streets.
“Pets are exposed to all kinds of pathogens as they are outside in unkempt environments and in constant contact with other pets,” he says. “So vaccinations are important in preventing infectious diseases.”
Helping homeless animals was a no-brainer for Grewal as he noticed a troubling trend in the veterinary field long before he graduated from St. Matthew’s University School of Veterinary Medicine: An increased emphasis on profits over personalized service. This came as corporations were swallowing up independent and smaller animal hospitals. Looking to reverse that trend, he founded his own Hollywood practice in 2021, The Melrose Vet. Still, Grewal prioritizes volunteering in his community because it has become deeply satisfying.
“The volunteer work is essential to me as a vet, because I am able to give back to the community and feel more complete as a person,” Grewal told LAMag. “More vets and other professionals should take part in this outside of their daily jobs in order to have an impact.”
Help is certainly needed. As a July Los Angeles Times article revealed, many dogs living in the Chesterfield Square Animal Services Shelter spend weeks or even months inside their kennels. According to volunteers, the problem isn’t confined to that facility, and animals can go over a week without being taken on a walk at other city shelters.
According to Dr. Grewal, this is likely a result of overcrowding in shelters, which has been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent issues with staffing. Los Angeles Animal Services has relied primarily on volunteers, rather than paid staff to walk sheltered dogs; the frustration over such shortfalls within Animal Services led two top staff members to leave the department this year, according to the Times.
“Volunteers can’t keep up with the demand,” Grewal says. “Also, people have become economically deprived, which prevents them from housing their animals and properly caring for them. The impacts are all mental and physical. Dogs can become aggressive and fearful due to the lack of socialization with pets and other people. Even physically, it impacts them. If they are not getting the exercise, they will become overweight and develop a plethora of health issues.”
Grewal adds that he would like to see all pets adopted to a home that will be able to care for them—providing food, water, exercise, and mental enrichment.
“The homeless people are doing what they can for the pets, and I can see they are genuinely attached, so being a part of this organization, we are able to do what we can to help them and enable them to provide,” he tells LAMag.
A solution, Grewal says, also hinges on the city refocusing resources on the matter.
“The city can help by staffing more people in shelters and investing more tax dollars to take care of the animals’ basic life and medical needs,” he says. “I recommend free programs to spay and neuter pets to prevent overpopulation and more animal suffering.”
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