When Haley was accidentally hit by a car, a bystander took the dog to Contra Costa County Animal Services where she received emergency care and a temporary cast.

Unfortunately, that was not the end of the dog's troubles. Her owner, Jason, is homeless and without funds to pay for X-rays, veterinary services to set her shattered right leg, provide fresh casts every two weeks and fund two months board and recovery care. Without that help, Haley faced amputation.

A homeless person's pet is often his family.

"There is no doubt that pets are wonderful companions and oftentimes the only companion for a homeless person," said La Vonna Martin, acting director of the Contra Costa County Behavioral Health Homeless Program. "Sometimes they need that animal to get through the day."

In desperation, Jason turned to Donna Colombo, executive director of the Trinity Center, a homeless outreach organization in Walnut Creek. She helped with Haley's release, but Colombo said the dog could not stand and needed immediate medical attention.

"After calling all the local veterinarians, Dr. (Sukhwinder) Virk, at the Alpine Animal Hospital in Concord, was the only vet who would see her on a Friday night and offer to work with us on the billing," Colombo recalled.

"I would like the community to know how badly veterinary care is needed for animals living on the street with homeless owners that do not have money for vaccinations, spay/neuter, let alone emergency care," she said.

Homeless pet owners face other challenges, too.


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"Every single night 3,800 people sleep outside or in shelters," Martin said. "Twelve hundred and fifty are in encampment areas and 20 percent have pets, and 250 or so (pets) sleep outside every single night."

Those pets may lack access to neutering, pet food and a safe place to stay when their owners get temporary work, go to rehabilitation programs or are otherwise detained.

There are about six animal rescue organizations in Contra Costa County that help with low-cost animal health, and other services, according to Starlyne Thompson, Homeless Animal Lifeline Organization dog manager and director.

Yet homeless pet owners often cannot afford to pay even a low fee for pet medical care, vaccinations, neutering, spaying and food.

Tony La Russa's Animal Rescue Foundation's primary mission is saving animals that have "timed out" at Animal Services, said executive director Elena Bicker.

"We have a food share program and an emergency medical fund that is supported by our thrift store on Market Street in Concord," she said.

"This community has a big heart, and we will reach out in any situation that our resources allow."

Homeless Connect events are one way for the homeless to get medical care for their pets. The Contra Costa County Behavioral Health Homeless Program holds the annual all-day event in Antioch, Richmond and Concord (next year) on a rotating basis.

Free inoculations, microchipping, veterinary services and other kinds of help and transportation are available for homeless people with pets.

However, Colombo said homeless people may not know about, or be able get to the event on a particular day once a year.

None of those resources worked for Jason and Haley's emergency, and even though Dr. Virk is only charging $1,500 for all of the care and boarding, Colombo is fund raising at crowdrise.com/helpforhaley/fundraiser/trinitycenterwalnutc to make good on that debt.

Beloved pets are an obstacle to housing for the homeless because most rental owners want a larger deposit with a pet. Shelter, Inc. has access to some grant funds from PetSmart to help veterans with service dogs get into housing, but finding housing for homeless pet owners is a challenge, according to Sharon Vernhus, Shelter Inc. program director in Martinez.

"We don't have shelter facilities in the county that allow pets, unless it is a service animal," said Martin. "We have been looking into other models that could meet those needs."

"At Animal Services, they are really great at providing resources if we identify an individual needs a temporary place for an animal," she said.

Homeless people often need pet day care during long wait times for medical appointments and other reasons.

As Colombo discovered, it is tough for a homeless person to take care of his best friend.

Contact Dana Guzzetti at dguzzetti10@gmail.com or call 925-202-9292.

pet friendly
Places where animal lovers can volunteer, donate or adopt a pet:
  • Contra Costa Humane Society, Pleasant Hill; www.cchumane.org; 925-279-2247
  • ARF - Tony La Russa's Animal Rescue Foundation, Walnut Creek; www.arf.net; 925-256-1273
  • H.A.L.O. -- Homeless Animal Lifeline Organization, Antioch; eccchalo.org; 925-473-4642
  • DASH -- Delta Animals Safe Haven, Antioch; deltaanimalssafehaven.org; 925- 219-0151
  • HARP -- Homeless Animal Response Program, Antioch; www.harp-rescue.org; 925-431-8546
  • Contra Costa County Animal Services Department, Martinez; www.co.contra-costa.ca.us/853/Contact-Information; 925-335-8300