Monday, December 7, 2015

The Homeless and Pets

I know, I know, this is not a happy, fun holiday topic, but an important one nevertheless.

I recall a man with a dog with a bad case of pancreatitis.  I remember being annoyed when the man told me his dog had had turkey and gravy and mashed potatoes.  I got into my lecture about no human food, table scraps, etc..  He then looked at me straight in the face and said, "I know, I know doc, but that's all the homeless shelter had."

I recall another client who I had been able to get a rescue group to pay for all of the diagnostics and a little treatment for the dog, but the owner had to buy a can of special prescription food for her dog.  She told me it was the can of food or her bus fare.  She took the food.  One of our staff members later saw her walking over a mile away from the clinic.  She literally gave up her bus fare to feed her dog.

It's sometimes hard to witness these things.  I know I've been duped before by people who claim to have no money, then you see them get into a Hummer or have a huge diamond ring on their finger.  I know, don't judge.  But emotionally and financially, veterinarians can't go to heroics for everyone.  There are certainly cases that touch you in a certain way.  I've gotten creative with getting people free food, or even writing essays and jumping through hoops to get some people low cost or free help for their pets medical care.  You can't save everyone.  

Just as the old starfish story adapted by Joel Barker says, (describing a man throwing starfish into the ocean, "As he got closer, he called out, "Good morning! What are you doing?"  The young man paused, looked up and replied "Throwing starfish into the ocean."
"I guess I should have asked, Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?"
"The sun is up and the tide is going out. And if I don't throw them in they'll die."
"But young man, don't you realize that there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it. You can't possibly make a difference!"
The young man listened politely. Then bent down, picked up another starfish and threw it into the sea, past the breaking waves. "It made a difference for that one!"

So, just as it makes a difference to that starfish, it does make a difference to the individuals we are able to help.  We may not be able to save the world, but as Mother Teresa has said, we are meant to save those around us. So, if you see a stray animal or a homeless person on your path, perhaps they are there for you to help them, just that once or more.  It's easy to feel overwhelmed, but I still believe we are called to help.

There are organizations that help the homeless and their pets.  While many people think, "if they are homeless, they have no business having pets."  Think of the situation another way.  Often, these pets are the only "family," or loving being they have in their life.  They provide a consistency they don't get elsewhere in their life.  These people give more to their animals in the way of love and attention than many people with money.  Sometimes, these people are suffering mental illness and their pet is therapeutic and provides them with emotional support that humans just aren't willing to provide.  This makes care of the pets of the homeless vital to caring for the homeless themselves.

If you are interested in helping those in need, you really need not look any further than your local vet clinic.  Many clinics have funds for people with indigent animals and there are organizations in different localities and nationwide that are meant to help with the care of these animals.  Tomorrow, I will include a list and relevant websites.

The next time you see a homeless person with a pet, perhaps you will think of the situation in a different way.

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