One of the phrases that I often hear when I corner friends, relatives, and strangers who make the mistake and ask about the dog design on my shirt is “I would want to take them all home.” It is a fair comment - one borne out of loving a dog sometime in their past and watching too many ASPA commercials on TV.
I traveled with Angela Hopson of SOAR: Street Outreach Animal Response Initiative yesterday to a few homeless camps. Before we got started we stopped to pick up Tony and his pup Spike - two long time SOAR clients. Tony was just along for the ride and, what became obvious, to be reassured of the fact that there were people in the world that cared about him. Tony struggles with mental health issues.
The conversations between Tony and Angela covered an endless array of housing situations, behaviors, and health issues - softly spoken without judgement. Tony knew he was loved and through his tough man demeanor it was obvious that he knew he needed Angela to make it through his life. We dropped Tony off with a ‘Will 11 tomorrow work for you?’
The difference between spending an afternoon at my shelter, walking dogs, picking up poop, and getting an occasional nip and what people like Angela do - allowing people to touch their hearts - is huge. When I leave my shelter dogs I know they will be safe - they will be there when I come back the next day. Tony is complex and his emotions and actions, like all people but especially in those with mental heath issues, are unpredictable. Tony's tomorrow is unknown.
Angela's organization, on the surface, is designed to help the animals of the homeless, but is tied up with the stability of her human clients. It is hard, very hard, to separate the two and not take a piece of each home - sometimes an enormous piece.