Michelle D. Land
Michael, Wayne and Gonzo, New York City. Photo: Michelle D. Land
When Wayne (above right) and his dog, Gonzo, sleep at night, Gonzo is both alarm and shield. “If someone is trying to wake me up, Gonzo doesn’t bark, he just lays across me. Same thing if it is raining or there is something going on that I should know about.”
Throughout most of my twenty-minute conversation with Wayne, Gonzo, a brindle pit bull, lay on his blanket curled up, oblivious to my presence. But there was a palpable feeling of interdependence between the two, as there usually is between the homeless and their companion animals.
To homeless pet guardians, their animals are sources of emotional support: friendship, companionship, unconditional acceptance, reduced loneliness, and love. They are “family” and “friends.” They facilitate contact with those who might not otherwise communicate with a homeless person, thereby reducing the social isolation so common to many homeless. They can be strong motivators, providing a sense of responsibility and purpose. Most important, especially in the case of youth, caring for a pet can help the homeless to develop healthier coping mechanisms, strive to stay out of trouble and take better care of themselves.
The pets can be beneficiaries as well. Wayne proudly showed me Gonzo’s mulepack-style saddlebag designed for dogs. A homeless support program gave it to him. Gonzo likes to carry his own things, Wayne explained, because it gives him a sense of purpose. Many a parent has spoken similarly of a child and her backpack. But Wayne was also noting the contrast between Gonzo’s life on the street and the life of a domiciled dog. Most of us must leave our pets home alone for as long as eight to twelve hours a day. Gonzo is with Wayne at all times and has the benefit of constant interaction, socialization and enrichment.
Homeless pet owners constitute a hidden population.
According to the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), there were roughly 578,000 Continue reading
Filed under: animal advocacy, animal welfare | Tagged: Collide, homelessness, human-animal bond, Leslie Irvine, National Coalition for the Homeless, Pets of the Homeless | 12 Comments »