Last week I read a piece in the L.A. Times that really bothered me. It was entitled “Hounding a homeless man into giving up his dogs” and was written by Gale Holland. There were a few local animal rescuers quoted within the article (Jennifer Pryor and Wendy Smith) and their way of dealing with this situation was both ugly and embarrassing.
The article centered around Gerrick Miller, a man living on the street, and his dog Sugar, who had just had a litter of 10 puppies. Shortly after they were born a rescuer (Smith) began videotaping the puppies and prodding others to drop by and photograph Sugar. Los Angeles Animal Services then began receiving email blasts accusing Miller of “operating a puppy mill for profit.” That accusation is just patently ridiculous. Further, the “rescuers” demanded that the department confiscate Sugar and her 10 puppies. Brenda Barnette, head of LAAS, replied that the dogs could not just be seized without cause, which is absolutely correct.
Just think… Do we really need a group of self-righteous animal rescuers deciding who should be able to have dogs and who shouldn’t? How subjective and outrageously draconian would that process quickly become?
Meanwhile, Smith continued videotaping Miller and his dogs, as well as different interactions that he had with a bicycle officer. Her video was then sent to Pryor and used as evidence showing the city’s “inaction.” Mind you, there’s no evidence of the dogs being treated poorly or being abused, and there’s no evidence to show that Sugar didn’t absolutely love Mr. Miller. Regardless, Jennifer Pryor let it be known that she was outraged that Barnette didn’t cite Miller for “breeding without a permit” or for “breaking the city’s spay and neuter law.” Wait, you mean the law that isn’t even enforced across the board? Why should a homeless person be targeted by a law that no one else in the city is targeted with? Where in the hell is your empathy?
Here’s an idea… How about promoting the concept that the city start policing their own ranks before harassing the most vulnerable members of Los Angeles? For example: How many animal rescuers are blatantly violating the pet limit within the city, but then turning around and calling other people hoarders? Any? I know that this number isn’t zero. How many animal rescuers are publicly condemning the concept of breeding but then privately breeding toy dogs on the side for profit? Any? I know that this number isn’t zero. Shouldn’t the department be focusing on them foremost? If a law, any law, is going to be enforced then it damn well better be enforced equally and consistently. Meaning, it damn well better affect everyone and not just target certain classes or types of people. That way we can all have a stake in seeing if it’s a decent law or a terrible one, and then have an honest go at communicating about it.
Jennifer Pryor is quoted in Holland’s article as saying “the homeless have become a serious problem of abuse and contributing to pet overpopulation.” Shame on you, Jennifer Pryor. That is a total misrepresentation steeped in exaggeration and completely barren of specifics. Whitney Smith chimes in that “if people are struggling, homeless and have addictions, another responsibility is not appropriate,” and that “it’s very easy to give a sob story for homeless, but the endgame for the animals isn’t pretty.” One of them also claimed that “homeless people breed Pit Bulls to sell as fighting dogs.” Ugh, total nonsense.
Below is a man that my girlfriend met when she happened to be carrying 1 of my cameras in her car. He would usually be very near to where she would exit for work, and he absolutely cherished his dog.
Dianne gave him a new leash, and he gladly accepted it and used it immediately. As you can see in the top photograph, he was using a pretty large chain. Should he be demonized for having a chain? Absolutely not. Offer him something to use instead. Dianne was very touched by the connection that this man had with his dog, and he was so proud of his pet. I could cite many more interactions like this and my point is that you just have to treat people like you want to be treated…
Just last week we drove up to San Francisco and made multiple stays throughout Big Sur. It was here where we’d see a woman walking alongside Hwy. 1 with her recyclables attached to her bicycle and her 2 dogs (below). We had to see her about 5 different times in the span of a few days. On our way down we pulled off to talk with her and then met her again at the general store where she was pulled off to get cleaned up. She was making her way to Carmel because she had been offered a job on a farm. Her name was Lisa and she had a little scruffy dog named Sandy and a Pit Bull named Baby. They were both adorable and loved their momma very much.
Anybody advocating to take these dogs from their people are authoritarian monsters who should be a million miles away from crafting any kind of policy.
Is there a homeless person out there somewhere in America that is being abusive or sending a dog to a dog fighter? I don’t know, I’m sure there might be. But does that represent 99.9% of the people living on the streets with pets? Hell no! So instead of all of that bad energy, where’s the offered resources? Where’s the helping hand? Homeless people are people without a home, but they are still people. How about you give them something else to remember you by other than condemnation and judgment?
Also, when does the collective blaming stop? People do it to different breeds of dogs all the time. People do it to low-income communities all the time. People do it to folks out living on the street and right here is a grand example of it. And these are all just issues linked to a dog issue. Sadly, my fear is that in reading the condescending statements from Pryor and Smith, many uninvolved readers might now move to typecast all “animal rescuers” or “activists” as control freaks or bullies towards the poor. See the perpetuated cycle when people group-blame? It promotes and greases the skids for further group-blame. Obviously they should stop the selective enforcement and move whatever mountain to end that load of hypocrisy. But until that environment manifests itself homeless folks should be the last people Jennifer Pryor and Wendy Smith should be out targeting. Yet they are always the first because they are the easiest to target and least likely to have any recourse to defend themselves. Most importantly of all, the vast majority of these people very deeply love their pets. That love is being reciprocated. So many of these pets were homeless themselves prior to striking up a bond with whatever person. In comparison to you, think about how much more time and attention goes into keeping a pet with you 24/7. To downplay these connections, to look down upon this reality, to take away this possibility is just utterly outrageous and offensive.
Thankfully the article does include a few voices of reason. First, from Genevieve Frederick from Pets of the Homeless…
A quarter of the nation’s 600,000 homeless people keep pets. Shunned by many, ignored by most, homeless people live lives of piercing loneliness. These pets provide them with something they need to feel human: unconditional love, loyalty.
And then from Claudia Perez, a skid row rescuer…
The problem is they stereotype all homeless people. Gerrick loved his dogs.
Notice how in Holland’s article it’s revealed that Perez is actually the person that convinced Miller to relinquish the dogs. She told him that they’d all be fixed and vaccinated, and that the shelter would hold them as his. She drove him to the shelter to see how they were doing. None of that access is by coincidence, as he trusted Perez and that’s directly due to Perez NOT judging him or treating him like a 2nd class citizen. Jennifer Pryor and Wendy Smith act in the opposite ways, and make up the “they” that Perez is referring to in the above quote.
The article ends by stating that Gerrick Miller was oddly arrested a few days after surrendering his dogs and is now serving a 1 year sentence in a drug rehabilitation program. Sugar’s puppies will very likely be adopted or rescued. Sugar’s future is unknown but she is most likely still at a city shelter. If you happen to have her ID# please email it to me on Facebook.