Having lost his job as a camp host in southern California, Doc was driving to a Walmart parking lot so he could camp for a few nights before getting his final paycheck.
While on the road, he approached a parked car and watched as a Chihuahua was discarded to the side of the highway. The car then sped off.
“I slammed on my brakes, coaxed her in with a piece of ham and said, ‘Your name’s Chica,’” Doc told me in a recent conversation. “We’ve been best friends ever since.”
Homeless Dog Owners: Cruelty or Companionship?
Doc was piloting an old camper when he found Chica. It would later be impounded in Arizona for having expired tags, among other issues.
He has been chronically homeless for the better part of 25 years, and has passed through Davis regularly during that time.
He and I sat on the corner of Third and E Streets last week so I could ask a few questions about his dog. The thrust of the conversation was the following: “If a person can’t independently care for him/herself, is it cruel for that person to also care for a pet?”
I put that question out to Davis Patch readers in late July as well, and I received many thoughtful responses:
“What's cruel is telling a person who doesn't have anyone or even a roof over their head that they can't even enjoy the companionship of a dog,” wrote Holly Ober. “Besides, a dog can serve as a useful guardian and social facilitator for people who face violence and public distrust every single day.”
Some readers, however, couldn’t help but wonder about the level of care.
“I have been feeling conflicted about this,” wrote Barbara Archer . "There is a young man who has been panhandling whom I saw twice in Davis last week with two dogs and one is a puppy. I am worried that the dogs aren't [getting] proper food, water and vet care. I thought about asking him if he could take care of the puppy, but then thought I better mind my own business. Of course, everyone deserves companionship, but dog food and medical care is expensive.”
A Homeless Man & Two Lap Dogs
Before Chica, Doc had a poodle named Blondie for 14 years.
“We used to do street performing in Hollywood. I’d dress her up in costumes,” he said. “When she died, the thought of replacing her seemed like an insult.”
He spent the next two years without a dog, but then the weight of loneliness crept in, and with that loneliness came the desire for an animal companion.
“I’m not a really religious person,” he said. “But I sat and had a heart-to-heart with God one day and I said ‘God I’m tired of being lonely; I’m ready to have a new dog in my life.’ Not even a week later is when I lost my job and I’m driving down the road and I saw her being thrown out of a car.”
‘Medical Care is Expensive’
Last year, Chica “got locked up” with a friend’s dog in Oregon and became sick. Doc wondered if she was pregnant.
“A lady who does animal rescue (with the Pixie Project) checked her out and said she was not pregnant,” Doc said. “We got her shots and got her fixed.”
Chica appears to be in great health now.
There are a variety of programs aimed at caring for animals in need. Some are national while others are right here in our backyard.
It’ll take place August 29 at from 1-3 p.m. They’ll give free vaccines, micro chips, leashes and collars and flea treatment. They’ll also help with licensing and spaying-neutering.
The Yolo SPCA doesn’t have a formalized stance on homeless dog ownership. They say their underlying goal is to care for animals, whether or not they have a home.
“We just want to help all animals in need,” said Kim Kinnee, Executive Director of the Yolo County SPCA.
What Constitutes a ‘Happy Dog’
Lawson Snipes is the editor of The Spare Changer, a local magazine that covers homelessness issues. He and I sat down at recently and he made two noteworthy points, both of which I have summed up below:
- Many dogs go unadopted in animal shelters, meaning they must be “put to sleep.” They die, to put it bluntly.
- If a high-income family’s dog gets high-quality food and grooming on a regular basis, but its owners spend 9 hours a day at work while the dog sits at home alone, is that dog living a quality life?
“Anyone who would question one’s ability to ‘take care of a pet when they can't take care of their self’ is either woefully misinformed or misguided at best,” he told me.
“Dogs need to be part of a family unit,” said Doc. “Some people, you go by their yard and they’ve got the dog tied to a tree and all the grass is worn out. After a while the dogs go crazy because they need that social activity.”
Basically: Dogs don't need homes; they need people.
Homeless Shelters: 'No Dogs Allowed'
The shelters in Davis (and most other places) don’t accommodate dogs, in part because homelessness is such a big, complex issue on its own. Accommodating pets on top of that isn’t the priority.
For that reason, Doc must bend to the needs of Chica when it comes to finding a warm place to sleep.
“When it’s going to rain, I’ll find some shelter under an overhang,” he said. “I just grin and bear it and head south for the winter for the warmer, drier weather.”
Making Money + Feeding the Pup
Chica inherited Blondie’s old costumes. She sits patiently anytime Doc pulls one out of his bag and dresses her. He says he’d do this even if it didn’t help him make money, simply because it makes people smile.
Having said that, Chica certainly does help his earnings. Doc is a passive panhandler -- he was reclining on a duffle bag and silently reading a Tom Clancy novel when I approached him – so Chica’s cuteness is the main attraction for people walking by.
But when the money comes in, Chica’s needs come first, however small they may be: Since she's only six pounds, a bag of food lasts her two-and-a-half months. Still, he makes it clear that she is his top priority.
“When things get rough,” Doc said. “Your two legged friends will disappear, but your four-legged friends will always be right there right alongside you.”
If a person can’t independently care for him/herself, is it cruel for that person to also care for a pet? Comment below.
For more information about the free vaccinations offered by the Yolo County SPCA, call them at 530-662-8858. If you’d like to blog about this topic, click here and then click ‘Post on Patch.’ It’s very simple.