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 determined Poppy, I didn’t feel like I had anything to wake up for. I was going through a rough time in my life and didn’t care about myself. I’d been homeless since my mothers 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 find a group of guys with two puppies. They were yelling at one of them and she was shivering and plainly frightened. I went into a store and when I came out my boyfriend had the dog. I was confounded. He said to me:” I made a life selection without you; we’re maintaining the dog .” He’d 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 appear that said:” Please don’t hurt me .” She had protruding ribs, fleas, missing patches of fur and couldn’t walk properly. I wrap her in my jacket like a little baby and promised I’d never let anybody hurt her again. And that’s 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:’ Find her like that reminded participants to remain 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 hes” desperate; I didn’t want to go to jail for something dumb and risk losing her. I’ve 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 we’re protected from being split up[ by the Federal Housing Act ].

People comment about how I shouldn’t be on the street with a puppy. But they probably have a misconception that she’s 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. She’s literally with me 24-7. She wakes up so excited every morning and gets so happy about the littlest thing, like rolling around in the grass or even merely the weather being nice. Considering her like that reminds me to stay happy for simple things too. In my intellect she’s 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 mixture, with us, and some of the time he was with friends of the family. But he was so sad “when hes” apart. There were periods when he wouldn’t eat and just wanted to sleep. His happy-go-lucky self wasn’t there.

We’d 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 friend’s house. Within the first week, Snowflake get out and ran away. My spouse was utterly heartbroken. A year on and merely 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 don’t give up on our family .”‘ Photograph: Annabel Clark for the Guardian

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

I know it’s 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 can’t afford a suit and we don’t want to hazard him being put down if he bites someone. But I said to my husband:” We don’t give up on our family .” We’re 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. Photo: Annabel Clark for the Guardian

My two ferrets are called Ricky and Tiny. I’ve had Ricky for five years. I rescued him when I ensure someone walking him on the street and yanking him around on a chain. And I’ve had Tiny for almost three years and rescued him after person threw him out in the woods. They were both skittish at first because of the route they had been treated, but now they’re 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.

I’ve been homeless a little over a year; it’s not the first time, but it’s the first time in a long time. My spouse and I were living in an apartment and the rent ran up by $150. We couldn’t afford it and didn’t have any place to run so we had no alternative. Right now we’re 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 don’t allow animals. But I wouldn’t subject my family to one anyway- they are full of drugs and illness and louse. We’re in a sanctioned camp that’s 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 haven’t 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 can’t 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 I’m feeling overwhelmed by nervousnes, my mini Labradoodle, Josie, climbs on my chest to soothe me down. She won’t take no for an answer. She’ll be like,” Go ahead, tell me to get off. I don’t care .” I have PTSD and her doing that is a grounding mechanism for me. I feel things and she just senses it. She’s like my soulmate in dog kind. 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 I’ve maintained three of her puppies. In total, I have five puppies and my cat, Buddy, who I find abandoned in an alley nine years ago.

I’ve been homeless for eight years. I grew up in Olympia, Washington, but my parents were very abusive and I didn’t 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 feeing 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 set 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.

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