Another September afternoon was winding down. Rain was falling, and we were feeling anxious to return home to care for the remainder of our pack fifty miles away. The day had been dedicated to running errands on the flats, far from our mountain home, where few can hear the proverbial screams. It was close to dinnertime and the light was fading. My husband pulled the Subaru into the PetsMart parking lot, and we got out with our Texas rescue dog and headed for the entrance.
His bicycle and trailer sat dripping wet in the entryway, blocking the exterior automatic doors.
I’m sorry, the man said, turning full circle to leash his dog as he wandered into the dry comfort of the store. I thought I’d pulled everything in all the way.
He stepped out, pulling his bicycle and trailer inside the vestibule. A wet black suitcase fell to the floor from the top of the soft-roofed trailer. His Shepherd mix wandered in, sniffing the air. He panted, standing quietly, while his guy picked up the suitcase and placed it on top of the trailer. The Shepherd’s sweatshirt was soaked from the rain.
I stood there, smiling awkwardly with a want to help, without knowing how.
I turned to my husband. I’ll meet you in the car, I said. I turned, following the man and his Shepherd down the center aisle. The man was leaning against a toy display while his dog lay down on the floor, giving belly.
Excuse me, I knelt down, May I talk with you for a moment? His dog stood at my knees, turning his Shepherd tush in my direction.
He loves butt rubs, the man said, and I really want to buy him a Halloween costume. He wears them every year. Except for this year, we can’t afford one.
What’s your dog’s name? I asked.
Dak, he said. Mine is Chris.
I rubbed Dak’s tush, as he leaned in, groaning. His grey sweatshirt, still damp from the sudden downpour, hung limply.
I love this dog so much, Chris stood up, looking into my eyes. There are days he eats instead of me. I’d do anything for him, he’s my everything.
I continued rubbing Dak’s tush. His tail was wagging, his body, leaning in. I introduced myself, told him I was a writer helping a nonprofit that helps homeless people with pets.
He looked down at the floor.
There are guys, Chris continued, who won’t even talk to you when you ask them about their dog. Have you had any trouble with that? They worry about people judging them.
You’re my first, I said, so no, not yet. I thanked him for talking with me.
It’s hard right now, he said, for a lot of people. My mother, who was my safety net, just died from Covid. We have no one. You can see my dog – he’s healthy – he eats well – he’s had all his vaccinations. He’s my world.
Where will you sleep tonight? I turned, checking the sky. Steel grey clouds hung on the horizon. It was still pouring rain.
In a park, under a tree, he didn’t hesitate. I glanced again at his bicycle, the black suitcase lying on top.
Can I buy a bag of dog kibble for you? I offered.
See that suitcase? It’s filled with dog food.
How about I get you a PetsMart gift card? It’s a lot lighter, and they’re for when you run out of food.
Chris knelt down on the floor, Dak lying on his back, tucking his head between his legs. He looked up at Chris, tongue hanging out.
He sure would love a Halloween costume, he smiled.
I knew how he felt, which is why I walked up to the cashier and put money on a gift card. I walked back to him and Dak, handed it to him and hugged him goodbye. Dak looked up at me, tongue hanging out, turned his tush, and waited.
America’s homeless population, or if I’m being politically correct here, people experiencing homelessness is on the rise. Somewhere along the line, the bottom dropped out of life and there they went, plummeting through the societal cracks. Some blame people personally as if their last decision was the worst one ever that finally broke it all apart. Others blame the system and its failing dynamics.
Regardless of the blame and where it may lie, our new reality is as present for us to see as the pain experienced by those living it. Homelessness and its victims are a phenomenon of our affluent, dynamic, and struggling society. Some may ultimately find permanent housing, while others may simply fall down in despair without the means to get back up. Resilience is not an inexhaustible resource, and over the course of time, diminishes as the prospects fade into the horizon. Some will seek help, limping along for a time. Many will walk the streets of our urban centers pushing shopping carts filled with all they own. Even more will seek refuge with the only living being left who cares for them, and for whom they care for: their dog or cat.
People experiencing homelessness shouldn’t have pets, people say. If they can’t care for themselves, how can they care for an animal?
That’s precisely the point: People experiencing homelessness need help caring for their pets. It’s when Feeding Pets of the Homeless, a Nevada-based nonprofit founded in 2008 by Genevieve Frederick, comes in.
In a country experiencing increasing wealth disparity, rampant inflation, decreased personal power among its citizens and perennial political strife, people of lesser means with pets need help. In a time of shelter overcrowding, surrendering a pet also means putting them at risk of euthanasia, for thousands of homeless animals are losing their lives for lack of space. Such options are unthinkable for anyone living life on the streets, where their dog or cat is their comfort and their protection, their reason for getting up in the morning.
For any one of us living life with an animal, the feeling resonates.
If the ubiquitous scenes of a disheveled, aging man pushing a shopping cart filled with filthy blankets, stained tarps, and water bottles falling out as they shuffle down the street with his dirty dog alongside doesn’t inform or alarm of the need suffered, then little will. If the woman in a wheelchair being pushed along by her partner with an overflowing shopping cart and the dutiful Pitbull mutt walking gingerly ahead, taking step-by-cautious-step keeping pace, doesn’t arrest the moment, then you’ve succumbed to the psychic phenomenon of what psychologists call psychic numbing.
It is what you believe such a term to mean – shutting down.
It’s understandable. I feel this way, and from conversations with compassionate others, I know I’m not alone. Many of us are feeling the overwhelm of need, drained of compassion and fatigued in over-giving of empathy.
How did we get here?
One woman, Genevieve Frederick, felt this same way. And she went beyond, when one day while walking along the streets of New York City, a place replete with wealth and corresponding poverty, saw through the density of need to a solution:
Create a nonprofit, a container in which people feeling a similar need could gather together to help people with dire needs to care for the sole survivor of the vestige of their previously prosperous civilized lives – their homeless pets. These constant companions of America’s lost and struggling are in as much need of veterinary care, leashes, collars and basic provisions as the pampered purebred sitting on a couch in a Santa Barbara living room or the Labradoodle lounging on a sunporch in a Boulder home.
*They need basic nail trims, so their claws don’t break and bleed as they shuffle mile after mile along concrete sidewalks.
*They need antibiotics to clear up an eye infection, so they can see to protect their person against oncoming threats as they sleep along the urban creek at night.
*They need Neopectin for the occurrence of intestinal distress emanating from a moldy hamburger picked up in an alley on a January night.
*They need antibiotics for an infection left untended for lack of resources or expensive (and growing more so) veterinary care at the local clinic that’s within walking distance.
Or maybe, they simply need a bag of dog kibble or a can of Pedigree wet food, to replace the tuna and peanut butter given, for the government welfare program, SNAP, excludes pet food.
Feeding Pets of the Homeless provides all of this and more. People experiencing homelessness can call a phone number, speak with a real person, who will listen to their needs and assess their wants. A service request number will be provided to the veterinary hospitals or clinics with whom Feeding Pets of the Homeless has partnered up, so that invoicing and client communication are part of the process. Your financial assistance and enduring support will get that person to the veterinarian whom their dog needs to see to give them the treatment, medicine, or surgery that they need.
They will be supported, assisted, and provided what they need to care for their last remaining constant companion, for whom they are sacrificing the warmth of a homeless shelter to be with their animal, as current policies are exclusionary. An eye surgery or care for an infection, a basic wellness checkup or dental care, a preventative heartworm treatment or medicine for life-threatening Parvovirus, are all on the list of life-saving solutions for people experiencing the daunting challenge of living without a home along with their beloved companions.
Whatever the need and regardless of the cost perennially increasing in our rapidly inflationary economy, Feeding Pets of the Homeless provides where society leaves off, making our nation a more compassionate one in which to live, one person and pet experiencing homelessness at a time.
Want to understand the extent of the need?
- Every year, 4.2 million young people in the United States experience some level of homelessness. Unhoused people face higher risks of health problems, substance abuse, and depression.
- A lack of pet-friendly policies leaves unhoused young people with pets excluded from housing, health, and other related services. Young people have reported delaying seeking help or refusing services altogether if it meant they would be separated from their pets.
- Many homeless insist that “their animal companion is their best friend and oxygen without whom life wouldn’t be worth living.” What pets need most is human
companionship; they don’t need a house. They love, adore, and protect their owners.
- 350,000 – 875,000 pets are on the streets with their homeless guardians
- More than 75% are chronically homeless due to physical or developmental disability, HIV/AIDS, mental illness, and/or substance abuse problems
Want to know how much Feeding Pets of the Homeless helps?
- Number of Pets Helped: 25,614
- Amount of Pet Food Collected: 1,755,303 lbs.
- Number of Pet Food Banks Nationwide: 485
- Amount Given in Veterinary Care, Pet Food & Crates: $3,228,289
(Pet Crates are provided to homeless shelters for temporary housing of pets while their person is in the shelter)
Want to help? Find them here: https://www.petsofthehomeless.org