Last week, I sat next to a woman at a meeting who worked at an organization that helped homeless families. We struck up a conversation and realized pretty quickly that our work was quite similar. Although we serve different populations, homelessness was homelessness.
Many of the families she worked with had homes and lost them due to poverty, unemployment, mental illness, addiction, domestic violence and other causes. She shared that many of her clients had pets when they found themselves homeless. For these families, losing their pet was as traumatic as losing their home. It impacted them in their hearts and was particularly difficult when children were involved.
We spoke about the animals at the animal shelter. I shared that the hardships she mentioned parallel some of the common reasons animals come into a shelter. I explained that we get many animals as owner surrenders and that it is a pet’s life circumstances that bring them to us, not their behavior. Many times people think animals at the shelter are there because the animal is a problem. The majority of times, however, it’s the human and family dynamic that causes the animal to be displaced or become homeless.
The hardest thing for anyone working at an animal shelter is when a loving pet owner turns their pet in at the shelter due to human tragedy. The separation between families and their pet is hard on both the people and the animals. We aim to provide intervention services to keep pets in their homes. But, sadly, there are many circumstances beyond our control where the pet must be surrendered to the shelter.
When looking at animals in a shelter, it’s important to remember that at one point in their life, every homeless pet had a person attached to them. What we see at the animal shelter is that animals end up in a shelter or on the streets usually due to a breakdown in the family or lack of owner education, not their behavior.
My conversation with the woman that night also reminded me of a day last year where I volunteered to serve food to the homeless. I was feeling particularly good about myself and was impressed when I learned that the organization also provided pet food to people so that they could feed their pets at home. This allowed a homeless person to eat a meal and not spend their hard earned money on pet food or have to give up their best friend, their confidant, their protector in the street, their dog because they couldn’t afford to care for them. This organization really understood the human-animal bond and how important that connection was to individuals and families.
That day I met John who was also volunteering. John told me that he used to be homeless and came to the organization for support. He ultimately got back on his feet and found a job and an apartment. He was now in a place where he could give back to others. He shared his love for his dog, a mutt he described as having shaggy hair and a big lovable head. He said if it wasn’t for his beloved pooch, he would not have survived. It was providing for the dog that made him get out of bed every day. Thanks to the pet food he received, he did not have to give up his best and his only friend at the time.
The symptoms of homelessness cross all boundaries, populations, and communities. The Pasadena Humane Society recognizes the issues involved and regularly works with human service agencies to address the pet ownership needs of people in need of support.
Pasadena Humane’s Helping PAWS program was designed specifically to provide resources to those in crisis and to work with the community to prevent pet homelessness. People in need can reach out to the organization for assistance with pet food, basic wellness care, and more free pet behavior help. For more information visit pasadenahumane.org.