My first outreach, I was scared to death. I wasn’t a big people person to begin with. I liked animals – had always worked with animals. It was the people aspect that had me worried. I grew up as a military brat. I moved 8 times before I graduated high school. I have lived in multiple states, and even overseas. I learned about and adapted to other cultures with ease. One thing I never saw on a military base? Homeless. Going to this first outreach was like throwing me in a room full of crying babies: I had no idea what to expect, what to do, or how to handle it.
Another thing I learned as a military brat? How to face my fears.
So I drove to the outreach location and took a deep breath. I was early, and I had no idea where I was actually supposed to be. Outreach, at the time, was held in a dirt parking lot that was set a little back from a main road. There were cars parked in a gravel “lot” in front of an abandoned building in basically a warehouse district. There were people starting to gather together in a group, and I watched a few people with large backpacks on their backs making their way over the railroad tracks and towards that group.
It was time.
I met up with a friend of mine, Julie – the Director and Founder of PAWS Pet Pantry. She showed me what happened during the one hour outreach. There were two groups there, the Gathering Friends – who provided a meal for the homeless people – and PAWS Pet Pantry – who provided food, basic vetting, and collars, leashes, harnesses, and coats for the pets of the homeless. I met many people that night, but a few stood out as I followed Julie around that dirt parking lot.
Cave – a huge man who loves to give gentle hugs.
Pops – who is always recognizable because of the little dog (Gizmo) that rides on his shoulders
Scott – one of PAWS’s first clients with his dog, Rookah.
It’s been over two years since I started with PAWS Pet Pantry and before every weekly outreach, I still take that deep breath. Sometimes there are so many new people needing help, both homeless and low income who find their way to us, that it is overwhelming. Sometimes it’s a “quiet” night, and we just have a few of the weekly regular “campers” (homeless who live in tents as their ownly shelter) who can only carry a week’s worth of food on their backs. Whether it is a quiet outreach or an insane one, I still leave each one knowing that we have helped. We have provided for those who need a helping hand up. We have broken the ice for owners who are unsure or struggling with putting aside their pride to ask for help when they need It by simply loving their animals with them. We have proven that we care as much about their animals as they do – and we are willing to help them if they need the help. We have helped them to face their fears, just as I did that very first outreach night.
The goal is always for people to graduate from our program – to be able to provide food and shelter for themselves and their pets independently. But by the time they graduate, they know this: it’s okay to ask for help if you need it. Our volunteers love their pets as much as they do – our volunteers love them – and PAWS will always be there if they are in need.