A Sense of Normalcy

Why people who are homeless have dogs

Why do so many homeless people have dogs? This question comes up a lot in our town, where many people hang around downtown with their animals.

The first answer is a simple one: Homeless people have animals for all the same reasons housed people have them. It’s a great feeling to be loved and accepted without judgment, to have a warm companion to hug when you are feeling sad, and a friend who is always ready to walk with you—no matter how far you have to go.

Additional reasons may not be so obvious. For a person without a house, and who may be sleeping out in a field or by the river, a dog provides what dogs have provided for humans since time immemorial: protection. If a person or animal approaches a sleeping camper, a dog will bark, both alerting the camper and maybe even scaring the intruder away.

For a woman sleeping alone outside, the bigger and tougher-looking the dog, the better. Even if the animal is a gentle, well-trained giant, most people will leave her alone after seeing or hearing it.

And don’t discount the value of the feeling of normalcy a person gets by sharing life with another being. Having a companion who depends on you for food and water gives people a feeling of worth. Animal-related tasks and responsibilities provide a reassuring daily schedule, a purpose for getting up in the morning.

Finally, dogs can provide warmth on a cold night. Crawling into a chilly tent is more appealing when a warm companion crawls in with you.

For the dogs, belonging to a homeless person can be a mixed bag. On the plus side, they get to be with their owners all day. No workday abandonment for them. But on the negative side, their owners may get picked up by the cops for minor infractions, or the dog itself may be picked up for not being licensed.

The dogs also may not be spayed and neutered because of the financial situation of the owner. Having puppies without a safe place to stay could be disastrous for both a mother dog and her puppies. Also, the dogs belonging to homeless people may not get their vaccinations or be wormed when they need to be.

Instead of holding these failures to achieve good veterinary care for their dogs against the homeless owners — and perhaps even deciding they shouldn’t be pet owners — why not consider trying to help make the situation better?

The following three organizations provide help to pet owners whose finances prevent them from getting the good veterinary care their pets need. Contributions are welcome as are volunteers. A donation to these organizations can help homeless people keep their beloved companions healthy, which is also good for the owners themselves and for the community.

Pro-Bone-O, located at 470 Hwy. 99 N, operates free clinics for homeless people’s animals once or twice a month from 8:30 am to 1:30 pm on Sundays. Pets are seen by lottery, so owners and their animals should arrive by 8:30 am to have the best chance of getting seen. Pro-Bone-O offers exams, flea treatments, vaccinations, treatments for minor illnesses and wounds, and also spay/neuter vouchers to local area veterinary clinics — all at no cost to the owners. Check their website for clinic schedules at proboneo.org or call 607-8089.

Willamette Animal Guild (WAG), at 3045 Royal Ave., is a low-cost spay and neuter clinic that provides neutering services for dogs and cats to anyone who needs a lower price than most vet clinics offer. In addition to fixing dogs and cats, the clinic offers flea and ear mite treatments and vaccinations. A dog under 50 pounds costs $85 to fix and a dog over 50 pounds costs $100. WAG staffers are knowledgeable about where financial help is available. Visit their website at wagwag.org or call 345-3566.

Stop Pet Overpopulation Today (SPOT) provides financial assistance to people who cannot afford to get their dogs spayed or neutered even at the low-cost spay and neuter clinics. SPOT is proud to announce it recently helped its 3,000th dog — a little minpin named Ty-Ty and a big pit mix named Daisy shared the honor. (Full disclosure: I am one of SPOT’s board members.) A person who needs a voucher can apply by phone at 485-7768 or online at spotspayneuter.org. — Vickie Nelson