Question of Pet Worthiness:

Should Poor/Homeless People Have Pets?

Tizzy — Photo Diane Nilan

Aw, geez. If I needed inspiration to write this post, I got it on Christmas night.

My sis and I had to make that dreaded trip to the emergency vet with her new pup, Keeper, who exhibited signs that traumatized my sister, having recently lost Tizzy, and me to a lesser degree. When all was said and done, Keeper had relatively minor ailments. She had to stay overnight to get stabilized. Final vet bill for this unexpected visit, $1200. My sis can afford it, though this was not in her budget.

As we sat in the spartan waiting room I couldn’t help but think of the families I know who, despite their lack of resources or even a place to live, have — and love — dogs.

Parking Lot Survival,” my recent 5-minute video, focused on “Sara” and her 6-year-old son “Kenny.” They live in a small SUV with Blake the dog and Colby the cat. As we chatted about the challenges of owning pets while homeless, Sara commented that people have dogs before they become homeless, a point missed by unenlightened observers. Blake and Colby are essential parts of her family. She gets donations of pet food from the local pantry. She’s not sure how she’ll cope with the pet medical emergency.

Blake awaiting ‘Sara’ and ‘Kenny’ — Photo Diane Nilan

Alexa, an 18-year-old on her own, living in a dilapidated camper in frickin’-freezing Idaho, said she had to give her dog to her grandma because she couldn’t afford a pet, a reality that visibly saddened her. She shared her story in my new 5-minute video “Without a Nest: Youth on her own in Idaho.

Occasional pet clinics provide free routine care and shots, and that’s really helpful. Pets of the Homeless Wellness Clinic in Reno treated 51 animals at their periodic free clinic (the next is scheduled 1/20/20). Households with pets displaced by the Kincaid Fire in the Santa Rosa area this fall were able to board their pets free at VCA Animal Hospitals. Anchorage area vets offered a similar service this summer when wildfires hit there.

Legislative efforts are beginning to address the issue of pets belonging to people experiencing homelessness. California set aside $5 million for the cause. And they’ve been debating a law that would allow people to bring their pets into shelters. That’s a big barrier for homeless pet owners. Noteworthy efforts, for sure.

Lovable — Photo Diane Nilan

But Who Deserves to Have Pets?

What about those who’ve escaped homelessness and are barely hanging onto their permanent housing? What about those who’ve never been homeless but are as poor as church mice? What about the housed, above-poverty but not financially sound pet owners? What about those who didn’t expect to become homeless but disaster hit forcing them out of their homes?

Or what about the homeless, abandoned pets, now dubbed Suzynpupman, who wandered into the house of a welcoming, albeit surprised, family. Word of this lost dog spread on social media, and one thing led to another as this story in the Washington Post related. “Jokinen, who blogs and hosts a podcast about the Yankees, tweeted about Suzy’s adventure to his 35,000 followers as it played out. The story spread rapidly, and people soon started volunteering to send donations for the dog’s care.” An astounding $25,000 and counting was raised for this dog.

I don’t want to disparage those willing to kick in thousands to support a stray dog. The power of social media can rally support for causes in a heart beat. Of course, it probably helps to have media moguls involved.

I don’t want to disparage those who make a living caring for pets. Vet training is expensive and extensive. Some provide discounts or free care for those who cannot pay. I’m not sure how many provide emergency care, but still….

As I see it, owning pets requires money. Feeding and caring for our furry friends is a responsibility. And pets provide immeasurable contributions to their households.

It’s wonderful when people jump on the bandwagon to respond to the need of a family dealing with a bedraggled pooch that wandered through an open door. Equally as wonderful when veterinarians and friends hold free clinics to care for animals of people without homes.

Sara’s car is dying. It’s the home for Blake the Dog, Colby the Cat, and Sara & son Kenny. Photo Diane Nilan

Compassion — just for critters?

What I’m trying to figure out is how to extend this compassion and action beyond these media events to meet everyday needs of animals and people struggling to survive.

I’m willing to funnel funds to help Sara, Kenny, Blake and Colby to get a better vehicle, or a real place to live. I’d be happy if people would take a moment to push Congress for passage of the Homeless Children and Youth Act so we can get on with Changing the Paradigm of Homelessness.

What everyone can do (sans $) to help families experiencing homelessness. Photo Diane Nilan

Our new textbook is out! Now to get it into the hands of those who need to know another way to address homelessness.

Yes, I’ve shamelessly exploited pets and kids. It’s to the point of whatever works. D

Founder/pres. HEAR US Inc., gives voice & visibility to homeless families & youth, ran shelters, advocate, filmmaker, author, 15 yrs. on US backroads.

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