Tails: Homeless NOT Heartless

I just got back from a few crazy days at Mardi Gras in New Orleans.  The beads, the liquor, the parades – it leaves your head spinning and your liver begging for mercy.  But, beyond the drunken fun, is a very sad reality: the homeless population in New Orleans.  And, for someone like me, it would be impossible to NOT notice that just about every other homeless person we saw had a dog.

A decade ago, maybe even just 5 years ago, I would have been completely distraught by the number of homeless people sharing their homeless lives with a dog.  I would have wanted to take the dogs away and find them homes – find them “better” lives, assuming that a roof equals a better life.

A couple years ago, I did story on a group called Pets of the Homeless.  I learned a lot from them, mostly, the important fact that homeless people love their pets as much as I do.  Homeless people almost always go without food, so their pets can eat first.  Losing their pet is just as devastating to them as it would be for me.  They are homeless, not heartless.

During Mardis Gras, it was my friends who gasped at the idea of allowing dogs to stay with homeless people.  They couldn’t believe I made peace with it.  I pointed out what great shape the dogs were in.  None of them looked the slightest bit hungry.  Their coats were shiny and well-kept.  Their tails wagged.  Some even had sweaters to keep them warm.

Above all else, I could see love and loyalty in the dogs’ and the humans’ eyes as they sat together.

What really allows me to make peace with this situation is the harsh reality of shelters across America.  Over one million dogs will die this year simply because of a lack of space.  As I looked at the dogs sitting in the laps of people who loved them, I also could see the thousands of pictures of dogs in dire need I get every day on Facebook or twitter or thru my own email.  Thousands of dogs who will die alone in shelters.  Each one of them a victim of a human being – a human being who probably had a roof over his or her head.

Homeless people spend every minute with their dogs.  They feed them and love them.  What more could I want for a dog?  Certainly, that is a far better alternative to euthanasia in a shelter. I looked at the dog cuddled tight in his owner’s arms and I thought of the dog alone on death row, days away from being killed.  There is zero doubt in my mind which situation is better.

I did notice many of the dogs weren’t neutered.  In fact, I even talked to a few New Orleans policemen about it.  They weren’t experts, but they both felt that the SPCA would spay and neuter the dogs, it was more likely the owners weren’t willing to let the dogs go.  I am sure they fear never getting them back.

I can’t lie- the images of the people and their dogs haunt me.  I am always trying to understand how someone’s life can come to that.  I also wonder how, as a society, we accept something that seems so fundamentally unAmerican.  Statistics show that thousands of homeless people are military veterans – an even sadder state of America.

I, by no means, have solutions for such complex and overwhelming social issues.  However, I do strongly believe that homeless people should be allowed to keep their dogs.  And while I think we need to always work towards being more compassionate, I don’t think we need to feel such pity for the dogs.  Truthfully, most of the dogs living with the homeless population have it far better than the million dogs left to die in shelters.  Taken even one step further, many of the dogs living with their homeless families are given more love and attention than many of the dogs living in middle class suburbia.


4 thoughts on “Tails: Homeless NOT Heartless

  1. Susan

    Great blog, Becky! Many of my friends work with the homeless who have dogs and cats in Chicago. These dogs and cats give the homeless unconditional love. The homeless do everything possible to keep them safe. It is too bad that Susan is making a blanket statement on her experience of a few homeless people. Because my friends have had very positive experiences with many of the homeless.

  2. Susan K. Easom

    I do not know exactly why did you change your opinion about the homeless and their pets? Did you just observed the homeless and their pets or did you actually know them? Have you seen them when they are using drugs what they are capable of (because most homeless are drug users or mentally ill and there is less homeless veterans)? If they love their pets so much why they have so often new dogs and puppies and the previous ones just disappeared? I know a homeless woman who was a nurse and who became homeless. I know her for years…she rather lived a homeless life than go to work and earn $13/ hour. Within 4-5 years, she had 4 different dogs. The first two big dogs she let loose in the park all the time, she left them for days without food sometimes. One dog got hit by a car and the other one she gave to somebody. Her third puppy was a little dog but disappeared within one-two years. Now she has a fourth puppy and I wonder how long she will have it. Another homeless woman who was known how much she loves dogs. I know her also for five years. She had every year different dogs and puppies and not one or two…one puppy was gone from her tent, the other disappeared in the field, the third one died, another died and her cat which I fixed for her died at so called “natural causes” at an early age. I knew from her friend who was not homeless that she beats her dogs when she is angry and she beat her cat when she was angry. I witnessed on my own when she got home sometimes and as soon as she went in her tent I heard a puppy crying and her yelling. Another homeless man had two big dogs and allegedly killed one of them. I’ve seen on the street a homeless beating his puppy. How can people who are on drugs take care properly of their pets? Many times they cannot control their anger and are violent.

    1. sheltertails5839 Post author

      I understand what you are saying. And, if I could create a perfect world, all dogs would live in warm, comfy homes with stable, loving families. However, we are so far from achieving that, that I am willing to compromise for two reasons. The first one is that there are plenty of middle class people who go through dogs like they do toilet paper. Buying them at pet stores, dumping them at shelters and repeating the pattern numerous times throughout their lifetime. There are plenty of middle class people who neglect their dogs, who fail to get them medical care, who rarely spend time with their dogs. We RARELY take dogs away from people under these circumstances, why would we take them from the homeless? My second reason for such compromise is the MILLION dogs who will be KILLED in shelters this year simply because there is no space for them. If I can see that a dog gets another year of life and love, I am willing to overlook the lack of roof. I have seen way too many really good dogs euthanized in front of my eyes for no fault of their own. Yes, of course, I believe dogs deserve better. I believe dogs deserve the best, but, sadly, we live in a nation that hasn’t achieved such greatness… yet. I won’t stop fighting for better, but, for now, while millions of dogs die, I am willing to compromise and find what goodness I can in homeless people having pets. Truthfully, they are saving those dogs lives for the time being. It is a lot better than the alternative.

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