Homeless people on their pets: ‘She saved me as much as I saved her’

Four people share stories of animal companions as experts say they take better care of pets than those with housing

Heather, 22, Seattle

Before we found Poppy, I didnt feel like I had anything to wake up for. I was going through a rough time in my life and didnt care about myself. Id been homeless since my parents told me to leave our family house in June 2016 and was so miserable in my situation. Everywhere I go people shun me and tell me to leave.

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Then, last March, I was walking around downtown Seattle with my boyfriend when we saw a group of guys with two dogs. They were yelling at one of them and she was shivering and obviously scared. I went into a store and when I came out my boyfriend had the dog. I was confused. He said to me: I made a life choice without you; were keeping the dog. Hed paid the guys $5 for her.

It was an eye-opening moment for me to look at her properly. She raised her head with a look that said: Please dont hurt me. She had protruding ribs, fleas, missing patches of fur and couldnt walk properly. I wrapped her in my jacket like a little baby and promised Id never let anybody hurt her again. And thats my promise to her for the rest of her life. We named her Poppy after a poppy seed muffin she was trying to eat off the sidewalk.

Heather
Heather on Poppy: Seeing her like that reminds me to stay happy for simple things too. Photograph: Annabel Clark for the Guardian

We moved from sleeping in a doorway to a tent. I stopped stealing food from stores when we were desperate; I didnt want to go to jail for something dumb and risk losing her. Ive applied for food stamps and now have a case manager helping me get on a housing list and get Poppy registered as a service animal so that were protected from being split up [by the Federal Housing Act].

People comment about how I shouldnt be on the street with a dog. But they probably have a misconception that shes not being taken care of. Twice a month the Union Gospel Mission does free pet care. I feed her at specific times with foods that the vet has told me will keep her healthy. I get money for her food from panhandling. Shes literally with me 247. She wakes up so excited every morning and gets so happy about the littlest thing, like rolling around in the grass or even just the weather being nice. Seeing her like that reminds me to stay happy for simple things too. In my mind shes a little angel that saved me as much as I saved her.

Kate Fraser Daley, 39, Portland, Oregon

Kate
Kate Fraser Daley with her dog, Tenny, and her daughter in Portland, Oregon. Photograph: Annabel Clark for the Guardian

When my family became homeless last June, some of the time we had Tenny, our four-year old chihuahua-terrier mix, with us, and some of the time he was with friends of the family. But he was so sad when we were apart. There were times when he wouldnt eat and just wanted to sleep. His happy-go-lucky self wasnt there.

Wed been in the same apartment for 10 years so the change was really hard on everyone. We decided to send our two cats, Snowflake and Mittens, to another friends house. Within the first week, Snowflake got out and ran away. My husband was absolutely heartbroken. A year on and just mentioning her name is still very emotional for him. Mittens passed away when our friends moved.

Tenny
Kate Fraser Daley: I said to my husband: We dont give up on our family. Photograph: Annabel Clark for the Guardian

When we moved into a shelter, Tenny became extremely protective of all of us. Being part of a mobile family unit is difficult for a dog, because everywhere becomes their territory to protect and theres no actual home. Were in a 25-family shelter at the moment. All the families sleep on bunks in one large room and we can only be there from 6pm to 8am. But Tenny is never satisfied with our surroundings. His barking has become incessant and hes being snippety. I dont think hes going to calm down until we get back into an apartment. Then he wont have to be running all over town trying to freakishly protect his family from the world, which is not the job of a dog.

I know its unfair on him. We try to give him all the love we can and help him work through it. My husband and I actually talked about whether we are going to have to take him back to the pound. We cant afford a lawsuit and we dont want to risk him being put down if he bites somebody. But I said to my husband: We dont give up on our family. Were working on getting into an apartment and will see how he calms down when he has his own space to protect again.

Richard Dyer, 52, Seattle

Richard
Richard Dyer with his pet ferrets Ricky and Tiny in Seattle. Photograph: Annabel Clark for the Guardian

My two ferrets are called Ricky and Tiny. Ive had Ricky for five years. I rescued him when I saw somebody walking him on the street and yanking him around on a chain. And Ive had Tiny for almost three years and rescued him after someone threw him out in the woods. They were both skittish at first because of the way they had been treated, but now theyre leash- and litter box-trained.

I had wanted ferrets as pets since I was a kid. I grew up in Fort Payne, Alabama, and we had them on our land, but they were so fast you could never catch them.

Ive been homeless a little over a year; its not the first time, but its the first time in a long time. My wife and I were living in an apartment and the rent went up by $150. We couldnt afford it and didnt have any place to go so we had no option. Right now were staying in a tent. I come downtown when the ferrets are out of food.

Richard
Richard Dyer: They come up to me every time I call and Tiny is always on my heels, he never lets me out of his sight. Photograph: Annabel Clark for the Guardian

Most shelters dont allow animals. But I wouldnt subject my family to one anyway they are full of drugs and disease and lice. Were in a sanctioned camp thats supported by several agencies and we have electricity. We pay $60 a month to be there and our neighbors at the camp love the ferrets.

A while ago I was diagnosed with bipolar [disorder] and was suicidal. But since having these ferrets, I havent had any suicidal tendencies. They ease my stress. They come up to me every time I call and Tiny is always on my heels, he never lets me out of his sight. My favorite thing about them is how they play with each other. They cant be apart from each other; their bond is magnificent.

Ryan Mikesell, 37, Hillsboro, Oregon

Ryan
Ryan Mikesell lives with his pets in an RV parked in Hillsboro, Oregon. Photograph: Annabel Clark for the Guardian

When Im feeling overwhelmed by anxiety, my mini Labradoodle, Josie, climbs on my chest to calm me down. She wont take no for an answer. Shell be like, Go ahead, tell me to get off. I dont care. I have PTSD and her doing that is a grounding mechanism for me. I feel things and she just senses it. Shes like my soulmate in dog form. My therapist loves her.

My animals are my family. The oldest is Jamie, a Jack Russell-chihuahua I got eleven years ago when I was living in a house with my ex-partner. Jamie has had two litters and Ive kept three of her puppies. In total, I have five dogs and my cat, Buddy, who I found abandoned in an alley nine years ago.

Ive been homeless for eight years. I grew up in Olympia, Washington, but my parents were very abusive and I didnt want to be anywhere near them, so I left for Oregon. I have agoraphobia and severe anxiety. I also have diabetes and need to have a refrigeratorso I can keep eating healthily. I live in a motorhome that I have nowhere to permanently park. It used to be that as long as you regularly moved your vehicle, you could park in lots of places. But since the new mayor of Portland came into office, you can get a ticket and be towed in 20 minutes. I put a call out on Facebook saying I needed somewhere to park for six months and a woman offered me her driveway, which is where I am now.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/jun/16/homeless-people-pets-animals

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