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What to Do When You Encounter Homeless People With Pets

What to Do When You Encounter Homeless People With Pets

 

A few weeks ago, I was driving out to a distant feral cat colony with the daily meal as the regular caretaker was out of town. The roads in that area are laid out like a pile of sticks, one crossing over the next, and I always seem to lose my way. This time I found myself heading the wrong way and I came upon a plaza with several stores and restaurants. As I drove past, I thought I spotted some people lingering about in the sun with a couple of dogs. I thought this was very odd as the air was in the mid-90s and near the pavement, it was certainly hitting 100 or more.

Though it seemed like a bad idea, especially as I’m wary of approaching strangers when my daughter is with me, I just couldn’t let it go. I began to try and navigate the network of roads and find a way to return to that same spot. It was probably no more than 10 minutes later when I was back where I started and at first I was relieved. I didn’t see them. No dogs. No people. I was halfway through letting out a deep breath when I spotted the group and that familiar feeling of dread crept up on me. I didn’t know exactly what I was going to do, but I pulled the car into the lot and closed my eyes for a second. A quick prayer and I was out of the car, taking my daughter by the hand as we walked over with her asking me lots of questions about why we were going to talk to these people.

The person closest to us on our approach was a young woman, head down between her knees, sitting on the ground. The dogs were laying all around her. I began talking to her and at first she did not lift her face.

“Is she awake?” I wondered.

I tried again.

“It’s such a hot day, your dogs must be thirsty. Would you like a bottle of water?”

The young woman slowly raised her head. She wasn’t sleepy but she was miles away. She looked at me blankly and agreed in a flat voice to take the bottle.

I then asked, “Can I give you a bag of dog food too? I just bought some for my dogs and it will just take me a second to get it.”

She called out to one of the men who was in her group. He was about 20 yards away, soliciting passing cars for money. She asked him if they needed dog food and he said, “We could always use more.” His voice was eager and I didn’t waste any time.

“Let’s Hurry Honey, We’re Going to Give Them Some Dog Food”

I hurried back to the car with my daughter and hastily opened the dog food and poured half of the 18 pound bag into a reusable shopping tote. I knew they wouldn’t be able to carry the whole sack along with their backpacks too, but I hoped they’d be able to carry the tote on one shoulder.

I returned to the young woman and a lovely, medium-sized golden dog slipped her head into the pink grocery bag. She was grazing softly while the other two dogs seemed uninterested in the meal. All three were actually in good body condition, and aside from being dreadfully hot under the pathetic shade offered by the immature tree sprouting up behind them, they seemed relaxed.

I asked the young woman questions about where she would spend the night, where she would go next. She explained that she and her companion, only one of the three men working together at the end of the lot, usually spent the night sleeping in bushes or under bridges. She named several states they had been through in recent months and explained that she had spent time in Oregon, clear across the country. She explained that they move south during winter and bundle up when they’re cold.

I couldn’t help but fix on the long bone-shaped jewelry piercing her nose, but what pained me most was the eyes of this young woman. She had no spark. She was absent of the normal body language woman tend to share during conversation. No smile. No nod. No response when I reached out and took her hand.

“Please, can I give you my card,” I offered. “I want to help you. If you need something. If your dogs need something…. I run an animal rescue charity. It’s called the Harmony Fund. I’m worried about the dogs. I’m worried about you. You can call me any time.”

Either she couldn’t feel the genuine love I was sending her or she didn’t want to.

“We’re not going to be around,” she said refusing the card. “We’re leaving for New York tonight. I don’t have a phone. We move all over the place and we’re not coming back here.”

There was not a thread to pull on. She was closed down and I could feel it. So I did the only thing I could and reached into my pocket and gave her the $14 I had on me.

“Good luck,” I said. “Please be safe. Please take care of yourself. I’ll be thinking of you tonight.”

Only she probably wouldn’t guess that I’ll still be thinking of her in years to come.

What To Do in This Situation

So what do you do when you see a homeless person with an animal? I simply don’t know. I did the best I could in the heat of the moment and perhaps that’s all any of us can do. Ask questions. Offer food and water. If you know of a resource in the area, try to talk to them about what help is available. You might not have a perfect plan, but any support you provide is better than simply walking past and averting your eyes.

If any of our readers today have helped in a similar situation, please share your thoughts below or visit our website if you’d like to share a full rescue story.

Homeless People and their Pets

 

Related Stories:

Shelter Revolution: Homeless Pets Never Have To Be Euthanized

Will Paying Panhandlers to Foster Puppies Pay Off?

Dog’s Recovery After a Machete Attack

 

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Photo credit: Tatiana Sayig | Dreamstime.com

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584 comments

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8:40AM PDT on May 30, 2013

The homeless woman in the story. probably exhausted from living in the streets.!! Or sadly, have a mental condition, or drug problem.!!!! Kudos to the caring women, she encountered.!! Bless all homeless people and their animals.!!!

6:39AM PDT on May 30, 2013

Allow them the luck

4:18AM PDT on May 30, 2013

Hard to see homeless souls, more difficult when they are with a pet. So many in NYC, but I'm partial when I see them with an animal. I feel depressed that it might happen to me. We must all help them & give what we can. A word of encouragement, few dollars....please help...

7:53PM PDT on May 29, 2013

Mel I. ___ great idea !!!!

I always keep water in the car.

Now thanks to your comment, I'm going to get some animal & human food to keep in the car too.

I'm going to keep some milk jug bottoms in the car too . . . water bowls...

THANKS for your comment . !

ding ding ding.....that's my brain making noises.

3:57PM PDT on May 5, 2013

We always carry spare food (human and pet) and water in the car to help them. My daughters have always found it to be wonderful to help

5:39AM PDT on Apr 9, 2013

Good one renee.s :-)

7:57AM PST on Feb 8, 2013

Thank you for sharing.

6:37AM PST on Nov 11, 2012

When I encounter people with dogs or cats or even a bird begging for money in the streets of Montreal, i stand aside and i watch their interaction with the animals trying to feel if they really love them or just using them before helping them. i have witnessed young guys kicking their dog and realize most of the time that they are just using them.

1:20PM PDT on Oct 3, 2012

AS long as they aren't using the dog to get money. they would accept food and water im sure. if they don't they are more than likely being deceptive

1:56PM PDT on Aug 22, 2012

I stand corrected, John, about you and Lady A being homeless in the traditional sense. I am, however, going to agree with you about hearts. Kindness IS needed.

I didw hat I could for you and Lady when you two were in Belleville, John. I'm just sorry I couldn't offer more.

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Kristina Chew Kristina Chew teaches ancient Greek, Latin and Classics at Saint Peter's University in New Jersey.... more
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