How often do we rush to judgment based on the way someone looks and smells? Or mutter under our breath and jump to a conclusion about people without means and their pets? There’s a great blog post making the rounds this week – She wasn’t being rude – that has done a great job of getting many of us to stop and think about what we think about some human animal bonds.
In a nutshell, a veterinarian wrote a post about his reaction after his office got a call from a woman at the end of the day. She seemed rude and was demanding help for a dog that should have seen a vet long before then. When she came in for help, he realized that the woman was homeless and this dog – Baby Girl - was her whole life. It was a powerful story of the human animal bond. If you’ve not read the post, please do.
So many of us have such a strong connection to our own pets. They are part of our family and some of us sacrifice some of our own creature comforts so they have the best food, vet care or whatever it is that they need.
Does that feeling go away just because someone doesn’t have the means to care for a pet? In some cases, could that bond or need for companionship be even more important than we realize?
No and absolutely.
Many of us have a great network of family or friends to step up to the plate when something goes wrong in our life. But, that isn’t the case for everyone.
Sometimes family may live far away.
Or, a person may be the last one left in their family.
For many reasons, people are estranged or just don’t connect well with people.
Many times, a person just needs a good ear to listen to what they have to say. What some people without a network of people do have is the unconditional love of a pet. Like many of us, that pet is their family and their heart and soul. It’s a special bond. It is the cat purring on their lap on their worst days or the dog coaxing them out of bed for a walk when they’d rather whither away. It may be one of the more important human animal bonds.
For the many heartbreaking stories we see in rescue of abandoned pets, there are also stories of senior citizens that skipped getting proper medical care because they couldn’t leave a cat or dog behind. There are those that have struggled with losing a home or homelessness that have done all they could to keep their pet or pets. In lower income communities, there are families that take in the abandoned pets and care for community cats ignored by so many others.
There are also countless stories of veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that say a dog or cat is the thing that has kept them going. From the outside looking in without knowing the whole story…too often we miss the real story of what is going on here.
Think about it.
What did you think the last time you saw a homeless person in Chicago on the street with their dog or cat? How did you react? How do you react to the family that seems to not know all the basics about their pet even though they show how much they truly love their cat or dog? What would happen if we approached this from a different perspective?
As I talk to volunteers at Chicago Animal Care and Control, they say that a percentage of pets that are relinquished there could stay with their families if we handled things differently. Suggestions have included letting rescues or non-profits set up at the intake area and offer information on spay, neuter and vaccination programs, information on low cost veterinary services and connections to pet food pantries and other programs.
One group that has been very proactive on Chicago’s Northwest side is Pets are Like Family. The organization founded by Alicia Obando connects families in need with the services necessary so pets may stay with their family and not get sent into the shelter system. While she doesn't advocate people getting pets that can't afford them, she points out that pets do come into the lives of low-income families that love them very much. Or, that some people lose their resources and find themselves in need of assistance because they wouldn’t dream of giving up their pet.
“For many people, these pets are a strong source of love and support and the idea of losing them is devastating,” says Obando. “It is important that programs like Pets Are Like Family exist to give people a helping hand so that they can give their pets the loving care they want so much to give them.”
She points out that it’s important to remember that we all don't come from the same place as far as our past experiences or education about pet care. People often do better, when they know better. Her group works to educate pet owners and then to help them accomplish their pet care goals. Like the vet in the blog post, it’s about not jumping to a conclusion and reaching out.
“We need to practice empathy and remain respectful at all times when counseling other pet parents,” says Obando. “They will listen with open hearts if they know that we care and want to help. If we judge and act condescending, they close their hearts and their ears, and often their doors. Then no one gets the help that's needed.”
There are other rescues in Chicago that have worked hard at teaching members of their community about dog training, spay and neuter services and other programs that keeps pets with their families as well. Yes, there are so many people out there that shouldn't have pets and think little of giving them up. But, as we've seen from this blog post and many more, there is often so much more behind the story of a person and their pet - a human/animal bond that is the life and lifeline for those involved.
- Read about Pets are Like Family here.
- Here is a list of programs available in Chicago to help those in need.
- To see the video of a young boy with a rare disease and the special bond with is dog - go here.
- To help seniors and others find new homes for pets read here.
- For a heartwarming story of a homeless veteran and his dog Puppi and Cat Burma – read here and here.
- And, fellow ChicagoNow Blogger Steve Dale talks about a homeless woman and her cats here.
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