The bond between humans and animals is so powerful that the mental and physical health of a pet owner can be lifted just by having their animal in their life, according to the SPCA.
Despite that, there is still some stigma toward pet ownership by people who are living on the streets, spokeswoman for the B.C. SPCA, Lorie Chortyk, said Wednesday.
The animal welfare organization is among the groups that work to support relationships between homeless people — many of whom have been through tough times in their lives — and their pets.
“Often for these individuals this is the first time they’ve ever experienced unconditional love,” Chortyk said.
“I think anyone who’s had a pet understands how powerful that bond is. But if you haven’t experienced that unconditional love, that bond is even stronger. And those individuals protect that animal and protect that bond even more.”
Chortyk’s comments came a few days after a white American Eskimo dog named Cutiepie was stolen from a man living on the sidewalk out front of the Hudson’s Bay department store on Granville Street in Downtown Vancouver.
Dave M, who declined to give his full last name, said he had left Cutiepie with his belongings while he used the washroom around 2:30 p.m. Friday. When he returned, the dog was gone. A frantic search of the surrounding streets was fruitless.
Cutiepie has been in Dave’s life for about six years. He presumed the then-eight-year-old dog had been abandoned before she arrived at his house in Mission, he said.
Asked if he knew who might have taken his dog, Dave said: “I’ve heard a couple people say (to the dog) ‘we’re going to give you a good home’, like, maybe four walls and a roof. … but I spend 24 hours a day with my dog. I take care of her. She’s my baby.”
Dave, who has lived on the street for the past eight months, described Cutiepie as looking like a polar bear, with white hair, short little legs, a small head and a fat body. She’s a calm dog who loved being petted and she would spend hours in his lap being groomed, he said.
Dave asked anyone who has seen Cutiepie to alert the SPCA or the VPD, with whom he said he has filed a police report.
The SPCA has a program to help people who live on the streets care for their pets, and in Chortyk’s experience, people in that situation tend to be “so dedicated” to that cause.
“Certainly, we’ve met a lot of people who will go without food themselves in order to make sure that their pets are well taken care of,” she said.
Through its Charlie’s pet food bank initiative, the SPCA offers things like nail trims, training tips, veterinary care, surgeries and referrals, as well as food, toys, carriers and leashes. The program is open to donations.
If anyone is concerned about the well-being of any animal they can contact the SPCA at 1-855-622-7722, and the organization can send out a staff member to assess the situation. If needed, they can either take the animal into care or try to help the owner, Chortyk said.
Studies and surveys around the world have repeatedly shown the importance pets can have in the lives of street-involved people, according to a 2014 research review written by Emma Woolley in her capacity as a research assistant with the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness.
Woolley referenced a 2012 paper by Leslie Irvine, titled Animals as Lifechangers and Lifesavers: Pets in the Redemption Narratives of Homeless People, who conducted a series of interviews at pet clinics in the U.S. and found pets had led their owners to give up drugs, escape depression or even choose to continue living.
A Chihuahua was stolen from a panhandler around East Hastings and Nanaimo St. last year, according to CBC. The dog was later recovered by police after it was spotted by a good Samaritan.
Steve Addison, a VPD spokesman, encouraged anyone with information about a crime to call police. He said VPD did not have readily available data on the frequency of pets being stolen.
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