It’s an unfortunate but obvious fault in the human race when a person finds it easy to look down upon another and pass judgment. But for those whose daily life means stomaching sidelong glances, empty silences, and worst of all, criticism from passersby over their capabilities as pet owners, life is a frustrating thing indeed.
The United States’ homeless population (though impossible to nail down with concrete numbers) has risen to well over 600,000 on any one day. Nearly 10% of those individuals call a pet family, whether it be a dog, cat, rat, and even guinea pigs or hamsters.
If you share the company of animals, you know how effortlessly easy it is to love them with every fiber of your being, and for many of us that means putting their happiness and needs before our own. For the homeless, it means doing these things nearly 100% of the time without a second thought.
The veracious affection of homeless people toward their pets – which oftentimes means sacrificing food, supplies, and shelter for their benefit – is precisely why the nonprofit organization Collide exists. Located on the Lower East Side of New York City, Collide operates through the Graffiti Community Ministries.
Anyone can attest to the unyielding love and support animals provide, yet it is simply appalling the number (i.e., almost all) of homeless shelters that do not permit pets. This means that people must choose to either abandon their animals for food and shelter or remain on the streets. Can you guess which decision occurs most often?
Though their budget is limited, Collide works tirelessly to provide veterinary services to pets with the help of volunteer veterinarians, including vaccinations and spay/neuter procedures. They also aid with proper licensing of pets, a protective measure that links an animal back to its owner in the (unfortunately common) instance that law enforcement demand to see proof of ownership.
Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for people to take their belief of homeless people’s inadequacy to care for pets to a completely devastating level.
To a homeless person, their pet can mean protection, warmth, and most of all, company. The animals do not judge or complain, and they oftentimes need their human just as desperately. Collide understands that the relationship is two-sided.
In addition to providing medical care and licensing services, the organization also serves community meals twice a week, picnic-style. “These weekly meals,” Collide explains on their website, “allow us to connect with our clients while outfitting them with supplies needed for themselves and their animals.”
It’s a real rarity for these people and their pets to be treated as equals in terms of their needs. It is Collide’s hope and ours that we as humans can help eliminate the perception of homeless people as incompetent pet owners by offering help when it’s needed and showing that these relationships are by no means black and white.
We love our pets – our family – and we do for them probably more than we would do for ourselves. This fact doesn’t change with whatever number follows a dollar sign in your bank account. It’s sort of wonderful, I think, that love transcends circumstance in this way.
We have a lot to be thankful for with our pets, and a homeless person and his or her dog, cat, guinea pig, or hamster, experience that exchange both ways.
We are extremely grateful for the efforts provided by Collide and their team of volunteers – you are truly doing something good.
To help the homeless people and pets of New York City, consider donating on Collide’s website.