Why Pets of the Homeless?
3.5 million* Americans are homeless. Five to ten percent of homeless people have dogs and/or cats. In some areas of the country the rate is as high as 24%.
Who are homeless with pets?
Each homeless person has a unique story; they are people. Some have lost their homes and jobs, some have mental disorders, some are addicts, and some are parolees. Some are: families, disabled, elderly, abused spouses, teens, and veterans.
How does the pet food program work?
Our member pet food donation sites accept pet food and supplies from people like you. They then deliver it to pet food providers (food banks, homeless shelters and/or soup kitchens) which have agreed to distribute the pet food to the homeless and poor.
*National Coalition on Homelessness
Why do the homeless have pets when they can barely take care of themselves?
Pets provide a deep comfort. Pets are non-judgmental. They are loyal. They provide warmth and security. The homeless get a type of normalcy by providing food and water for their pets. In some cases, they provide them with reality.
Some homeless would sacrifice their own food for their pets. Then there is the protection factor. Living on the streets is dangerous especially for women and the disabled.
For many on the streets these animals provide them with security from other homeless or from those that discriminate against the homeless with beatings or from others who may steal their modest possessions.
In an article by Danielle Wolffe, “8 Reasons Homeless People ‘Deserve’ to Have Dogs”:
1. Who are we to judge?
Finances don’t indicate who a person is, what they are capable of, how much love they deserve or where it should come from. Poverty is not a character trait. A struggling person deserves the same intimate connections as everyone else.
More importantly, having money doesn’t give us the right to make those decisions for others — doesn’t give us exclusive dominion over animals or children. When somebody makes that argument I want to tell them to get over themselves. Seriously.
2. This is the world that we live in.
In this strange world we often see as many people living on the streets as those walking it. Alleviating problems that cause homelessness is a good goal. However, if these scenes are so commonplace; we might also accept the fact that they mirror our own lives.
Homeless people we live alongside deserve to live (as we all do) free from judgment. They are out there in plain sight, but that doesn’t mean they volunteered to be guests on a talk show; that we’re allowed to be the audience, sheepishly shaking our heads and mouthing our disapproval to the cameras.
3. Dogs are hearty, resilient creatures who come to us when we need them.
I worked for one season as a sled dog mushing guide in Wyoming. Those tough dogs slept in houses made of huge, hollowed out, straw filled cable spools. Temperatures regularly dipped well below zero. The dogs were built for that weather. We often were surprised to see a few of them lounging on top of their houses on the coldest days.
Some retired sled dogs became house dogs. The house dogs were spoiled and sometimes refused to go outside. Still, when out in the yard, they were fine. Dogs are adaptable, and only as fragile as we make them out to be.
Homeless people’s dogs are appropriately chosen. I am relatively certain most street people’s dogs are not the miniature poodles that wealthy women on the Upper East Side dress in sweaters and push around in baby carriages. They are mostly mutts of hearty winter faring stock, giant dogs that offer the extra measure of whoop ass protection people might need on the streets.
4. People who love their dogs, find ways to care for them.
While it is true that homeless people may struggle to find food; in this country, people don’t generally die exclusively from diseases related to starvation. I personally went hungry a day or two in my life so my dog could eat (I had housing at the time). I assume homeless people do the same, and are as tenacious about finding food for their dogs as they are for themselves. Likewise, they probably know ways to stay warm, and find good spots to snuggle.
When you love another being, you find a way to take care of them. You just do.
5. The need for companionship is just as important as the need for food or shelter
Taking care of others, reinforces our purpose for living, People may not die from loneliness, but in some ways, they can cease to exist if they truly cut themselves off from the world.
A person who has a dog to take care of and love is more apt to be healthier, to feel more a part of the world.
Healthier people do not tend to be as much of a “threat” to other people.
6. Housing doesn’t mean that a person is good or bad.
It is possible that there are some people who are homeless and have mental illness that may cause them to neglect or abuse their dogs. There are plenty of people living in houses who do the same.
7. Homeless dogs are working dogs.
American homeless people deserve pets, because they are part of our culture. At the same time, those dogs earn their keep as guard dogs, therapy dogs and traveling companions.
8. Instead of criticizing, help.
If you are worried about a dog you see on the street, give his owner some dog food, or a couple of hamburgers. There are also organizations set up to help street dogs get vaccinations and food. One of these organizations is Pets of the Homeless
I want to help but talking with a homeless person scares me, what can I do?
Generally, people want to help but are uncomfortable and scared because they do not understand the plight of homelessness so they choose to ignore the issue. We offer a way to help that does not put the donor in front of a homeless person or in a rough, sometimes dangerous area of their community.
What are some common misconceptions about the homeless?
The leading misconception is that the homeless are lazy and do not want jobs or the responsibility that goes with a job. With the economy today, one missed pay check, a medical diagnosis, or an abusive spouse can put someone into homelessness overnight.
What types of support do the animals provide their homeless owners?
Their pets are nonjudgmental, offer comfort, and provide an emotional bond of loyalty. In some cases they provide the homeless protection and keep them warm. Medical authorities have proven that pets benefit in many ways.
How do homeless people take care of their pets? By “take care” do you mean medically, or by providing food?
Medically, the homeless are not that good at providing vaccinations or spay or neutering because of the cost and separation that is required. People have reported to me that they have tried to offer taking a pet to a veterinary clinic but the homeless have refused because they are afraid that the person will take the pet and never return it. They are mistrusting and who can blame them. They are invisible in our society and on the other hand they are shouted at and sometimes targets of hate crimes.
Pet food is hard to come by and the homeless usually panhandle to get money to buy food for their self and pet. It is a shame when we see someone share their hamburger with their pet. But it happens. And most times the money goes to buy human food which they share with the pet. This is a very unhealthy practice for pets, it can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and pancreatitis.
While researching pets of the homeless, I was surprised to find that most of the pets are quite well cared for.
Of course many have nutritional needs that are not met but they are well-loved and taken care of, as well as possible.
In some cases the pet is a link to reality and the person will do anything to protect his/her pet.
It is important to get the homeless with pets to have their pets spayed/neutered and vaccinated, why isn’t this being done?
You might have guessed that finances and transportation are at the top of the list as to why they do not seek vet care. Our program helps them by finding the closest hospital that will work with us.
How do you get on public transportation with a pet?
The homeless with pets walk everywhere, if they do not have a vehicle.
How do you gain trust so you can help?
Rightfully, homeless are afraid that people will take their pets, thinking they are doing the homeless person and the pet a favor, when in fact they are doing great harm. A human/animal bond has been created and no one should separate them. Some homeless have such separation anxiety that they will not go to a hospital when they are in need of medical treatment because they have no one to care for their pet or fear the authorities will take their pet away from them.
Pets of the Homeless offers grants to veterinarians who will go to where the homeless congregate or camp to offer these treatments. Ask your veterinarian to apply.
How does the pet food get from donation sites to the homeless?
Our program kit instructs the volunteer business site on how to contact a food bank, a homeless shelter, the Meals on Wheels program or a local church soup kitchen who is identified as a pet food provider. The pet food provider then becomes a partner with the vet or business. Sometimes the provider picks up the donated food and distributes it to the homeless and less fortunate in the community. Sometimes volunteers will deliver it to the provider organization and sometimes the volunteers take it to the streets where they have seen homeless with pets.
How are you able to get the word out to the homeless in order for them to take advantage of this program?
Word of mouth travels quickly in homeless communities. Once a food bank or soup kitchen starts distributing pet food, they come. Some find out about the program through the website at public libraries, and on their phones. Some find us through their social workers.
Why are people forced to choose between their pet and a roof over their head?
The major problem for a homeless person is housing. Many shelters, motels and other assisted housing programs do not want to have pets on their property, due to health department restrictions, and safety of the others they serve. So they live in their cars, in RVs, and in tent camps.
In some cities, where homelessness is growing, the authorities do “sweeps” of an area to remove homeless camps. They bring in animal control officers because the dogs will protect their owners. If their pets do not have licenses, they seize the pets and turn them over to local animal shelters and many are euthanized.
Another challenge is finding food and water for themselves and their pets. Vet care is a challenge because of the costs and transportation issues.
Being forced to abandon a pet can be a major barrier to engaging the homeless into services. Achieving access to the homeless often is dependent on providing compassion to them and their pets. A few communities are addressing this problem by providing shelter to accommodate both the homeless people and their pets. Pets of the Homeless offer these shelters free sleeping crates.
Where do homeless get phones?
That question is asked more often than you would think. A telephone is a necessity for majority of people in America today since it connects them to the outside world. Having a telephone service is also important for securing employment in many cases. Finally, a telephone can save lives since it can be a reliable communication tool during emergencies.
There are many programs and they use income-based eligibility criteria, which include a household income below 135% of the FPL or receive assistance SSI, TANF, SNAP, LIHEAP, Medicaid, or another similar state assistance program.
These programs can prove to be a major help for low-income families and homeless who are struggling to meet their ends. These people need a phone service to stay connected with the outside world.
Homeless looking to apply for a program should meet eligibility requirements in their state and they should submit an application in the manner prescribed by their state government.
Now for some more Q and A on the subject:
Q: Is there a U.S. government program that provides free or discounted phones and wireless service to low- income Americans?
A: Yes. It consists of two parts: “Link-Up,” which helps income-eligible people set up new home phone service, and “Lifeline,” which helps income-eligible people pay their monthly phone charges. (Source: FCC)
Q: Was this phone program instituted by the Obama administration?
A: No. The program as it exists today was created over a decade ago by an act of Congress, the Telecommunications Act of 1996. A version of the Lifeline program was already in operation as far back as the early 1980s.
Q: Does the program offer every welfare recipient a free phone and 70 minutes of wireless service?
A: Not necessarily. The specific benefits vary according to locale and service provider. Also, the program is designed to help low-income people generally, not just welfare recipients. Examples: Safelink Wireless | ATT Lifeline and Link-Up | Verizon Low Income Programs. (Source: FCC)
Q: Is it accurate to say that taxpayer money is being ‘redistributed’ to provide these phone services?
A: Basically yes, though not in the sense one might assume. Apart from being administered by the FCC, it’s not a federally-funded program. Since its inception, the program has been financed via the pooled contributions of commercial phone service providers, which in turn impose small monthly fees on their regular customers to recoup the cost. (Source: FCC)