For just a moment, think about a time when you felt loved and accepted unconditionally. A time when you felt wanted and needed. A time when you felt like you mattered in this world to another living being. As you reflected on these moments, who was it that made you feel unconditionally loved and accepted, wanted, needed, and like you mattered? A parent? A spouse or partner? A child? A friend? A pet?
For roughly 5-10% of the estimated 640,000+ people who are homeless in the United States, the living being who provides all of the aforementioned things and much more is their best friend and loyal companion-their pet. Pets provide what some people cannot or will not offer to others, especially those who are homeless, who are often harshly judged, shunned, and ignored. Pets freely offer companionship, love, acceptance, joy, security, etc. to those who need it the most. To the rest of the world, people who are homeless may be invisible, but to a pet, they are seen, heard, and felt and are larger than life.
There is a unique bond between those who are homeless and their pets, and I was reminded of this when a former guest at the day shelter for homeless men where I work told me about his beloved dog. Trixie was Steve’s constant companion during his years of homelessness, and Steve proudly told me that he chose his dog over three respective girlfriends who each eventually issued the ultimatum of, “Either the dog goes, or I do!”, during their relationship. Trixie won every single time. When Trixie became ill and had to be euthanized, even death could not separate her from Steve. He could not bear to have her “thrown away in a dumpster”, so, the veterinarian had Trixie cremated for Steve. Steve now has his own apartment, and yes, Trixie’s ashes are kept in safe place there. While Trixie has been gone for several years now, her memory lives on in the many stories that Steve tells about her and in the tears that he still sheds for her. They share an unbreakable bond indeed.
It is difficult enough for people who are homeless to find food, water, and shelter on the streets, much less to have to secure these life essentials for a furry companion. But they do, sometimes at great cost and risk to themselves. There are countless stories of people feeding their pets before, or instead of, taking the food to eat for themselves and risking their own lives to protect their pets from harm. Since emergency shelters generally do not allow pets, I have seen people brave the harshest of elements, rather than abandon their pets. I have seen a man shivering in a doorway while holding a small dog wrapped up in what looked like his coat, and I have seen another man weep with gratitude when a stranger brought his dog some water and scraps. These scenes have made an impression on me, and I am not the alone in being impacted by them
Across the country, there are non-profit groups that help people who are homeless care for their pets by providing free food, water, medication, and other supplies. This is an often overlooked need, but it is such a priceless and incredibly kind service to offer. To help these special people to properly care for their companions who give them so very much in a world that has taken a lot out of them can mean the difference between life and death, for some people would rather not live a life without their dear pet. So, to lose them would mean to lose everything. Thanks to all of those groups who help all those who are homeless, yet who provide a home for an animal as best that they can. May we all find ways to work together to end homeless for all!
Just one thing each day . . .