A couple of weeks ago, a Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority (LAHSA) case worker reached out to counselor Amanda about Doris, an 8 year old Yorkie mix, who we helped before. Actually, this was the third time that Doris’ owner needed our services to support her path of recovery. Doris would need to go into boarding while her owner went into detox and rehab.
When you look at the photo of Doris, what do you see? Are you upset by the image? Do you want to rescue her, and get her out of that box? Or do you see a well cared for dog, who is snuggled in a blanket and placed in a box for safe keeping during her car ride? When I posted this photo on the DDR social media platforms, we received a variety of comments ranging from the assumption that she needed a new home, to offers of fostering. We also received very personal sharing of recovery and how pets had positively impacted, and in some cases, saved the person’s life.
Reading the comments posted on Facebook and Instagram, I can’t deny that I felt defensive, even a little judgmental reading the comments from followers, who thought that Doris needed to be re-homed, was in a bad situation due to being transported in a box, and even speculated as to what type of life she has had with her person. I wondered how someone could question whether she has a “good home”? To me it was obvious: she is well loved and adored. The photo told me everything I needed to know. FYI I have never met Doris or her person. I have never spoken to her over the phone. I know Doris and her person just about as well as anyone on social media knows them. But I could imagine how she felt. I’m grateful that I’ve had an opportunity to learn how incredibly difficult a path to recovery is for anyone, and how it is complicated more by being homeless, and/or without a stable support network.
Like most of our clients who need to go into treatment, Doris’ owner would not have accepted the offer of treatment if she could not be assured that her dog would be in a safe place and returned to her as soon as it was possible. Too often, not providing that assurance leads to pet owners who are experiencing homelessness and struggling with addiction, to stay living an unhealthy lifestyle on the streets. Not to over generalize here, but I think it’s fair to write, based on many stories that I’ve listened to for more than 20 years, that for the pet owner who is homeless or addicted to drugs and /or alcohol, the dog or cat is their reason to get up everyday, the reason to live, and to try to get clean. It is their pet who offers them unconditional love. Caring for their pet might be their only perceived purpose in life. I believe what is most needed is the network of support to surround the pet owner – one that supports the relationship with their pet and provides services on a nonjudgmental basis. Relapse should not equate to one losing their pet: relapse is part of recovery.
As a supporter of DDR, I’m going to guess that you have similar opinions on the positive impact that animals have on our lives. The unconditional love of a pet is a luxury for those who cannot afford it. Yet, I’m reminded on a daily basis that not everyone outside the “animal welfare bubble” feels this way. I was touched to read a comment from a follower (now sober, in recovery) writing that she was fortunate to have family support, a connection beyond just her dog who loved and cared about her. Initially, it was her dog that it gave her “something to live for”. Isn’t that what we all need, a purpose in our life, a reason to wake up each morning and want to live?
There have been dark times in my life when I have opened my eyes to a new day – not caring, not knowing why I am alive or what my purpose is. Not to get too deep here, but I am no longer ashamed to reveal that I have struggled with major depression intermittently throughout my life. In fact, I feel that by opening up, writing candidly about my life, I may touch someone who has lost hope. At the beginning of 2020, my depression got so bad, I went back into therapy and started to take medication. This combined saved my life. To stay quite and continue to pretend that I’m always in control and the pack leader would only promote more suffering for myself and for others who need to read this post.
What kept me going, made me want to reach out for help? My dogs. And all of the dogs who DDR rescues, has rescued and are not adopted, and even the ones that count on our kennel to be a safe place to board. So to say that I can identify somewhat with Doris’ owner, and her connection to her beloved dog would be an understatement. I feel a strong connection to her and to be of service to support her path to recovery. I hope one day that I can let Doris’ owner know how being of service to help her during a dark time brought more light into my life. My great hope is that one day Doris’ owner will be in a position to offer support and hope to someone else who is lost in the world. Connection to each other and our pets is all that we have in the world, especially now during a global pandemic.
I always appreciate your emails, letting me know your thoughts, showing support for our work because sometimes being in animal welfare can be a lonely place, despite being surrounded by pets and people. I know that it’s my responsibility to continue to create a path of connection to other like minded people who know that the unconditional love of a pet cannot be explained in words. It’s through these blog posts that I challenge myself to write truthfully about situations that touch my heart, make me slow down and reflect on a deeper level.