On my recent trip to Target, I spied a homeless man in the parking lot with a 6-month-old pit bull. Because I’m a sucker for all things dog, I stopped to chat with him about his pup, a small white pittie named Angel Girl. I know how to help homeless people with pets — buy them a bag of food — and my efforts are always appreciated, but I wanted to do more.
Although I don’t live in an area with a large homeless population, I occasionally see them in industrial or retail areas. If I have change or a few cigarettes to spare, I’ll gladly hand over what I can, especially if they have a dog. I know, I know… A lot of homeless people use pets to gain sympathy from people, but I don’t care. All that matters is that there is a dog who could possibly be in need, and I might be in a position to help.
Trying to Make Ends Meet
I bought a bag of dog food for Angel Girl, but my main concern was whether she had been spayed and vaccinated. After speaking with the man for a few minutes, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that he was aware that his dog needed these basic veterinary services and was trying to make financial arrangements.
I asked him if he’d had the dog wormed, explaining that puppies are born with worms (not too many people know this), and was again delighted to find out that not only did he know this fact but his friend was taking the dog to the veterinarian that weekend to get worming medication; the vet had also promised to vaccinate Angel Girl at no cost.
He was most concerned about the cost of getting his dog spayed. For most people, altering their dog is an inconvenient expense; for homeless people, it’s a month’s worth of food.
How to Help Homeless People with Pets
Fortunately, many organizations offer free spaying and neutering to homeless people, a fact that Charlie — that was his name — was unaware of. I told him about the Sam Simon Foundation, a nonprofit in Southern California that, among other things, runs a free mobile veterinary clinic for low-income and homeless people.
The incident got me thinking — I really would have liked to have more information to give him. The Sam Simon clinic has a first-come, first-served policy, and it can often take several days of arriving first thing in the morning to get a pet altered and vaccinated.
I knew there were other resources, like the low-cost neutering at the animal shelter, but I didn’t have the contact information with me, and the man didn’t have access to the internet. I decided to compile a list of resources that I could give to dog people in dire financial straits.
Resources to Help
Now my list is complete, stowed in my car in case I need it. I now include the following information my “kit” to help homeless people with pets:
- The phone number and address of our local animal shelter
- Contact information for a few veterinarians who donate their services at a low cost
- The location of homeless shelters that accept pets
- A little information about what kind of basic vetting every dog needs.
My behavior might sound a little extreme, but I’m the kind of person who keeps a crate in the trunk of my car that’s filled with leashes, collars, blankets, treats, water and a pet first aid kit, just in case I run into a stray animal. I am, after all, a Crazy Dog Person.
From the homeless people with whom I’ve spoken, I’ve learned that their love for their four-legged babies is no less than my love for mine. In fact, pets can be of particular service to the homeless, providing them with affection and comfort, two necessary forms of support that you don’t see much of on the streets. Most of them tell me that when they get money, their first concern is for caring for their companions.
I’d like to encourage readers to help the homeless with pets as much as possible. No matter what their situation or why they’re sitting in front of Target, looking for a “handout,” their pets deserve the same care as your own.
And for anyone who questions the bond between a homeless person and his dog, watch this video, and try not to cry:
- Humane Society: Having trouble affording veterinary care?
- Pets of the Homeless: Nonprofit that provides food, care
- Liz Fox Rescue (Los Angeles): Covers transportation, all vet costs (plus $20 for the homeless person — amazing!)
- Philanthropher: $1 feeds a homeless dog for a day
- Change.org: Homeless people’s pets aren’t “homeless”