“Give a Dog a Bone Week” occurs the first full week in August and was created by Pets of the Homeless (https://petsofthehomeless.org/. The observance’s intent is to provide an opportunity to raise awareness about pets and the homeless population. Even though this “observance” is ending, the need within our community for donations of food and money from individuals and businesses to feed stray animals and the pets of homeless people remains.
As we all know, the presence of a pet in the life of someone in crisis is a comfort. Pets provide constant companionship, emotional support and security for not only us but for those who are homeless, too.
It is estimated that approximately 10% of homeless people have one or more pets. A number of years ago, it was argued many that if a person cannot take care of themselves, they cannot care for their pets. Poor people, financially challenged, low-income, homeless, or whatever other moniker one cares to use, can and do love their animals as much as someone with a hefty bank account. Lack of finances does not necessarily indicate the character of a person. A struggling individual deserves the same cherished connection to an animal as anyone else. However, despite past criticism, efforts to support the animals and their guardians are increasing.
Aimee Gilbreath, President of PetSmart Charities and former Executive Director of the Michelson Found Animals Foundation, summed it up succinctly, “Pets play such an amazing supportive role in people’s physical and emotional health … And the ability to have access to that joy shouldn’t be based on income.”
Pets are non-judgmental and do not care whether the bed is a down-fluffed mattress or a stack of newspapers on the ground. They provide a sense of security in an often-hostile environment. Pets can also provide a touch of reality in a sometimes-unreal world. They provide the connection to reality that some need to have reinforced.
Pets can help provide a purpose for living and friendship to individuals who have none. Let’s face it; it is not uncommon to see a homeless individual with a dog on a makeshift leash or a cat curled up on the sidewalk beside him. In many instances, the animal companion might be the closest, or only, friend that person has. Dr. Leslie Irvine of the University of Colorado, Boulder drives those points home in her 2012 book “My Dog Always Eats First” (https://www.rienner.com/uploads/50a50e1fe08fc.pdf) and, subsequently, the paper “Animals as Lifechangers and Lifesavers: Pets in the Redemption Narratives of Homeless People” (https://www.wellbeingintlstudiesrepository.org/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1007&context=acwp_habr ).
There are approximately 161,548 homeless people in California, which accounted for 28% of the nation’s homeless population. Some have lost their jobs, some have been foreclosed upon and lost their home, some may be mentally ill, disabled, elderly, abused, and, within any of these venues, one may find a veteran.
They may be teens, single adults, or entire families. A common misconception is that all homeless beings are lazy and do not want to work. Although there is a portion that may, in fact, meet that standard, understand that a missed paycheck or an abusive spouse can quickly cause someone to become homeless. A person, as a result, may not be able to adequately care for an animal. As homelessness continues to rise, food banks and “soup kitchens” cannot always be the sole providers of pet food and necessary supplies for those beloved animal companions.
One way to help is to donate food and supplies. The Tehama County Animal Care Center (TCACC) located at 1830 Walnut Street, Red Bluff, CA (530-527-3439), in addition to the many other services they offer, also runs a Community Pet Pantry (https://www.co.tehama.ca.us/government/departments/animal-services/animal-care-laws-permits/pet-food-pantry/), which is designed to assist pet guardians experiencing financial hardship. TCACC wants to make sure that no family gives up a pet because they cannot afford to feed it. By offering dog and cat food to Tehama County residents in need, they strive to ensure that pets within the community never go hungry. Additional details regarding the pantry can be found on TCACC’s website and in this month’s Enjoy Magazine, (https://enjoymagazine.com/read-online/ ).
Another idea is to volunteer with our local shelter or a food bank for the homeless. While you are at it, why not learn more? The National Alliance to End Homelessness (https://endhomelessness.org/pets/ ), in conjunction with PetSmart Charities, developed a “Keeping People and Pets Together” resource document (https://endhomelessness.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Keeping-People-and-Pets-Together-031220.pdf).
To put things in perspective, I was once a breath away from being homeless. What prevented me from becoming a statistic was the support of people who believed in me. The other was my pets. They gave me the motivation to push on, they provided companionship lost, and they gave me a reason to live by providing hope where there was none. One of the definitions of hope is “to believe that events will turn out for the best.”
Everyone needs to have hope. You can help provide that hope by “Giving a Dog a Bone,” not only this week but in the other ones that follow, as well.