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