Homeless and Pets: I Cannot Live Without You
Money and housing, never sufficient conditions of love
When you see a homeless person in the company of his pet, what is your feeling? An estimate shows that over 3.5 million people nationwide experience homelessness annually, among which 3% to 5% have pets. And the statistics vary in different communities. In some areas, the rate of pet ownership is up to 25%. In a world of success fever, however, the villainization of poor people is universal. People tend to attribute others’ and one’s own failure to laziness and foolishness. As a result, many people have mixed feelings for the pairing. They believe a homeless is incapable of taking caring of pets, meanwhile get touched by the bond between pets and owners.
Why the homeless should not keep a pet? People mainly argues that the homeless cannot afford keeping a pet given the lack of jobs and residence. They think that living with the homeless in street corners is harmful and miserable for the little furry creatures. Some even demonize the poor and homeless as potential criminals.
Danielle Wolffe made a great comparison to argue over this kind of opinion in her article “8 Reasons Homeless People ‘Deserve’ to Have Dogs”. She said this kind of statement reminded her of another statement she had heard– people “shouldn’t have children” if they don’t make a certain amount of money. Yet the fact is that many poor people work extremely hard for a bright future of their children. This is true of the relationship between the homeless and their pets as well. Their sharing food with pets is commonly seen.
Wolffe also claimed that pets are more resilient and adaptable that we have expected. Besides, their dogs are appropriately chosen–their pets are a far cry from “the miniature poodles that wealthy women on the Upper East Side dress in sweaters and push around in baby carriages”. Also, news of wealthy people abusing animals is no rare. In Mason, Ohio, August 2018, police found several abandoned pets: starved and dehydrated dogs, a cat in poor health, and a caged raccoon covered in feces. Money and housing are not the sufficient conditions of care and trust.
Pet saved my life
Villainization of the poor and homeless sometimes is also an internalized idea of the homeless. Many of the homeless have no better choice but to leave their houses. The process of adaptation to a new lifestyle is no easy since one may not just be despised by passersby, but also by oneself and one’s family and friends. The feeling of suddenly being separated from the rest of the world is so strong that people can get overwhelmed by loneliness and desperateness. It is pet who helps them find a new connection with the outside world. The Guardians reported several touching stories of homeless and their pets.
Heather, 22-year-old, living in Seattle, said “she’s a little angel that saved me as much as I saved her”. Heather encountered the dog, Poppy, soon after her parents had asked her to leave their family house. Those days were difficult for Heather. One day she was walking aimlessly around downtown Seattle with her boyfriend when they saw a group of guys surrounding two dogs, one of them is Poppy. Poppy seemed quivering and scared. They decided to save it, paying $5 for the guys. Poppy was then held by Heather like a baby and trusted her immediately with all its heart. Surprisingly, Heather found new meanings of life. Even in the most desperate time, she did not think of stealing things from shops as she used to. It is because she worried that if she went into jail, she would lose Poppy.
Ryan Mikesell,a 37-year-old, decided to leave his abusive parents when he was grown up. He drove his motorhome to Oregon and became one member of the homeless group. He has been suffering from PTSD, including severe anxiety and agoraphobia. His pet, Jamie, a Jack Russell-chihuahua, was a stray dog and adopted by him eleven years ago. Mikesell said thankfully, “When I’m feeling overwhelmed by anxiety, my mini Labradoodle, Josie, climbs on my chest to calm me down. She won’t take no for an answer. She’ll be like, ‘Go ahead, tell me to get off. I don’t care.’” Then Jamie gave birth to two litters. For a couple of months Mikesell needed to feed the puppies and take care of Jamie, which took almost an hour per time. For him, those day were exhausting but happy.
To improve their lives
We often campaign for the welfare of the homeless or that of homeless animals, but the quality of life with pets of the homeless is often neglected. Some steps should be taken for the well-being of this moving pairing.
First, pet-allowed shelters for the homeless are necessary. In Los Angeles, due to the no-pet housing policy, some homeless people chose their pets over housing and safety. As a result, there is an ordinance that required city-subsidized housing projects to let residents keep their pets. In Victoria, Canada, similar demand also occurred. Never underestimate the bond between pets and their homeless owners.
Second, there should be more pet recreation facilities and areas in communities. For instance, in Skid Row, Los Angeles, nearly half of pet owners are homeless and most of the rest live in motels, renovated flophouses or shelters. A dog park opened recently to help residents of a homeless services agency to get off the streets with their pets. Los Angeles Times reported that several residents said the park would provide respite from their overheated and lonely rooms, as well as a place to exercise and socialize their pets without venturing into the often violent and rat- and needle-infested streets of skid row.
Third, pets’ health care counts. In Denver, vets made medical exams and gave vaccinations for each animal of the homeless. The Denver Post reported this kindness: “the free services were part of an on-site street clinic setup by the AVMA underneath the convention center’s overhang for the pets of people experiencing homelessness or near homelessness”. Though the cost of the kind behavior is pretty high, the veterinarian and founder of Street Dog Coalition, DR. Jon Geller believed it is worthwhile. “Pets become family,” he said, “They give their owners love, acceptance and protection. Those things can be scarce when you don’t have a home.”
As song lyric puts, “If not for you, I wouldn’t know how wonderful life could be.” The homeless and their pets experience this very kind of pure happiness generated from companionship in hot summer and cold winter, at quiet midnight and in noisy weekend. If not for the stray dogs, the homeless will have little to wake up for in next morning. If not for the care of the homeless, the abandoned pets will have to stand starvation, abuse and neglect and even die in an unnoticed way in a corner. Their pairing is a bless for both. This kind of love deserves protection and respect.