Help for the Pets of the Homeless
by Whitney Wilde
You might wonder how homeless people can take care of a dog when they can’t even take care of themselves, but just like the rest of us, they have strong emotional ties to their dogs. Added to that bond, their dog may be keeping them and their few possessions safe, giving them unconditional love at a time when they need it most, and promoting human interaction—which reduces isolation. Their dog may have been a commitment they made when they never expected to be homeless.
The 2013 Homeless Census says that low estimates of homeless are 3,500 in Santa Cruz County and 6,400 in Monterey County. There is only shelter space for about 10 percent of those estimates, and none of the shelters allow pets (except service animals).
The Monterey Peninsula Salvation Army’s Good Samaritan Center and HopeMobile has seen a 71 percent increase in homeless in the last two years and estimate that 23 percent of their clients have pets.
My journey started with a network organization and led me to discover what a huge difference just one person can make.
Pets of the Homeless was started by Genevieve Frederick when she put a single donation barrel in her vet’s office in Carson City, Nevada. That one barrel grew into a national network helping communities set up donations and distribution of pet food to homeless persons. They also fund wellness clinics that provide vaccines, spay/neuter, and needed vet care. Since 2008, they have enabled distribution of 238 tons of pet food, and over 10,000 pets have been seen in wellness clinics across the country. The organization’s other programs encourage community involvement, including “Reading for Scruffy” and a foster program for pets of homeless persons unable to care for their pets due to illness or incapacitation.
Pets of the Homeless is not really active locally, and I was surprised at what I found. One thing became clear: we need more access to pet health care for homeless and low-income persons. A good start is Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter’s new program offering rabies vaccines to pets of the homeless and low-income at Watsonville’s Ramsey Park, as well as through Mountain Community Resources in Felton.
The slogan for Animal Welfare Information & Assistance in Pacific Grove is “Compassion for all is a way of life.” They provide financial assistance for veterinary care and spay/neuter services for the homeless, low-income, handicapped, and terminally ill. Their program allows vet bills to be paid in installments or worked off doing charity work.
The pet food program at St. Mary’s by-the-Sea Episcopal Church in Pacific Grove was started in the 1960s by Reverend Dwight Edwards. It is part of the church’s Social Concerns ministry, which provides bags of food to the homeless and their pets every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. They struggle to keep up with the rising number of those in need, and have seen an increased need for pet food.
Heather’s Pet Food Bank, part of the Santa Cruz SPCA, was created and named in memory of Heather Zir, a local dog lover who advocated shelter-dog adoption and campaigned against declawing cats. At times, Heather’s has handed out over 7,000 pounds of pet food in one month!
It is ironic that, in Santa Cruz, dogs of the homeless are helped by a woman who is known as “the feral-cat lady.” Lynne Achterberg founded Project Purr as a way to help feral cats through TNR (Trap, Neuter, Return) and also support barn-cat adoption. In 2008, Lynne started another program: Fix & Feed Dogs in Need. In just five years, Lynne has collected over nine tons( !) of pet food that was distributed through the Homeless Persons Health Project (HPHP) at the Coral Street Clinic and Valley Churches United in Ben Lomond.
HPHP is overseen by Jean Graham. She makes sure there is always pet food available to clients and is trying to set up free rabies vaccines. She sees firsthand the difference a pet can make in a homeless person’s life—and she has seen homeless people do things for their pets they would not do for themselves. She estimates that 15–25 percent of HPHP’s clients have pets.
Here is what these organizations have in common: almost all were started by one person, they rely on donations and volunteers, and they believe in the healing power of companion animals and the importance of the human/animal bond. The organizations’ accomplishments show what a huge compassionate heart we have here in the Monterey Bay area, and what a difference one person can make.
TO HELP SET UP SOME PROGRAMS LOCALLY:
Pets of the Homeless
Legal name: Feeding Pets of the Homeless
206 S. Division St., Suite 10 Carson City, NV 89703
Heather’s Pet Food Bank (Santa Cruz SPCA)
2685 Chanticleer Avenue
firstname.lastname@example.org for pix-
Homeless Persons Health Project
Coral Street Clinic
115A Coral Street
Provides help with veterinary care
Patrick’s Pet Food Bank
1741 Vallejo Place
Salvation Army, Monterey Peninsula
(Distributes pet food at their Good Samaritan Center and their HopeMobile)
1491 Contra Costa St.
St. Mary’s by-the-Sea Episcopal Church
146 12th Street
The Hope Center
241 Dela Vina Ave, Suite B
(1st and 3rd Thursdays of every month, between 4–5pm)
(Just a few more places to drop off donations of pet food and pet supplies)
Animal Health Center
1261 South Main, Ste B
Bel Amour Pet Spa
730-B San Benito Street
120 Country Club Gate, Ste 120
Stone’s Pet Shop
1122 Forest Avenue
1721 Fremont Blvd
Joseph Robb, DDS
56 Penny Lane, Ste A
Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter
2200 7th Avenue, Santa Cruz (831-454-7200)
580 Airport Blvd., Watsonville (831-454-7