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Sonoma County Gazette
Homeless with Pets

Homeless With Pets:
Compassion for Both Ends of the Leash

May 22, 2017


People living homeless, in camps, cars or on the streets never planned for their lives to turn out this way. Yet here they are, displaced into various cycles of loss, many not knowing how to change their situation with the tools and resources that they have to hand. Many are in a face off with anger, illness, trauma, loneliness, shame, anxiety and despair. Some have pets with them. How many we don’t actually know. I use a figure of 24%, which was suggested back in 2009 by the National Coalition for the Homeless. Experience of the past few years suggests this is not far off. This is a significant minority of people living homeless and is the community Homeless With Pets serves. It’s a niche project, but we argue an important one.Mostly the animal companions are brought from former and housed lives.  Many, like their people, are now senior.   Some pets are acquired on the way, for companionship, protection or as an act of rescue on the part of the person living homeless.  No-one has ever mentioned acquiring an animal to maximize revenue from panhandling, at least not in Sonoma.  I rarely see animals with those who are panhandling.  However the dogs and cats arrived they offer love, affection, companionship, partnership, distraction and opportunities for playfulness in the face of hunger, physical and mental pain.  Importantly the animals offer and initiate safe touch, and provide opportunities for nurturance in the face of feelings of isolation, sometimes being out of control and the sheer heavy lifting of daily survival. 

The majority of those living homeless with their animal companions simply will not trade them for services and shelter. There’s work to do to change the bigger picture. Many of our human clients offer stories of well-meaning relatives and case-workers who suggest that they should get rid of a dog or cat to make it easier to access housing. Certainly an animal or two, creates additional barriers and will slow things down, but as Karen, currently living homeless, commented, ‘Is it reasonable to ask someone to dump a family member’ ? Maggie, who has family locally, spoke of her dog Cody, as being ‘the only one who wants to be with me while I am homeless’. 

Homeless With Pets is a Sonoma based 501c3. We provide a number of services to honor the commitment that people living homeless have to their animal companions. We have two key operating principles: supporting the power of the human-animal bondso long as it is not detrimental to either human or animal partner and, offering compassion to both ends of the leash. To these ends we:

  • Run free wellness and vaccine clinics for animal companions. This helps people comply with requirements for rabies vaccinations. We aim to catch issues in their earlier stages, identify problems and help people to access low cost vet care. Importantly people are able to gain greater peace of mind about their animal companion
  • Provide monthly flea and tick treatments, weight clinics and nail trims. These are opportunities to keep an eye on human and animal alike, spot any changes that may be taking place and to build relationships
  • Help, when possible, with funding vet care
  • Follow-up treatment compliance and work with people to help them understand the needs of their animal or decisions about their animal’s needs
  • Promote spay and neuter, responsible ownership and humane treatment. We offer training in canine good manners and managing some of the additional risks to an animal that living homeless poses
  • Distribute donated food and other animal supplies. We have a great community of people donating items through various bins at some veterinary clinics, pet stores and churches
  • Pull together quarterly grooming events where professional groomers donate their skills, time and resources
  • Have a number of volunteers living homeless who travel with food and information for distribution to others living homeless. This group also helps with the set-up and take down of events and with various other administrative and other activities
  • Sign-post to various human, health and homeless services
  • Distribute a variety of human items depending on the time of year. Tarps, wet weather gear, ponchos, blankets and dry shoes have been much needed over the winter months. We run some Breakfasts with Pets events where we distribute food items and people have opportunities to socialize with others and their animals
  • When people need to access treatment, are hospitalized or at end of life, we have a small network of people who foster animals and we can adopt on. We are always looking for people to help us with this.

Homeless With Pets has developed training and an evidence pack which can be used as part of applying for accommodation to demonstrate responsible guardianship. We work with agencies helping them to develop their ‘pet policies’ and responses to providing resources for animal companions.

Homeless With Pets is reliably there through events and outreach offering human and animal items, providing consistency in chaos and bearing witness to what it means to be homeless.

To find out more about Homeless With Pets, donate or join us please, our facebook page, call us on 707-847-8DOG or visit us at one of our events, always posted on our homepage.   




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