Monday, March 9, 2009

Devotion of Canines: Dogs and Homelessness

Photograph by Tim Hulsizer

Genevieve Frederick is the founder and executive director of Feeding Pets of the Homeless, an organization homeless people care for their pets. The following article is an interview of her given by Felicia Gray, Executive Producer of GothamCanine.com.

What is Feeding Pets of the Homeless?

We are a nonprofit member/volunteer organization located in Carson City, Nevada. We collect pet food and deliver it to food banks and soups kitchens which have agreed to distribute the food to the homeless. Through cash donations we provide grants to veterinarians and other nonprofits that supply medicines and medical care to the pets of homeless.

How many homeless people have pets?

The National Coalition for the Homeless estimated that between 5%-10% of homeless people have dogs and/or cats. Statistics show that over 60% of households have at least one pet. Unfortunately, for those who have to move with pets, it becomes more difficult to find housing or shelter that accept pets. These people are forced to choose between their pet and a roof over their head.

There are obviously several rewards to pet guardianship, but animals probably offer particular solace to people who face the many challenges of life on the streets. How would you describe the benefits of guardianship?

Pets provide a deep comfort for a group of individuals that the majority of society would just as soon forget or treat as invisible. The pets are non-judgmental. They are loyal. Homeless guardians receive a type of normalcy by providing food and water for their pets. In some cases they provide them with reality. Some homeless would sacrifice their own food for their pets.

Do you feel that many guardians would prefer to remain on the streets rather than abandon their pets?

Absolutely, because of the emotions I mentioned. There is a strong bond between animals and humans. Those with pets have the same feelings of love and devotion that parents of children have. I know a lot of people think this is crazy but look at how many people refuse to be rescued rather than abandon their pets after hurricanes, flooding and other natural disasters.

What particular challenges do homeless guardians face?

The major problem is housing. Shelters, motels and other assisted housing programs do not want to have pets on their property. Another challenge is finding food and water for themselves and their pets. Soup kitchens, food banks and shelters can offer pet food thanks to the members of Feeding Pets of the Homeless. Vet care is a challenge because of the costs and transportation issues.

Generally speaking, most homeless guardians often see to their animals' comfort and well-being before their own. At the same time, there are inherent dangers and sacrifices that go hand-in-hand with life on the streets that inevitably must affect animals. What is life like for the pets of the homeless?

I can only imagine, but I think due to the nature of pets, they more than likely do not really care if they live in a mansion and go to a groomer or if they live on the streets as long as the guardian loves and feeds them. They are loyal and nonjudgmental of their guardians. One of the dangers that come with living on the streets is that the pets do not get the proper diet and medical attention that they need. That is why we have a grant program in place to provide medical and preventative care to pets of the homeless.

Do most homeless people obtain their pets by encountering abandoned animals on the street, or does the majority already have companion animals before becoming homeless?

Most bring their pets with them into homelessness. Others meet them on the streets and form a lasting bond.

What can the general public do to help this organization and pets of the homeless?

Volunteer to help a collection site by separating the pet food into quart zip lock bags and delivering the collected pet food to a food bank. Or donate cash to the organization so we can continue to provide grants to veterinarians across the country to administer preventative and medical care to pets of the homeless.

For More Information go to www.petsofhomeless.org or www.gothamcanine.com

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