Brooksville outreach's aim is to assist the homeless in caring for their pets

Missy, a year-old pit bull owned by Troy Daniel, expresses her gratitude to Lisa Lewis of CARES. Lewis’ organization provides pet food and other pet items to homeless and low-income residents in Hernando County.

Courtesy of Bill Gray

Missy, a year-old pit bull owned by Troy Daniel, expresses her gratitude to Lisa Lewis of CARES. Lewis’ organization provides pet food and other pet items to homeless and low-income residents in Hernando County.

BROOKSVILLE — James Coak, John Phillips, Dennis Welch. Also present were Lori and Donna, who would give only their first names.

All are homeless. But they're not alone.

With them were Geronimo, Sundance Kid, Baron, Priss, Ninja, Moe, two by the name of Tigger — their pet dogs and cats.

Perched on the tailgate of her sport utility vehicle, Lisa Lewis elicited the information from the homeless folks. Lewis, founder and director of the Community Animal Rescue & Educational Shelter of Brooksville, prepared to hand out pet food, collars, leashes and information about health concerns at a weekly distribution site on Broad Street.

Lewis, CARES and several other organizations began the outreach effort to homeless people with pets earlier this summer.

Though they are struggling themselves in harsh living conditions, many homeless people keep animals.

Said Bob Francis, head of Joseph's House, a Brooksville nonprofit organization that feeds and assists the homeless: "A lot of the people, when they go homeless, that's sometimes the only thing they take with them. They've lost everything and, basically, the pet is their last sense of normalcy that reminds them of life before they lost everything."

Homeless pet owners support Francis' assessment.

Lori, 53, who has lived for three years in a tent, owns cats that are 17 and 18 years old, and a 3-year-old dog.

"If you're hard up, do you give your kids away?" she asked. "For a woman living alone, the dog alerts me."

Coak, 62, has been homeless since 2007, with two older cats, Geronimo and Tigger, plus a 9-year-old dog named Sundance Kid.

"I had my pets in the beginning," he said, "and I don't have the heart to take them to a shelter. When I got pets, I took on a responsibility. To me, they're like kids. I've lost everything else."

Donna, 43, who lives in a tent, declined to give her last name and other personal information, explaining that her three dogs are a breed "people will steal for fighting."

Her purpose for keeping the dogs? "I justify it because nobody steals my stuff," she said.

"When I got my first dog, I had money coming in," said John Phillips, 33.

A former construction laborer, laid off a couple of years ago, Phillips keeps a 5-year-old pit bull, a 3-year-old German shepherd mix and a husky-pit bull mix puppy.

"I took in the puppy that otherwise would be put down," he said.

Lewis, of CARES, has met only a few of the pets she helps to feed.

"The homeless won't bring their dogs (to the food and aid distribution sites) because they're afraid someone will take them," she said.

Lewis organized the first weekly giveaway of pet food in mid May. By mid June, she had become known among the local homeless population as "the pet lady."

"I want to go one step further," she said. "I want to spay and neuter, vaccinate, give them flea collars, tick collars, leashes, set up a vaccination clinic."

Dr. Patrick Jones, a local veterinarian, is cooperating.

Lewis and Jones met the first pet among the homeless group when, after three weeks of Lewis' cajoling, Dennis Welch brought in Princess, a 6-month-old golden Labrador mix. Princess was spayed, received rabies and distemper immunizations and a flea and tick prevention application, and had her ears cleaned and toenails trimmed.

"She's the very first one to get done start to finish," Lewis said.

The cost to CARES was $125.

CARES is partnering with Joseph's House, not only in providing weekly goods to the homeless, but also in taking food to low-income housing sites in Hernando.

At Breezy Oaks Mobile Home Park recently, Troy Daniel brought forth Missy, a year-old pit bull he had rescued from an owner who had mistreated her, he said.

When Daniel, 30 and disabled, left his home in Arkansas in December, he said he had to leave behind with a friend his "Heinz 57" since he couldn't bring the dog on the Greyhound bus.

Princess received appropriate immunizations, plus a flea and tick treatment from the nonprofit PetLuv of Brooksville.

From Lewis, Daniel gladly accepted a sack of dog food.

Beth Gray can be contacted at graybethn@earthlink.net.

To learn more

Additional information about the Community Animal Rescue & Educational Shelter of Brooksville is available at cares4pets.net or at facebook.com/cares.rescue. Send email to caresrescue@gmail.com or call (352) 279-4953.

Brooksville outreach's aim is to assist the homeless in caring for their pets 08/23/13 [Last modified: Friday, August 23, 2013 7:05pm]

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