In February, some people were sitting on a wall in Berkeley when one of them jumped off and accidentally landed on the leg of a puppy, HarleyQuin.
Shadow, the street name for HarleyQuin’s owner, rushed the dog to a nearby vet but didn’t have the $60 it would take to have her examined. Shadow left the office and hoped for the best, but HarleyQuin’s leg continued to swell. Shadow didn’t know how he would help his dog until he connected with a new Berkeley nonprofit Paw Fund, which helps homeless and low-income people provide medical care for their pets.
Paw Fund, which was started by Jill Posener, a photographer and former Animal Care Commissioner, arranged for a doctor to put HarleyQuin’s leg in a cast. It also paid the $700 doctor’s bill, although Shadow eventually contributed $210.
Berkeley has dozens of homeless youths like Shadow and many of them have dogs.
“It’s common for people without homes to have dogs for companionship, for warmth, and for protection,” said Posener. “For many people living on the street, their animal is their family, the one creature in their immediate circle who they can depend on to love them unconditionally.”
But since these youths often move from city to city and have to scrounge for food and a place to sleep, they often don’t prioritize their animal’s health, said Posener. As a result, many of their dogs and cats haven’t gotten their vaccines, are riddled with fleas, and produce litter after litter, exacerbating the number of unwanted pets in the region that eventually are euthanized.
On Sunday, the Paw Fund and PALS, or People and Animals Living Safely, will hold a free animal care clinic in People’s Park from 11 am to 4 pm. It’s an attempt to help pets by going to where homeless people and youths hang out rather than asking the owners to find a ride or take the bus to a vaccination clinic in a store.
The clinic will offer free pet food, collars, and other supplies, and administer vaccines (except for rabies shots). The groups will also hand out free spay and neuter vouchers and will install microchips in animals that have already been fixed. The East Bay SPCA is donating many of the vaccines and the Peoples’ Park office is helping coordinate the event.
“There is clearly a need for the clinic,” said Maya deNola, who founded PALS. “There are a lot of youth who do have companion animals and don’t have access to veterinary care for their animals. It’s not that they don’t want to give them the care, it’s that they can’t afford it. Veterinary care has become so expensive.”
Although San Francisco has a number of organizations that reach out to the pets of the poor and homeless, the East Bay is woefully lacking in this kind of service, said Posener. She first became aware of the problem about 10 years ago when she took her dogs for a walk on the Albany bulb. There is a semi-permanent homeless encampment there and Posener got to know many of its residents. In talking to them about their animals, she saw there was a shortage of medical care.
The first Berkeley animal clinic for pets of the homeless started in 2009, when deNola was an counselor at Yeah!, Berkeley’s seasonal shelter for homeless youths. The shelter allows patrons to bring in their animals, and deNola saw they were not getting needed medical attention. She formed PALS and enlisted the assistance of the Berkeley East Bay Humane Society and Berkeley Animal Care Services to offer vaccinations and other care. This year there will be four clinics offered at the shelter, she said.
But there was still a large unmet need to help the pets of low-income residents and homeless people who were not using the Yeah! shelter.
In January of 2011, Posener started Paw Fund (which stand for the Pets And Wellness Fund) with $25,000 in donations. In the last few months the fund has paid for 30 dogs and cats to be spayed or neutered and for 50 to receive emergency medical care, she said. In addition to helping Shadow and Harley Quin, Paw Fund found new homes for the animals of a woman who died, and helped the dog of a Wisconsin family whose camper broke down and who are now living in it in west Berkeley.
“By doing this clinic we will see less and less unvaccinated animals in the shelters and less and less unwanted breeding,” said deNola.