Sweet Street Love

I read 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. Let the enormity of that wash over you. How many of us can endure the harshness of going hungry – let alone living on the street –  especially during cold, winter nights?

I don’t know about you, but for me, having to even go an extra long stretch – let’s say between breakfast and dinner – can give me a headache.  I mean, to our rational minds, it doesn’t make any sense. How does someone do it knowing there is no guarantee, or expectation, of having a next meal?

To understand what this means, read the words of holocaust survivor Viktor E. Frankl, who wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning,  “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.”

Believing that there’s a reason or there’s something bigger than you to live for, means everything. Biblical Christian teaching, for example, explains it this way, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” To some, pet ownership means survival is possible.

I can see why veterinarian Michelle Lem, MSc, started her free mobile clinic to treat the pets of the homeless … estimated at 20% of the street people population. Her volunteer veterinarian team provide basic pet care services and how-to tips.

The Toronto Star interviewed a young 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.”

It’s not really about the pet; it’s about the love the dog brings… a street rarity sometimes meaning more than life itself. 

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.” There seems no reason to suffer and sacrifice, like that, over a “dumb animal”.

Yet, if that’s true, then how does one explain the actions of someone at the opposite end of the cultural and social spectrum, like a veterinarian, who is out on the street… regardless?

“Blackbird singing in the dead of night / Take these sunken eyes and learn to see”                                                                 – Blackbird by The Beatles  

As a nurse, who spent her whole adult life helping the homeless, Order of Canada recipient, Anna Kaljas, once complained that we have places for homeless cats and dogs, but not enough places for homeless men and women.

What this means to me is that were 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…

Fred Parry
www.fredparry.ca December 2013

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