Help for Homeless Owners to Care for Their Pets

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

homeless pet owners

Story at-a-glance -

  • For animal lovers, it’s especially heartbreaking to see homeless people struggling to provide for their also-homeless pets
  • Thankfully, there are angels among us who have taken up the cause to provide much-needed food, veterinary care, pet supplies and so much more to homeless pet owners across the U.S.
  • The mission of the Street Dog Coalition, a non-profit founded by a Colorado veterinarian, is to provide free medical care and related services to pets of people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless
  • Pets of the Homeless is another non-profit organization that is dedicated to feeding and providing veterinary care to pets that belong to homeless people

There are few things more heart wrenching for those of us who share our lives with animal companions than seeing a homeless person with a pet, usually a dog. Of course, we feel compassion for the human as well, but because we love our furry family members so much, the sight of a shivering, perhaps hungry, grubby pup curled up next to his homeless best friend takes our heartache to another level.

Thankfully, there are a handful of amazing organizations you've probably never heard of that are all about helping the pets of the homeless. You can learn about two of them, below. The people behind these groups will restore your faith in humanity and inspire you.

The Street Dog Coalition

The Street Dog Coalition is a non-profit organization that exists to provide free medical care and related services to pets of people experiencing, or at risk of, homelessness. The organization was founded by Colorado veterinarian Dr. Jon Geller, who, after 20 years of practice, "was worn out from talking about money for big-ticket medical procedures in an emergency hospital."1

In the spring of 2015, the first Street Dog Clinic was held in Fort Collins, Colorado across from the Sister Alice Murphy Center for Hope.

Twenty-five dogs and five cats received free veterinary care from a team of veterinarians, veterinary technicians and students, and several volunteers. Since that first clinic, the Street Dog Coalition has expanded to other cities across the U.S. and the growth continues. The reason Geller is so passionate about working with homeless pet parents?

"Friendlessness is part of being on the street, so that dog fills that role of family and friend," he says.2

The Street Dog Coalition operates with a dedicated community of volunteers, veterinarians, veterinary and social work students, sponsors, donors, allies and advocates who understand the importance of the human-animal bond.

The organization partners with Colorado State University's Inclusive Health Collaborative, which provides regular access to free veterinary, physical/mental health, and disease prevention services.

Pets of the Homeless

Pets of the Homeless is a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization headquartered in Carson City, Nevada that is focused exclusively on feeding and providing veterinary care to pets that belong to homeless people. The non-profit was founded in 2008 by Genevieve Frederick after she and her husband visited New York City and encountered a homeless person who was panhandling with a dog at his side. This was a first for Frederick. A homeless man with a pet?

"When I returned home [in 2005 – 2006], I began to research about the homeless with pets," writes Frederick. "In my research, I came across the 'National Coalition for the Homeless.' Their estimates indicated that 3.5 million people in America are homeless and that between 5%-10% of homeless have dogs and/or cats. In some areas of the country, the rate is as high as 25%.

Most people who experience homelessness are homeless for a short period of time and usually need help to find housing or a rent subsidy. Unfortunately for those with pets it becomes more difficult. Many are forced to choose between their pet and a roof over their head.

Surprisingly, most choose to stay on the streets with their pets. Why? The answer became obvious to me. Their pets are nonjudgmental; provide comfort and an emotional bond of loyalty. In some cases, they provide the homeless with protection and keep them warm."3

The heart and soul of Pets of the Homeless are four programs:

Pet food donation sites — The organization has hundreds of volunteer pet food donation site members whose objective is to collect pet food and supplies. They work with local food banks, pantries, soup kitchens and homeless shelters who have agreed to distribute the pet food to the homeless and disadvantaged in their communities.

Wellness clinics — This is a nationwide program that's free for homeless and low-income pet owners. The clinics are held at locations that already serve the homeless population, such as food pantries. Pets of the Homeless sponsors and partners with veterinarians across the U.S. to provide the clinics — the veterinarians and vet techs donate their time and expertise, and the organization underwrites the cost of medical supplies.

Services offered at the clinics include basic exams, nail trims, ear cleaning, minor treatment and medications, vaccinations, and vouchers for spay or neuter surgeries. If a pet requires further treatment, the owner is referred to the organization's emergency care program.

Emergency care program — Pet owners referred to the program are interviewed by a case manager who determines eligibility. All treatments the pet receives are pre-authorized, payable directly to the licensed veterinarians who provide the care.

Examples of pets referred for emergency care include those diagnosed with parvovirus, animals who've swallowed foreign objects, and pets with open skin wounds, broken bones, ear infections, growths, and mange.

Pet crates — For the homeless, the first step in breaking the cycle is moving into a shelter. However, most shelters allow only service animals. Homeless pet parents will not abandon their animal companions and don't have the resources to board them.

Pets of the Homeless provides crates to shelters that will allow pets to stay with their owners. The crates are ordered on-line and shipped directly to the shelters at no cost to the shelter or the pet owner. The crates become the property of the shelters for future use.

You can find a world of inspiration by exploring the websites (linked above) for these wonderful organizations.