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Woof or roof: A dilemma for the homeless

When you’re homeless, you can run into a lot of Catch 22’s — those can’t-win situations that, even when you’re taking steps to improve your life, tend to make things appear even more hopeless.

Having a dog is a perfect example.

To a homeless person, having a dog (or, in the case of our Monday post, a cat) can have numerous benefits: Protection, for one. It can instill a greater will to survive and succeed. It can provide some self-esteem, emotional security, and companionship for sure — the kind that comes without judgment.

While some segments of society may be repulsed by the sight of you, your dog will always be thrilled.

But having a dog when you’re homeless can also be a tremendous obstacle — keeping you from being admitted to homeless shelters, finding the money to feed it, and making already problematic chores, like going to the bathroom, even more problematic.

Still, it’s not unusual that, when given a choice between shelter and their dog, the dog often comes first — as has been the case so far with a recently homeless woman and her boxer mix, named Cow, featured in a two-part series in the Toledo Blade this week.

“She is my whole world, my rock. I don’t know what I’d do without her.” 51-year-old Diann Wears said of her dog.

Wears, who in earlier stages of her troubled life worked as a prostitute and was addicted to crack, said it is her first time living on the streets.

wearsandcowShe says she left an abusive five-year relationship in July, and now she sleeps, with Cow, behind the Greyhound Bus station in downtown Toledo.

“It’s totally new to me and totally scary, I’m not gonna lie,” she said. “But Cow and I, we have each other, and she gives me a lot of love and support.”

She says she tried to find an apartment that her Social Security and Supplemental Security Income would cover, but “they either turned me down because of Cow, or because I don’t make enough money.”

She has no intention of parting with Cow, she said.

Toledo’s homeless shelters — like most across the country — do not allow pets, and she was rejected, she said, by a YWCA shelter that provides haven for women fleeing domestic violence and their pets.

“They don’t think I’m in danger from my ex,” Wears said.

So Wears and Cow remain without shelter — unless you count the overhang of the bus station’s roof.

Having a dog, Wears noted, makes simple tasks, like attending a free meal, more difficult. She either has to leave Cow outside, leashed to her shopping cart, or find a friend she trusts enough to watch him.

Sometimes, she says, it’s hard to simply find a place in the shade to rest — without being told to leave, either because of the dog or because she is loitering.

She often sits on the grass at St. Paul United Methodist Church, where the pastor allows her to stay as long as neither she nor Cow causes any trouble, the Blade reported. (You can find part two of the series here.)

“We don’t bother anybody, but people judge us anyway because we’re homeless,” Diann said. “Or they’re afraid of Cow, even when she’s just lying there.”

Wears said Cow provides her some protection during the night.

Unsure as she is of the future, she is committed to two things — keeping Cow by her side and not going back to her abusive boyfriend.

“It’s hard out here, but I’m away from that at least I’ll take my chances out here. I have my dog and we’ll survive one way or the other, some kind of way.”

(Photo: The Toledo Blade)


Comment from Miss Jan
Time September 24, 2016 at 1:23 pm

I know for a fact that the unhoused are frequently more committed to their dogs (and sometimes cats, ferrets and even birds) than some housed people! I’ve done volunteer work for many years in issues surrounding the unhoused and also domestic violence. What I abhor the most is that most of society apparently feels that if you don’t have a home that you are somehow subhuman and definitely not entitled to anything at all especially a companion animal. You’re not entitled to respect, or even marginally decent civilized treatment (yes, cops even shoot the homeless, go ahead, google it for some heartrending stories). As an example of how committed I have found a homeless gentleman with two dogs. At the depth of the Second Great Depression he was living in his van with his two best canine buddies. This man, with two engineering degrees and decades of experience, could not get rehired after a layoff. He was not an addict of anything, not drugs, alcohol or gambling, the big three which sometimes contributes to becoming unhoused. His crime was that he was middle aged – a crime which causes unemployment in this demographic to exceed 40 percent. His resources dwindled then disappeared. His unemployment benefits expired after the first six months of being unemployed. He spent his last resources finding a good home for the two dogs so they could stay together. He then committted suicide. I don’t know how many of the housed would make sure their animals were provided for before taking their own life – this is an extreme example but I think it is a telling example.

The best thing anyone can do to assist the homeless with pets is to gather information about local resources, print a small flyer with this info, and hand it out when encountering someone, particularly an OLDER someone, who shows all the outward signs of desperation. Remember – many of them are older people who cannot find employment because of age discrimination; many are veterans; many are single women with children; and many are employed but cannot afford the extortionate rents charged by greedy corporate landlords.

Sometimes if you cannot or do not want to help financially, information is the best gift you can give. It is HARD to find resource information if you don’t have regular access to a computer or a phone. Please consider helping these people with resource information. Their dogs will thank you – as will they.