Our Other Homeless

There’s a homeless guy up at my local supermarket that often asks if I know of any dogs available for adoption. He assures me earnestly that he’s the best owner and would do whatever it takes to show that dog love and protection. I believe him, he’s on hard times but it doesn’t detract from his ability to provide for a dog. He’s always great with mine and they get excited to see him when he’s around, dogs are pretty sharp when it comes to judging a person’s soul.


Since nature was in nappies, dogs have co-existed among humans in part due to their ability to scavenge and hunt with us, as much as their ability to make us laugh and clear a room with a fart. They’ll follow you most places you dare and often take you places you wouldn’t normally dare. They’re companions, they’re comic relief, they’re stress relief.


It got me thinking about how many homeless people I’ve seen with animals and I’ve seen a few, the times I’ve given them change I felt a much heavier sense of pity/guilt at seeing the forlorn animal at their side or in their lap.

Arguably animals are better equipped to cope without a home than us, it’s fair to say they’re adept at living wild, it’s stronger in their genes than ours, our jeans only survive a few winters. Their guts can handle rotten food and water much better than ours, we go to water just handling rotten food. 


However, we’ve had dogs adapt with us from fires to heaters, beds in caves to beds in man-caves and the persistent hunt for food is breathtaking at the till, not the kill. We groom them, worm them, flea them, walk them, pee them and pick up after them. We’ve shown the power of comfort to these creatures and they’re wise enough to learn the basic rules of a house to secure a spot indoors and take full advantage of such finery.

How does a homeless person care for their dog, primarily feeding it and taking care of any health issues? It’s fair to assume they’d struggle, I’d even hazard a guess that many are not able to and things work out for the worse.


I often hear people exclaim that their dog changed their life, or it’s got them through tough and troubling times. Fortunately, there’s some truly decent people out there that understand the bond a dog and their owner have, the support that each gives to the other, the strength, the motivation. Pets of the homeless in Melbourne are one group of people that go to extraordinary lengths to provide for those that are devoid of even the most basic of needs. They might not always be able to provide shelter for the homeless and their dogs, but they do get them food, vet meds and clothing.


It’s a shame that we need organisations like this, but according to the ABS, the number of people experiencing homelessness has been on the increase since 2006 with many being turned away from support services due to the lack of resources available. There are many reasons people find themselves in this predicament but for most, it is only temporary and they just need a bridge until their circumstances change for the better.


With the onset of winter, you might spare a thought and some change for the needy with animals.


Photo by Damian @ https://www.facebook.com/livingrough/
Photo by Damian @ https://www.facebook.com/livingrough/

Your donation might be enough to provide food, blankets and medication for a dog whose owner still hasn’t given up on them, nor the dog its owner.

Making the effort to stop and chat to homeless people, sharing a coffee or cigarette and lending your ears, it’s as much amazing as it is saddening. I worry the “narrative” is changing and society is being groomed to turn away from the increasing number of people experiencing homelessness which is why I believe in trying to challenge people’s perceptions and getting them to look at this with level, less judgemental eyes.


“You’re only a pay cheque away”, resonated with me as there was a time when I was trying to find a place with my 2 medium sized dogs, no full time work, no car and not even enough for a rental deposit. I was at the end of a long, largely self-induced, spiral down, all favours done, all couches surfed. I wasn’t about to surrender my dogs to a shelter, either. I got somewhere at the 11th hour, but the panic and fear I felt, having to entertain homelessness and not knowing how much further I’d fall once there…that feeling, was terrifying and all too real.


I tell you that not because I think I can empathise with the homeless, I say that because I see how vulnerable situations can turn on what seems like the flip of a coin, but is likely the culmination of a long series of events, some out of your control, despite others that are/should be/were in your control. In my downward spiral, I did things even I thought weren’t “me” and took myself into situations that I shouldn’t have, I dare say, many others could relate. I’ve created catastrophic failures of sure winners, I’ve made many mistakes and arguably taken too many risks, we all should have, it’s part of the learning of life. It’s essential to our survival, but can also be the key to our undoing.

Photo courtesy of https://www.petsofthehomeless.org/
Photo courtesy of https://www.petsofthehomeless.org/


It’s not for me to judge these people, their decisions, their mistakes. I guess I learned that it’s a fine line, one that you don’t willingly cross, unless your mind, your body and all of your options are completely exhausted. Taking their pets might be the only hope they can take with them falling over that line.

For many this is temporary, it’s not their lot in life. So why not give a little so that you can change a lot.