Lynne Walker knows the sting of being homeless. She knows the isolation, the despair that comes from needing help and being invisible or worse yet, scorned, simply for being poor. There were days when Lynne didn’t know how she could make it another day, she was drowning, but her chocolate lab mix Tobi was strong enough for both of them.
“When I was suicidal and low and had no income … she helped me through the loneliness,” Walker said in a recent interview. “If you look at life through the eyes of dogs, they’re so happy, happy, happy. My dog saved me. That’s how most homeless people feel.”
Although Tobi has since passed away, Lynne, with her Chihuahua named Dobby, set out to help other homeless and poor pet owners in East County, Oregon and they zeroed in on families with cats.
“Dobby’s Closet” is an informal experiment started by Lynne earlier this year through JOIN, an agency that “connects the homeless to homes” and has maintained a companion animal food pantry at their current location on NE 81st Avenue in Portland, Oregon for the last few years.
“Unlike the dogs that we see accompanying their homeless human companions on street corners, cats are hidden homeless pets, living in cars with families transitioning through homelessness,” Lynne explains. “And unlike dogs, cats tend to have specific food preferences and cat food is in short supply throughout the Portland metro region.”
Walker was on a dog food delivery to Human Solutions’ Daybreak Family Shelter when she met a family with four cats living in a car in the parking lot and in need of litter and food. That encounter motivated her to do something for not just one family, but for many.
Dobby’s Closet now hosts a canned cat food drive at the local farmer’s market, Gresham city hall and a veterinary office among other places. The drive acts as a memorial to Tobi, who passed away last April after twelve years of companionship. Lynne decided that, instead of giving in to the urge to adopt another animal right away, she would spend ninety days actively mourning her loss by conducting the cat food drive.
Her grieving period over, Walker recently searched the Oregon Humane Society website “Adoptable Dogs” page for a new companion to share the apartment she’d carefully selected to meet the mobility challenges of her aging Tobi. At the humane society, Lynne met Snoop, returned to the shelter after ten years as an outdoor dog with one family. Snoop had been waiting nearly three months for a new home. His video asked whether there wasn’t someone out there who could “make his golden years golden.” Walker knew that, having done so for Tobi, she was prepared to meet the needs of another elderly dog and with little Dobby’s approval, brought Snoop home on Sunday, August 5.
And the four cats from the car at the shelter parking lot? East County is a small community. Lynne learned from a visitor to the Gresham Farmers Market that the entire family, pussycats included, was safely housed and they are all doing just fine.
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