“You can’t take care of an animal if you can’t take care of yourself.”
Have you ever thought this when you passed a homeless person with a dog?
But after I attending an event called Everything to Me: Homeless Seattleites & their Pets at Town Hall in Seattle earlier this month, this thought won’t enter my mind again.
Gemina Garland-Lewis, a documentary photographer and the Research Coordinator at the University of Washington’s Center for One Health Research, led the event.
Garland-Lewis is working to bring attention to this issue and facilitate a more permanent “One Health” clinic to give homeless people and their pets to access health care and other resources.
The Town Hall event was an opportunity for the public to see the moving images of homeless pet owners she has captured and hear firsthand from a few of the people who will be served by this project.
At the beginning of the event, Garland-Lewis conducted an exercise that flipped many people’s opinion of homeless dog owners on its head.
First, she asked 3 questions:
How many of you own a dog?
How many of you love your dog?
How many of you would do anything for your dog?
Virtually everyone in the audience raised their hands in response to all three questions.
Then she said, “That’s exactly how homeless people feel about their dogs.”
The room fell silent as eyes turned downward, feet shuffled, and the audience’s preconceived notions about and judgement of homeless dog owners crumbled.
As Garland-Lewis explains on the Everything to Me website, “For many homeless persons, their pet is considered their closest and most loyal friend, a non-judgmental listener, a source of protection, and a companion that provides a sense of responsibility and accountability.”
In other words, homeless people usually put their dogs well being over their own because their dogs are often the most important living being in their lives. That’s why dogs of the homeless, at least the ones I’ve seen, usually look healthy and well-fed.
Everything to Me is part of a larger program at UW called the Center for One Health Research. The center “investigates the health linkages between humans, animals, and their shared environments; including zoonoses, comparative clinical medicine, animals as sentinels, animal worker health, food safety, and the human-animal bond.”
The long term goal of Garland-Lewis’ project and the Center for One Health Research is a clinic where the homeless can get medical care for themselves and veterinary care for their animals.
Garland-Lewis found that “preventative medical services may be more difficult for homeless pet owners” because they may not have a place to leave their pets when they get care or they are concerned their pets would be stolen if they were left tied up outside a clinic while they got treatment inside.
However, a clinic that provides medical and veterinary care “recognizes the importance of the human-animal bond in this population and helps to remove barriers to medical care by decreasing transit needs and offering a welcome clinic space for animals.”
Because their pets are the most important thing in their lives, offering medical and veterinary care at the same location gives the homeless more incentive to seek medical care for themselves and their animals. This, in turn, can improve both their health and the health of their pets.
I think this is a fantastic, ground breaking idea, and I hope that the Center’s vision of a clinic for both the homeless and their pets is fulfilled.
You can find this list of organizations/programs that currently provide aid to the homeless and their pets on The Everything to Me website.
FREE/LOW COST VET SERVICES FOR PETS OF HOMELESS/LOW INCOME PET OWNERS
The Doney Memorial Pet Clinic Free basic veterinary care, vaccinations, and $5 flea treatment held every 2nd and 4th Saturday of the month from 3-5pm.
Pet Project Offshoot of Seattle Humane Society’s Pet Food Bank, provides veterinary care and pet services to homeless and low-income individuals with HIV/AIDS or cancer by matching volunteers one-on-one to assist with basic pet care needs.
Seattle Animal Shelter The Spay and Neuter Clinic at the Seattle Animal Shelter is open to everyone, regardless of income or place of residence.
PAWS PAWS offers low cost spay/neuter surgeries for dogs, puppies, cats, kittens and rabbits to qualifying low-income individuals.
Seattle Humane Society The Seattle Humane Society offers low cost spay/neuter surgeries,
including free “Mom’s Last Litter” spays when the litter is placed for adoption.