“She’s all I’ve got.”

“She’s all I’ve got.”

“You all are angels.”

Four words – a message from an acquaintance from another agency, who had called upon us for help. Words that would be repeated, from that same acquaintance and from others.

I’m not an angel. Nowhere close. Perhaps my “partner in crime” is – but I think she’d disagree, too.

We were just called upon, and in the right places at the right times. But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself – explaining just where we were might help.

Friday afternoon, we received the news that an old client of ours was going to the hospital unexpectedly. He is homeless, living from his car and bouncing place to place – and with him, his little dog. At eight or nine years old, she’s been with our client since she was a puppy. She adores him, and he her. A likely Chihuahua/Terrier mix, she’s all love and tail-wags – and her daddy has made sure that she’s certainly never missed a meal, even when times are tough. A car may not seem like the place for a man and his dog, to many – but to them, it is home.

So when her daddy had to go into the clinic, leaving her for just a little bit – like always – she curled up with his blankets and waited.  She had no way of knowing daddy was transported to the hospital as an emergency case – and daddy had no way of making arrangements for her.

So we were called – and we hurried to figure out a remedy to the situation.

As much as we would love to take in any of our friends’ fur-babies in times of dire need, we just can’t – we don’t have a location of our own, and our program just isn’t set up for it. The agency that contacted us knew this – but they hoped we might be able to at least point them in the right direction. We helped them with a list of other agencies that might be able to help them, and we hoped for the best right alongside them.

One by one, they went through the list – but one by one, things simply didn’t pan out.

Homeless with pets are unfortunately often chastised for having their animals. They’re put on the defensive. People question why they have animals when they can’t even take care of themselves. And though our client wanted to ensure his sweet little dog was safe, he grew fearful that if he allowed anyone to take her, he’d never see her again.

By 10pm, the list had been exhausted, the ice storm was coming, and that little dog was still in the car. Our hearts sank as we got the news. We began making calls of our own. Going through our contacts with other agencies, we were finally able to secure a temporary foster for the dog – we just had to get to her before the storm did.

Unfortunately Missouri has no state laws against dogs in hot or cold cars, so long as the dog has shelter, food, and water – nor does the city of Springfield. Animal control couldn’t do anything, at this point – because it was not an emergency based on city statutes, they could not come out after hours without permission to retrieve the dog – and our client was refusing to allow anyone the keys. Police weren’t able to help us unlock the car, either. We were told it was essentially hopeless – this man was not going to give up his keys, and we were not going to get to this little dog. The soonest we could hope for Animal Control or any other help was in the morning – and even then, it was only if they were granted permission.

With the ice storm looming, we couldn’t wait. We feared that if it hit as hard as people thought it might, no one would be able to get to her due to road conditions – and even if they did, the car would be encased in ice.

So we bundled up, and we headed for the hospital in hopes of doing the impossible.

When we got there, we were only allowed a short visit with our old friend. Staff were aware of the situation, and we were advised that there had been agencies here before us – we weren’t to get our hopes up. But we went back anyway, and we reintroduced ourselves. It had been a long time since our old friend had asked for our assistance – but he was a friend nonetheless.

At first, we received the same answer that those before us had received. He wasn’t going to give up his keys – he’d tend to her when he got home. But we talked to him gently about how long that might be, and the ice coming in. He hadn’t had time to give her extra food, extra water, and despite being sheltered and with blankets, it was getting cold.

We didn’t care about his situation, how much money he had, or how he and the dog lived.

Standing in that hospital room, not even a few hours out from the storm, we just cared about the dog.

Slowly, he opened up to us. She was his baby – she’d never been with anyone else. He didn’t want her to have to be. We assured him that she’d be returned to him as soon as he could leave the hospital – we just wanted him to be able to be well, and her to be safe.

And finally, he gave in.

Handing us his keys, our client pleaded we take good care of her – as he explained, “She’s all I’ve got.”

No one could believe it as we left that room, keys in hand.

We went to the lot where we were told he had parked, and we looked into the few vehicles there until we saw her. She was curled up with daddy’s blankets, lying in the middle of the van, staring up at us. When we got it open, she hopped seats, looking for daddy, worried about the strangers – but finally we were able to coax her out, taking daddy’s coat with her for comfort. We got her set up with her temporary foster, where she would be safe, warm, and fed until she and her daddy could be better again. She was nervous, at first – the people around her were strangers – but she quickly settled in.

Thankfully, just as quickly, she was able to go home.

We met up in another parking lot to return her – complete with a new coat, a collar, a leash, a squeaky toy, and a blanket. We had discovered she was missing some teeth – the only real sign of her age – and set her up with some softer food, too.

Her daddy was ecstatic to see her.

She was just as happy to see him – you’ve never seen a tail wag so fast! As she greeted him, her daddy explained that it had been the first night they had ever been apart. He was grateful for the love and care she had received – he even offered a Big Mac dinner for our efforts – but all we would accept were hugs.

Because we’re heroes. We’re not angels. This is just what we do.

We help as much as we can, and we keep families together.

Tonight this sweet pup and her daddy are back together again – and hopefully they will never have to spend another night apart. In the morning, they will pick back up where they left off, the best of friends on their own type of adventure.

And we will continue to do what we can to ensure friends like these are never parted.

We continue searching for a place of our own, and for new volunteers to help us grow to be the very best we can be. To join us, you don’t have to be an angel – we’re all gaining our wings as we go along. None of us are perfect – we just try to be in the right place at the right time, and to love our friends and their pets just as much as they love each other.

If you’re in the Springfield, MO area and you’d like to join us, you can e-mail volunteer.pawspetpantry@gmail.com to get signed up as a volunteer. If you aren’t in the Springfield area but would like to help, consider a small donation – every little bit helps, and you can donate via our Amazon Wishlist, our Community Foundation of the Ozarks Account, or directly to our PayPal (pawspetpantry@gmail.com). If you can’t volunteer or donate, have no fear – you can still help! Simply share our blog, and check us out on social media. Every share brings new viewers, and you never know who might be looking!

– A. M.

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