February 3, 2004 > The Homeless and Pets
The Homeless and Pets
by Nancy Lyon
Our recent heavy rains with nightly temperatures that have plunged to nearly 40 degrees have found most of us safely inside, keeping warm and dry. But for many of our area's homeless people and especially those with animals, this is an impossible dream. They live in the cold reality of the streets, sleeping behind stores, in rough encampments, or if they are among the more fortunate, in their car. Cold and hungry, many are without hope of finding a way out of their situation.
Shelters for humans do not welcome animals and for people down on their luck who have animal companions, there are few if any housing options. Rather than abandon their pets to an unknown fate, they often make the choice to try to survive together on the streets.
While some may say that the homeless should not have animals - the fact is that many do. And it is a hard and often dangerous life for all. Granted that a few may exploit the presence of a pet as a way of getting a handout, but more often their animal friend is the only family they have. This friend is the only source of non-judgemental acceptance and love in the person's life, perhaps a part of a past when life was kinder to both.
There was the Vietnam veteran who rescued an abandoned puppy and found that a growing dog living in a rough encampment was not working out. He was forced to leave the pup alone and tethered while he looked for work -- a very dangerous practice. Connecting with OHS through the local VA office, we were able to provide food, neuter, immunize and license the pup so that he was within the mandates of the law and had a better chance of adoption. A wonderful local family fostered and eventually adopted the pup, and as heartbreaking as it was, the homeless man knew it was this best thing for the dog he loved. Happily, the veteran has visitation rights.
A young man with substance abuse problems and living on the streets with his faithful dog was unable to get into a rehab program that would take both of them in. Over a prolonged period of time, we were able to provide neutering, immunization and food. However, this one did not have a happy ending. When his dog became seriously ill and possibly dying, OHS was able to provide transportation and veterinary care. The results are still not in on the dog's fate.
In another case, a once productive member of the community became disabled and down on her luck. Her two older dogs went with her as she tried desperately to find ways for them to survive. In order to supplement her limited disability income she took work in a rural community that soon turned sour leaving her with no money and without access to her clothing and other personal belongings. When she returned to Fremont and was forced to live in her ailing car, her older dog with congestive heart problems began to fail. OHS was able to quickly provide medications and his special dietary needs. They are still looking for a permanent sanctuary.
Over the years, through Ohlone Humane Society's Special Assistance program, our volunteers have been able to extend a helping hand to a great many people and animals in need including the. We have met with and transported homeless people living and looking rough -- and encountered only courtesy and gratitude.
In these increasingly difficult times, our ability to provide food, veterinary care and other support is a direct result of the continuing generosity and compassion of our members and supporters. We want to thank the veterinarians, the wonderful animal shelter staff, local merchants and homeless advocates, OHS volunteers and the good-hearted people of our community who have given their time and effort to help ease the suffering of the less fortunate.