More Pets and People


Petting Pitties and Swapping Advice: Compassion in Action at The PAW Mission

As part of our More Pets and People Together campaign, we’re asking community members inside the shelter and out, “What do communities look like when we’re stronger side by side? What does More Pets and People Together mean to you?” Together we’re envisioning and creating communities that keep and bring pets and people together, places rooted in mutual care, joy, and connection, where everyone belongs. The PAW Mission Founder and Executive Director Jessica Lopez reflects on the people and circumstances that challenged her assumptions and cleared the way for a new understanding of what compassion looks, feels, and sounds like. 

On Fridays the Pico Rivera Clinic opened at 6 a.m., and Jessica Lopez was sure Gloria would be first in line. Jessica had recently left work in the private practice veterinary world for a job managing two high-volume spay/neuter clinics for Spay/Neuter Project of Los Angeles, and she’d come to know Gloria through her weekly TNR routine. Without fail, Gloria would trap one of the many community cats she looked after, then line up in the dark at 5 a.m. for the clinic’s low-cost spay/neuter services so she could get in and out and still make it to her job by 6:30. 

“Rain or shine. She was all business, always composed,” Jessica said. “One time we had a fire in the clinic. She was right there, like, ‘How can I help?’”

That morning, though, when the doors opened, Gloria was distraught. One of the cats she’d waited in line with the week before had been hit by a car. “She was on the street,” she told Jessica through tears, “and I had to bring her in.”

The community cats that passed through the clinic every day? For caregivers like Gloria, Jessica realized, they’re family.

Over time Jessica questioned more of the assumptions she’d carried into the field. “I did a lot of emergency and critical care as a technician, and I was very dead set on the belief that if you did not have $1,500 in your bank account ready for an emergency, then you should not have a pet,” she said. “I was making 16 bucks an hour, and I’m expecting people to have $1,500? That wasn’t even one paycheck of mine.”

The PAW Mission in action in San Bernardino. Credit: The PAW Mission

At community events, people aren’t just standing in line for health checks, vaccines or pet food. They’re petting pitties and swapping advice with the people behind them or sharing stories with the cat parents in front of them.

That expectation didn’t square up with her family’s experience either. “We always had pets. We never had an extra $1,500 in the bank account for anything. Ideally everybody has extra income for the emergency fund, for the rainy-day fund. But a lot of people—the majority of the U.S.—is struggling, and they’re going paycheck to paycheck.” 

People like Gloria changed her views on what true pet care is and what animal care organizations could be offering. Now, through The PAW Mission, Jessica’s goal is to leave the assumptions behind and start with one question: “How can we help you?” Her team can support community members with pet food and supplies, free vaccines, spay/neuter, and low-cost vet care. They can share information or help them bring home a new pet or Rodent Ranger 

No matter what, it’s important to meet people where they are, with compassion, Jessica explained. “How are we going to impact our community if we’re constantly telling them that they’re doing something wrong, and we’re not trying to understand where they’re coming from?”  

For Jessica, more compassion leads to more pets and people together, and it also leads to more voices and a stronger community. She sees it in action at every PAW Mission event. People aren’t just standing in line for health checks, vaccines or pet food. They’re petting pitties and swapping advice with the people behind them or sharing stories with the cat parents in front of them. They’re hanging out after on a nearby bench, laughing together in the sun. They’re realizing that neighbors—even the ones with the rambunctious dog—can also be friends. 

It’s a change you can feel, Jessica said. “Everybody needs that village to help, whether it’s for pets or for kids.” 

Three Minutes of Insight from Jessica Lopez

Hear Jessica reflect on the support networks we all need in our lives, why the benefits of community events go beyond vaccinations, and how to rethink our approach to changing minds.

Jessica Lopez

Jessica Lopez serves as Executive Director/Founder of The PAW Mission, overseeing the organization’s management, programs and development. Jessica has worked in the veterinary field for over 20 years; for 14 of those years she worked building vital community programs, wellness clinics, vaccine clinics, and building great teams for organizations in both Los Angeles and San Bernardino. Jessica has always known she was going to work with either animals or children, and she is exhilarated to do both at The PAW Mission. Jessica resides in Yucaipa with her family (husband and three kids) and a menagerie of farm animals, including cows, goats, pigs, chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, cats, and dogs!