It’s a cold night in Denver, and a homeless woman sits waiting for a kind stranger to drop some change or even a dollar or two in her container. Whatever the amount is, she only hopes it’s enough for a meal to share with her faithful canine companion. A man briefly enjoys the air conditioning at a soup kitchen on a sweltering Miami day, but he eats quickly hoping to furtively place food in the small bag he has hidden in his pocket, because his dog waits outside tethered in the shade. It’s hard to be homeless, and the great comfort a canine companion gives during this difficult time, makes it harder because a four-legged partner is often not welcome in a shelter. Welcome to the world of Pets of the Homeless.
I remember distinctly the first time I saw a homeless person with a dog in New York City. I was surprised and I’m deeply ashamed of my attitude that day as I commented; “Why would someone try to make money from a dog and force them to endure this misery.” I was totally unaware that when this person became homeless, so did his dog and they were among the ten to 24% percent of the 3.5 million homeless people (National Coalition on Homeless) in the United States who have pets. I didn’t understand that the homeless, just like you and me, have unique stories. Their stories are of once upon a time lives where they had houses, jobs, friends, cars, and pets. When you lose everything, the comfort of your pet and the survival of both of you becomes the only thing left in your world.
Genevieve Frederick had a similar experience to mine, but she got what I missed…homeless people and their pets need each other and they need help staying together. That’s why she started the most amazing organization…Pets of the Homeless. This non-profit group works out of a 300 square foot office in Carson City, Nevada with only four part-time employees and an all-volunteer staff. Their budget is comprised completely from donations and grants that Genevieve relentlessly seeks from every possible source. They have a network across the country of vets who provide medical services to homeless pets in need including spay/neuter, inoculations, and emergency care. Pets of the Homeless will pay for necessary medicine and supplies, and vets offer a discounted rate for their time and services, often at wellness clinics sponsored by Pets of the Homeless. It would be great if veterinarians could find in in their charitable self to donate their services as much as possible and is a goal moving forward.
Businesses such as Petco serve as drop-off points for pet food, which volunteers pick up, re-package into smaller sizes, and deliver to shelters, food banks and soup kitchens who have agreed to give it to homeless individuals for their pets. A major collection and distribution point for animal food is the Salvation Army (HYPERLINK) where the homeless congregate for meals, support, and friendship. Richard LeMiuex chronicled his own odyssey into homelessness with his dog Willow in the bestselling book Breakfast at Sally’s: One Man’s Inspirational Journey (Skyhorse Publishing, Reprint October 2009). Willow was the only friend Richard had when he lost everything; family, career, a beautiful home, and many material positions. His painful story was eased by the presence of his dog who faithfully endured the nightmare of homelessness along with the author.
Like Willow, most of the Pets of the Homeless, are not desperate, neglected creatures people would think them to be. Most of us leave our pets home every day while we go to work, but these pets get to be with the person they love 24 hours a day. Pets in homeless situations are stimulated with a new adventure every day and serve a great purpose as a physical protector of their human companion and more importantly provide mental health with their unconditional love.
People often make the mistake of thinking the pet would be better off away from their owner as one vet did to her sorrow. When approached by a homeless man who needed help for his dog and temporary shelter, the vet took the dog in. Realizing the dog was old when the man hadn’t returned in a few days, she gave it to the shelter where it was euthanized. The man returned, become profoundly depressed, and the vet regrets her tragic mistake to this day. Pets serve noble purposes providing comfort with their non-judgmental presence in the lives of everyone, but in particular to those who are disabled physically and mentally and need them the most.
Pets of the Homeless provide the following services that are desperately in need of individuals and vets to support:
- Promote to veterinarians and pet related business the importance of joining the organization as a collection site.
- Encourage vets to donate their services as much as possible.
- Speak out on the issues of pets of the homeless and disadvantaged.
- Campaign to food distributing organizations the importance of distributing pet food to the
- Less fortunate.
Pets of the Homeless needs people to help. You can set up a drop site for food collection, ask your vet to become part of the program, and many other ways you’ll find on their website www.petsofthehomeless.org . If you are or know of a homeless individual with a pet that needs help, contact Pets of the Homeless at (775) 841-7463. One of the strongest bonds we know, that of human to animal is perhaps experienced the greatest by those who have the least.
Causes Patti Lawson Supports
All causes that are kind to people and animals.
The Worthy Project
Animal Legal Defense Fund