Helping Companion Animals

It’s a snap: SNAP’s Animal Program provides services for those living with HIV/AIDS.
It’s a snap: SNAP’s Animal Program provides services for those living with HIV/AIDS.

Gil Lizalde mixes his love of animals with helping those in need.
by P C Douglas

It’s been said that dog is man’s best friend. However, in this day and age, how about giving our furry feline friends their due?

When it comes to the canine and feline species, most pet owners agree that their four-legged friends are just another member of the family. (And please don’t refer to them as pets—that’s insulting!)

Animal lover Gil Lizalde is the human companion of two dogs: a five-year-old Puggle and a two-year-old Boston Terrier.

He’s a lucky guy, considering the fact that he gets to mix his love of animals into his everyday work routine, assisting people with HIV/AIDS.

Lizalde is passionate about what he does for a living. As the Animal Aid Program (AAP) director for Houston’s Spay Neuter Assistance Program, Inc. (SNAP), Lizalde works behind the front lines helping those in need keep their four-legged family members healthy, safe, secure, and in compliance with city regulations by providing free spay and neutering, free check-ups, low-cost vaccinations, nail trimming and micro-chipping.

Gil Lizalde with his two dogs.
Gil Lizalde with his two dogs.

However, what’s most important to Lizalde is ensuring that his AAP clients are able to keep their companion animal as a vital part of their lives for as long as they live.

“There have been numerous studies done that have actually shown that animal companions help people living with illness, whether it be HIV/AIDS or any other kind of chronic illness,” Lizalde says. “It helps them live healthier, happier lives.”

Although Lizalde is also the director of administration at SNAP, it’s his AAP role that gives him a sense of fulfillment that motivates him to further develop the program. “I’m thankful that I work for an organization that is able to provide these services for people who are living with HIV and AIDS. It makes me feel good that we’re able to do that for them,” he says. “Just seeing how grateful and appreciative they are, it just gives me a good feeling. I know I couldn’t live without my animals, so I would hate for somebody else to have to give theirs up.”

Founded by Sean Hawkins in 1994, SNAP’s mission is to offer low-income clients free spay/neutering services by qualified veterinarians. Working with AIDS Foundation Houston, SNAP started the AAP in 2007 after both entities determined a need for it. “They referred clients to us,” Lizalde says. “And now we work with several nonprofits who send us clients in need.”

Qualified clients must take their animal companions (with a limit of two) to SNAP’s clinic on Old Katy Road. If help with transportation is needed, the Catnonprofit Pet Patrol (thepetpatrol.org) can help.

“In our last fiscal year, SNAP AAP saw 127 companion animals from 76 clients,” Lizalde says. “Everything from little dogs to big dogs, and every kind of cat.”

Overall, SNAP treats as many as 60,000 animals per year, and has expanded its services to Pasadena and San Antonio. As much as it is a blessing that the program has expanded to serve more people, it also serves as a somber reminder that there is much more that must be done to eradicate HIV/AIDS. “As much as we love the program, and as much as we love offering these services, we’d like to get to a point where there is no need for it because there is no more HIV/AIDS. Unfortunately, we’re a bit away from that, I think,” Lizalde says. “Every year we get closer, so every year there’s hope, but until that cure is there, we will continue to help as many people as we possibly can to live healthier, happier lives with the four-legged furry animals that they consider their family.”

If you need assistance with your companion animal, check out snapus.org. You can also help to eliminate animal euthanasia by clicking on the donate button on the site, or sign up to donate to SNAP with your Kroger card.

P.O. Box 70286

Marene Gustin contributed to this article.


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