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What to Do When You Encounter Homeless People With Pets

What to Do When You Encounter Homeless People With Pets

Editor’s note: This post is a Care2 favorite. It was originally published on July 21, 2012. Enjoy.

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


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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 |

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some of the best people we know are doing it


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7:51PM PDT on Oct 4, 2014

It can be hard to see the struggle of vulnerable citizens, especially when they have pets by their side! We share a similar cause. The bond between homeless person and pet is so unique and strong, it deserves to be supported. We hope that more shelters and crisis accommodation will open their doors to pets so that homeless people can access facilities without having to leave behind their animal companions. What are your thoughts? We would love to hear them on our page at

1:56PM PDT on Aug 27, 2014

I need to take care of me first before I help others. I am a hair's depth from being that desolate.

8:27PM PDT on Aug 25, 2014

Many homeless have mental health issues. Animals help them keep at least 1 foot in reality. They have to take care of them. I volunteer with a group Vets Save Our Streets We work with homeless and their animals. The animals are their lifeline and often when they learn to trust us we can offer the human get into a shelter or other help.

8:23PM PDT on Aug 25, 2014

Many homeless have mental health issues. Animals help them keep at least 1 foot in reality. They have to take care of them. I volunteer with a group Vets Save Our Streets We work with homeless and their animals. The animals are their lifeline and often when they learn to trust us we can offer the human get into a shelter or other help.

3:26PM PDT on Aug 25, 2014

Jaimie P. You sound just like me! Thanks for caring !

3:22PM PDT on Aug 25, 2014

I was driving from a gas station and walking down the road was 2 young men and a young woman they all had large back packs on and you could tell they were hitch hikers, scruffy looking. They also had a large dog. It was going to rain and storm any minute and I hoped they would make it to the gas station for shelter because it was thundering by then. Well, it really struck me that they were on a rural road. I had with me 2 breakfast sandwiches, 2 cookies and a can of Diet Coke. Left overs from a meeting I just came from. I felt compelled to turn back and offer them this food. It took me a while before I could turn around and I had hoped they didn't disappear. Luckily they were at the gas station stooped down near the door for some shelter from the rain. I was able to pull right up to them and I opened my window and asked if they could use a sandwich. Their eyes lite up and said yes, they thanked me. I gave the cookies and the pop and said to please make sure the dog got some. They said he would. The beautiful dog looked like a pit mix was sitting tightly between the girl and guy on the ground. He looked scared ! It just broke my heart because I knew he was homeless but I could tell he was loved. I also handed them $5.00 to get drinks for themselves. They said they were from Memphis and heading to Chicago that's close to where we were. They said they had friends in Chicago and would be heading to Wisconsin after that. I told them it was because of the dog that made me come back

5:31AM PDT on Aug 21, 2014

sad story :(

5:50PM PDT on Aug 17, 2014

I too have come across this situation. Luckily I had just come from a Sams club and our local grocery store. I had a tote that I filled with dog food and chicken jerky for dogs and a jar of peanut butter, bread, crackers and fruit. I also gave him a blanket that I always keep on my car and some money. I can't not help someone in need. If we all helped a little the world would be a better place.

12:40AM PDT on Aug 17, 2014

Thank you lovely story

3:57PM PDT on Aug 15, 2014


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