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Tag: homeless

When one lost soul bumps into another

Two lost souls coming together isn’t exactly a new movie theme, but it still works, especially when it has a twist like this one.

“A Stray” is about a young man whose refugee family fled Somalia and relocated in Minneapolis. He becomes sort of a double stray when his family kicks him out after he gets in some trouble.

At a mosque, Adan finds shelter. He gets a job, delivering food, and seems to be pulling his life together when his delivery vehicle strikes a dog.

Adan, at the urging of a bystander, hesitantly loads the small white mutt in the car and takes him to a vet, who pronounces the dog OK. It is then that Adan learns he must take the dog with him.

That’s a problem because, on top of being homeless, Adan is Muslim. Under Muslim law, dogs are considered dirty. Many practicing Muslims, like Adan’s family, forbid them in the home. When he arrives back at the mosque with the dog, he’s told to leave.

What happens next — when a man raised to have nothing to do with dogs ends up with a stray, when his God and his Dog are seemingly irreconcilable forces — makes for a thought-provoking and magical movie.

It premiered earlier this year at the South By Southwest (SXWS) Film Festival, and had several screenings last weekend, introduced by writer-director Musa Syeed, at the Film Society of Minneapolis and St Paul.

The human star of the movie is actor Barkhad Abdirahman, a Somali refugee who lives in Minneapolis.

Director Syeed, in an interview with Minnesota Public Radio, said he was intrigued by the idea of combining the archetypal American/Western man-and-dog story with Muslim sensitivities towards dogs.

“What was interesting to me about a Muslim kid and a dog was that these are two entities that seemingly are not able to reconcile, or that are so different,” he said. “And I think that’s the way that maybe a lot of people see, you know, Muslims in America … there is some inherent tension or something like that.”

He said he hopes that the story of a man and his forbidden dog shows that there is room for compassion, understanding and a connection.

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)

Coming soon: A Street Cat Named Bob

The true story of how a street cat named Bob changed the life of an alcoholic street musician in London came out in book form three years ago .

Now the movie version is coming — in which Bob is played (mostly) by Bob.

James Bowen’s autobiographical book telling the story of his struggle with addiction and of his life on the streets, in homeless shelters and in supported housing sold millions of copies.

Its focus was on the bond he formed with Bob after the cat found his way into Bowen’s room in a subsidized housing complex.

The pair went on become inseparable, winning fans across London.

Luke Treadaway stars as Bowen, a street musician overcoming a troubled childhood.

But in most of the scenes featuring Bob, that’s the real Bob you’ll be seeing.

The film is scheduled for release in early November.

Wolfdog: A treasure among the trash

He goes by the nickname “Wolfdog.” Lives in Alabama’s great outdoors. And he spends most of his time, along with his dog, Bandit, picking trash — copious amounts of trash — out of the waterways.

It’s not a job. He doesn’t get paid. He says he does it out of his love for the planet and its wildlife.

“I’m not asking anybody for anything. I’m not a charity case. I ain’t a bum. I’m not a mooch,” says 55-year-old Cliff Skees. “But I do care about the environment. I care about wildlife. I care about human beings, but human beings, they take one look at me and they say, ‘Well, he’s just a piece of trash, you know.’

“Maybe I am. But then again, maybe I ain’t. I can look myself in the mirror and say I’m trying.”

We’ll go so far — despite the hard times he’s gone through in life — to cast a vote for “ain’t.”

And to point out that, most likely, a lot of those people who see him as “trash” are the same ones who so casually discard it, cluttering the waterways around Mobile, Alabama.

Skees is an unpolished gem, first discovered four years ago by Ben Raines, an environmental reporter for the Mobile Press-Register.

At the time, Skees was living the woods and was commonly seen with Bandit, gathering garbage from the shores from a canoe with these words painted on the side, “Be a critter, please don’t litter.”

Raines wrote a story back then about the man and his mission. He followed along as Skees — and Bandit, too — scooped up trash from the water and returned it to their base, where 140 bags full of garbage, stacked and numbered, sat.

“It was a startling sight, and a testament to just how trashy we Alabamians are, for even with that much trash picked up, so much more remained along the river banks,” Raines wrote.

Recently, Raines ran into him again — and found out that, while Skees’ mission remained the same, his situation has improved somewhat. You can read that second story here.

After the first story appeared, someone donated a pontoon boat to Skees, and he turned it into his base of operations.

Raines happened upon Wolfdog and Bandit again last week at a boat ramp on Chickasabouge Creek.

“They both looked prosperous and had a certain spring in their collective step. I immediately had the feeling some good fortune had come their way,” Raines wrote.

“Mr. Ben!” Wolfdog shouted, “You’ve got to see my rig. Things are different these days.”


Wolfdog then showed off the houseboat he had fashioned from the pontoon boat — one complete with solar panels, an electric motor, and other features that he fashioned out of recycled materials and some “backwoods hillbilly ingenuity.”

“The woodwork is top notch. Glossy marine varnish shines from every surface. There’s a bed, a table, a propane stove and several small windows. The framing for the insulated walls is aluminum, to better resist rotting. Everywhere you look, the craftsmanship is meticulous,” Raines reported.

An anonymous donor gave Skees the old 1979 pontoon boat after the first article appeared, apparently to support his one-man cleanup mission.

While friends donated items to the houseboat project, Skees receives no support for his efforts to keep the waterways clean — except that which Bandit supplies. When they are out in the canoe, Bandit will leap off to collect cups and plastic bottles in his mouth.

Wolfdog says he hopes to set a Guinness World Record for picking up trash, and he still dreams of finding some support from the local environmental groups.

“I can’t get nobody to help me. That’s what breaks my heart the worst. I can’t even get a thank you,” Wolfdog said. “I think they look at me and they see trash…

“I won’t give up. Get discouraged sometimes. But my best work, the best of my work, don’t come nowhere close to what I leave behind … There’s just no comparison. No comparison. Not nowhere close.”

Skees says it was on his first canoe ride that he fell in love with the solace of canoeing.

That trip is also when, seeing trash in the water, cleaning it up began his calling.

“For certain for sure,” he said. “There aren’t enough words in my vocabulary to talk about it.”

If you are interested in helping Wolfdog and Bandit with their mission, contact Raines at braines@al.com.

(Photo courtesy of Wolfdog)

Saying goodbye to dog who gave him a boost


A formerly homeless man said goodbye earlier this month to a dog who gave his life some purpose.

Raymond Goynes was living in a refrigerator box on the streets of New York when he first met Sonja, a wheaten terrier, in 2005.

He’d spent decades on the streets by then, but he’d kicked his cocaine habit a few year’s earlier and was doing odd jobs to help buy food.

He’d regularly see Sonja being taken for a walk and asked her owner, more than once, if he could help with that.

“After I got Sonja, he saw various people walking her when I was at work,” Mary Kilty told the New York Times. “He said to me, ‘I can walk your dog.’ He said this to me several times and eventually I thought why not give it a try, because he clearly needed some income and support.”

Goynes began taking Sonja for two-hour walks to and around Central Park on Saturday mornings.

“It helped me get myself together,” Goynes said. “It keeps you from messing around, doing other things bad. ‘I got a dog-walking job, I’ve got to maintain.'”

“… She helped me, I helped her,” he added.

Goynes found a permanent home in 2007 — a small room in a building on East 28th Street run by the nonprofit supportive-housing provider now known as Breaking Ground.

He continued to walk Sonja on weekends, and would house-sit the dog, sometimes for weeks at a time, in Kilty’s penthouse.

“He was so reliable and so good, and she loved him so much,” Kilty said.

Last spring, Sonja, 11, began a slow decline due to cancer.

goynes2In his last visit with the dog, Goynes, 67, let himself in to Kilty’s home and crouched down beside Sonja.

“If there was anything I could do to help her stay up … Sonja, get up, come on, get up.”

He held her paw, gazed into her eyes and then left so Kilty could spend some private moments with Sonja before a veterinarian arrived to give her a lethal injection.

Kilty said Goynes asked for Sonja’s tags, so he can wear them on a necklace.

She honored that request, but says she’s not ready to grant his second one.

“He keeps asking me when I’m going to get another dog, which I don’t think I’m going to do quite yet.”

(Photos: Nicole Bengiveno / The New York Times)

French animal rights group wrestles puppy away from a homeless man in Paris

A French animal rights group is being criticized after a video surfaced of its president and at least two cohorts taking a puppy away from a homeless man in Paris.

The French newspaper La Voix du Nord identified the man in the video who took the dog as Cause Animale Nord president Anthony Blanchard.

He and another activist from the Lille-based group can be seen wrestling the man and taking his dog away.

parisThe homeless man can be seen chasing after them, trying to to get the yelping dog back. Blanchard hands the dog off to what appears to be a third accomplice, who runs away with it.

More than 225,000 people have signed a petition to launch an investigation into the group’s action and have the dog returned to its owner.

Blanchard wrote in a post on Cause Animale Nord’s Facebook page that the dog was not being properly cared for and that it had been drugged by the man to stay calm.

He said there were signs the dog was being mistreated, including dilated pupils and abnormal crying, though in the video the only crying the dog does is after it is seized by Blanchard.

Blanchard says the snippet of video unfairly paints the group in a negative light.

We’d say he managed to do that all by himself.

(Photo of the seized dog from Cause Animale Nord’s Facebook page)

Lost dog is found — even though dyed black

waffles afterA Cairn Terrier stolen from outside a grocery store in Seattle was tracked down by her owner — despite having been dyed black by the homeless woman suspected of the theft.

Waffles, a formerly blond and gray dog, is back home after police and a veterinarian determined she was indeed the same dog that Robert Lucier and his family had spent four days looking for.

“Thank goodness she had a microchip,” Lucier told the New York Daily News.

The family had put up posters and searched for the dogs since she was stolen last week, while briefly left tied up outside a grocery store.

On Saturday, Lusicer received a tip from someone saying he saw a homeless woman “washing the paint” out of his dog in a public bathroom at Seattle Center. Lucier hopped on his bike and began searching the area.

He saw a woman with a dog that strongly resembled Waffles — except for being solid black.

He confronted the woman, who insisted it was her dog.

Lucier remained suspicious, especially after he got close enough to the dog to detect the scent of chemicals.

He said he and the woman wrestled a bit, and that’s when three police cars pulled up.

wafflesbeforeBoth sides insisted the dog was their’s and a veterinarian was called in to check for a microchip.

Sure enough, the dog had one, identifying her as Waffles and Lucier as the owner.

She is back home now, and, after a few baths, still mostly black — but Lucier expects the coloring will fade away over time.

“She’s still shocked. She’s normally such a friendly, outgoing dog. She’s still walking around with her tail between her legs,” he said. “It’s going to take a little time for her to get adjusted.”

Waffle’s family decided not to press charges against the woman who he said “has bigger problems” to deal with.