You’ve Got A Friend

Nonprofit helps shelter animals and beyond

By Cathryn Rakich
February 2024

Buggles, a pit bull mix with a tongue-forward smile, had skin infections across his face and body. Lilo faced death without immediate medical care. Markie’s new family received free dog food and preventive medicine after adopting the easygoing mutt.

All three stories reflect the work of Friends of Front Street Animal Shelter, a nonprofit established in 2001 to help animals at the city shelter. Last year, Friends brought in $750,000, mostly from individual donors.

Friends pays for specialized services, such as orthopedic surgery, for Front Street shelter animals—around $69,000 last year. In 2020, the group expanded its support to community members who can’t afford urgent medical care for their pets.

“The cost of vet medicine is staggering,” says Jim Houpt, board president of Friends, which spent nearly $280,000 in 2023 helping companion animals in Sacramento and beyond. “Friends does not limit ourselves to the city of Sacramento. It’s open to anybody who needs it. They don’t even need to live in Sacramento County.”

Through the vet support program, Friends has funded care for more than 500 pets and families. “If they are on any kind of public assistance, they are going to qualify automatically,” Houpt explains. “If not, they have to have a good reason why they need the help.”

Last year, funding for the vet support program included $156,000 to assist animals owned by unhoused people. The magnitude of the vet support program is a primary reason why Friends recently hired two paid staff—an executive director and administrative assistant—to oversee the program.

In addition to funding urgent and lifesaving care, Friends supports no-cost monthly vaccination and microchip clinics offered through Front Street. “We’ve paid for a veterinarian in the past, vaccines in the past. We’ve made sure we get breakfast out there for volunteers,” Houpt says.

“When you show up at the monthly clinics, they don’t ask where you came from, if you need the help,” he says. “If they are there, we figure they need it.”

Houpt reports that a one-time Petco Foundation grant supports a significant portion of the vaccination and microchip clinics. “When that money runs out, we’ll be back to supporting it again,” he says.

Front Street’s weekly pet food pantry is funded by Friends when community food donations fall short. Friends recently purchased a $7,000 Tuff Shed where food gets repackaged for distribution.

The hospice program is “a favorite of mine,” Houpt says. Friends funds hospice care for fostered Front Street animals who need medical care for the remainder of their lives. A veterinarian recommends an animal for the hospice program. Friends pays the monthly cost of the pet’s ongoing medical care.

To reduce the number of feral cats (also called community cats), Friends sponsors spay and neuter surgeries for 50 felines every Monday at the Community Spay Neuter Clinic on Bradshaw Road. “The clinic works with larger trappers in the area,” Houpt says. “We pay for everything,” often more than $10,000 per month.

Last year, Friends gave close to $100,000 in cash grants to nonprofit rescue groups that took difficult-to-place animals. The majority of grants are attached to individual pets with behavior or medical issues. For behavioral issues, rescue groups can use the funds to hire a consultant or trainer.

Friends also sponsors yearly fundraisers for area animal rescue groups, such as Rotts of Friends and Fat Kitty City. The group donated $5,000 to last year’s Coalition for Community Cats Walk-A-Thon.

“We’ve done sponsorships for Sacramento Valley Crime Stoppers because they’ve been very helpful with our animal control officers and animal abuse cases,” Houpt says.

Friends holds the annual Paws to Party fundraiser for Front Street, with help from shelter volunteers. This year’s Brewfest, with beer tastings and food trucks, will be in April. On the Big Day of Giving, Friends has more individual donors than any other nonprofit in the Sacramento area, Houpt reports.

“I like to say a lot of what we do helps all area shelters by helping people avoid the need to surrender animals to shelters or avoid animals being abandoned. I think that’s a really big part of our need to exist,” he says.

To donate or for information, visit

Cathryn Rakich can be reached at Follow us on Facebook and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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