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Shirley Zindler
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Homeless People and Their Dogs

We've all seen them, the transient with the loaded backpack thumbing a ride with a cardboard sign or hanging out at the park and sleeping in cars with all their worldly belongings. Many of these people have dogs and in some cases are even homeless because of their dogs. People who have lost their homes or are unable to find pet friendly rentals are often forced to choose between giving up their beloved pet and homelessness.

As an animal control officer I've dealt with more than my share of homeless peoples dogs. In some cases these dogs lead a better life than dogs whose owners have plenty of money but no time for them. Other times the owner's lifestyle results in harm to the dog. I've been called to pick up homeless peoples dogs after the owners arrest, illness or death. Sometimes the owners are unable to provide veterinary care or other needs and we try to help them out. We do low-cost or even no-cost spay/neuter surgeries and vaccines whenever possible.

In many cases the dog is a homeless persons only friend and protector in a scary world. I was once called to check on a dog barking and howling beside a freeway overpass. I found a tent tucked back in the bushes and when I approached a black and white Pit Bull began barking at me. I didn't see anyone nearby and the dog was tethered to the tent stake. He retreated inside the tent as I came closer and I peered inside as he growled a warning. The tent was spotless clean and judging from the articles inside I guessed that the resident was a woman. The dog was in excellent weight and condition and wearing a coat. His reaction to my intrusion was appropriate given the circumstances. I posted a notice on the tent and left the dog where he was. The owner later called and confirmed that she had just been out looking for a job and was back with her dog.

I was once flagged down by a man walking with a darling older yellow Lab. He was disabled and had recently lost his job and his home. He was unwilling to go to a shelter because dog weren't allowed but the colder weather had his dog suffering outdoors too. After a brief discussion I agreed to house his dog at the shelter for a period of time while he explored his options. He had tears in his eyes as he lifted his beloved companion into my truck. I promised to take good care of her and drove away with a lump in my throat.

The dog was given a cushy bed on a heated floor in the kennels and I tried to spend a few minutes with her whenever possible. I wondered if she would ever be able to go home. We could have found a home for her, she was darling girl, but I know she would be happiest with her person. The man kept in touch and after nearly a month he found a place to live where he could have her. It was wonderful to see the reunion when he came for her.

There is a well known homeless character in my area who hangs out in the town square with his dog. He's older and wears layers of bright colored clothing with bits of yarn, feathers and other prizes tucked into it. The dog is an obese white mixed breed and he refuses to put a collar on her but leads her with a strip of rags around her waist. I stopped to talk to him one day and asked him how long he had lived like this. He turned his wrinkled face toward me and said “since I dodged the Viet Nam draft.” He then went on to tell me that he loved his life. He nodded toward the dog and said “I've got her, clothes on my back and enough to eat. What more do I need?” And I believe he meant it too.

 

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Shirley Zindler is an animal control officer in Northern California, and has personally fostered and rehomed more than 300 dogs. She has competed in obedience, agility, conformation and lure coursing, and has done pet therapy. Zindler just wrote a book The Secret Lives of Dog Catchers, about her experiences and contributes to Bark’s blog on a regular basis.

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By
Shirley Zindler
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Shirley Zindler
By
Shirley Zindler
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