Almost a decade ago, I wrote about a street person who because his dog wasn’t welcome in soup kitchens or overnight shelters, would forgo eating and a secure night’s sleep. But, he was happy to do so. Happy?!
Think about that for a moment. How many of us can endure the harshness of going hungry – let alone living on the street – especially during frozen winter nights… knowing there is no guarantee, or expectation, of having a next meal?
The more cynical among us would say it’s ridiculous. Putting the welfare of a dog above your own is like not having the sense to ‘come in out of the rain.’
But, back in 2013, the Toronto Star interviewed a street person who explains his strong feelings for his dog this way: “She’s the only thing I’ve got in this world, besides my life, and my life ain’t going anywhere. I’m there for her and she’s there for me.” To some, pet ownership means survival is possible. Christianity explains it this way, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Pets give people purpose and meaning.
Seeing this need, Veterinarian Michelle Lem, MSc, started her free mobile clinic Community Veterinary Outreach (CVO) a registered charity to treat the pets of the homeless… estimated at 20% of the street people population. Today, CVO has expanded to five communities. Theirs is ‘servant leadership’ in action.
Today, her volunteer / veterinarian team still provide pro-bono basic pet care services in collaboration with healthcare and community connections that matter to their clients. As a number of intake specialists have noted: There’s no judgement: “We don’t know what they’ve been through”… “marginalized people don’t trust people easily”… and, “we have to build trust – zipping your lips and listen.”
But what about now, with the ravages of COVID-19 all around us, what happens if the owner is too sick to care for their pet? CVO provides shelter, food and basic care until the owner recovers.
Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist Victor E. Frankl in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, validated philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s quote, “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘ how’.”
It’s about the love the dog brings. Hopefully the homeless and housing vulnerable people won’t have to choose between their personal well-being or that of their pets.
What this means to me is that we’re missing a piece of the puzzle. Yes, let’s teach people to help themselves – a helping hand, not just a hand out. But, let’s not lose sight of the fact that the offering, or not offering of love … says more about us than about them.“To whom much is given…”
“Blackbird singing in the dead of night / Take these sunken eyes and learn to see” – Blackbird by The Beatles Watch on YouTube
That’s the way I figure it. FP