Editor’s Note: The unconditional love of a pet can help people facing some of life’s toughest challenges. After losing her job five years ago, Kelly Hall found herself homeless. She turned to her dog, Olivia, for comfort. Hall says her first night sleeping on the streets was “terrifying”– she was afraid for her safety and worried about surviving the cold. Pets can benefit the mental health of the homeless but keeping these animals healthy can also be a challenge.
As part of our ongoing health series called Vital Signs, we’re spending the month hearing stories from homeless Californians. We meet up with Hall as she has Olivia’s arthritis checked out at a mobile veterinary clinic called VET SOS, a free service for homeless pet owners in San Francisco. She starts off by describing Olivia’s breed.
By Kelly Hall
She’s a dachshund-chihuahua-terrier mix. She weighs 13-pounds.
I would be so lonely without her. I cannot even imagine being homeless and not having a dog with me, or my best friend with me. Especially because I’m the type of person too, I’m a bit of a loner. I go to school. I try to keep to myself, and so she really is my only friend and my only support system.
You know, I talk to her. I chat with her; I hold her when I need to. She’s just always somebody that I know I have there– a presence there.
She cannot go without her pain medicine. She would not be able to walk after a while. I’d have to carry her everywhere. I know it can be up to $80 a bottle to purchase that medicine. There’s no way I’d be able to afford it on my own.
Now, I pretty much sleep on the streets. I’ve been out here for 2 years.
I was living in apartment in Concord, and I had my two dogs. I had gotten notice that my mother had cancer. It wasn’t long (between) the time that I found out and when she passed. Probably about a total of two weeks, if even that. So, it was very traumatic.
I was facing job troubles, and I ended up losing my job. I tried to get roommates. I tried really hard to look for work and I eventually ended up losing the house to foreclosure.
In the US, roughly five to ten percent of people who are homeless have dogs and/or cats, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless.
Service animals are accepted at all San Francisco shelters funded by The Human Services Agency. Non-service animals are only accepted at one of these 12 shelters.
When you’re the type of person (who has) lost so much in your life: everything’s been stripped from you; everything has been taken from you. You know, it is true that maybe you really do — I don’t want to say ‘cling on’ to what you have — you just really depend more and value more what little you have.
Olivia is always that constant reminder, you know, we’ve got to get back into a house again, we got to get back into a house again. And she’ll even get mad at me sometimes when it’s cold or raining out. She’ll turn her back on me for a little bit, but then she’ll turn around and give me love. It’s a good thing because it keeps me hopeful to keep working toward that goal.
Listen to Hall’s story: