Homeless, not Heartless: Dogs with Homeless Owners

I can’t count how many times I’ve blindly passed a homeless individual and their dog. Ignorant fears forbid me to speak to them; they were suspicious and dangerous.

As a dog-enthusiast, I was always skeptical and concerned for these dogs. How could they be properly cared for if their owners could barely for themselves?

A woman and her dog habitually panhandled at a stoplight near the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, Mo. On Monday afternoon, I approached the recognizable pair in an environment uncomfortable: the street corner. Each step closer, my stomach churned.

I looked down, to avoid any eye contact. A sudden, high-pitched bark lifted my gaze from my stained sneakers to the woman and her scruffy, black companion.

The woman smiled at me. I explained to her who I was and my curiosity about her relationship with her dog. She introduced the dog, Polly, and herself, Karen. Karen’s eyes seemed to glow as she told me about Polly, her “oxygen.”

Karen’s only reason for living and family member was Polly.

“Polly isn’t just my best friend,” Karen said, “she is my purpose and I would not survive without her.”

Polly always finds a reason to smile, unaware her owner is homeless. She loves belly-rubs and most of all, her owner Karen.

Polly always finds a reason to smile, unaware her owner is homeless. She loves belly-rubs and most of all, her owner Karen.

I watched as Karen stood, with her crumped, cardboard sign. Polly sat on Karen’s worn, hole-filled shoes. Karen walked to car windows for the rush-hour drivers’ contributions. Polly didn’t follow Karen into the traffic. She stayed and watched Karen alertly, ears perked.

Time after time, Polly whimpered with excitement and waited to greet Karen. Each greeting, Polly rejoiced as if Karen had been gone for days.

“Polly eats every meal before I do, because when she’s happy, I can’t help but be happy too.”

In just two hours, my ideas radically changed. The relationship between any individual and their dog is immeasurable; even an individual who’s homeless.

Over the next few weeks, follow The Dog House as the stories of other homeless individuals and their canine companions are told.

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