Being an animal welfare organization doesn’t mean we care any less about human beings. Often helping an animal involves helping a person, and vice versa. Our greatest joy is always when we can do both, and that is why one of our missions for 2016 involves helping the homeless, especially those who have pets.
In response to a plea from a concerned citizen seeking support for a homeless man and his dog, we’ve begun a program partnership with PATH (People Assisting the Homeless). We are proud to say that we’ve been successful in working with PATH to place Michael, a homeless veteran, and his dog Man-Man, into their transitional housing. Below you will find their story, which we hope touches your heart as it touched ours.
Michael Clark is a gentle, mild mannered man despite his tumultuous battle with drug addiction. He has lived for years on the streets for many reasons, one of those being our country’s broken system, making it nearly impossible for homeless people with pets to find safe transitional housing while getting back on their feet. This frail, sixty-two old veteran has a dog – a playful, forty-five pound Pitbull – named Man Man. A dog he could not fathom leaving behind. To witness their bond is something special, something forged out of earned respect and unconditional love. It’s the kind of bond you can see. They stick together, Michael as his guardian, and Man Man as his hope, championing them both towards a better life.
How does a good man end up homeless? In 1974 when Michael turned eighteen, he enlisted in the Marine Core and served for over two years. After undergoing a random drug test, traces of amphetamines were detected in his system and Michael was discharged from the Navy. Up until recently, this mark on Michael’s record had prevented him from receiving any medical assistance from the Veterans Association or qualifying for housing, which largely contributed to his homelessness. He led a colorful life in the years that followed, had two sons, got married and divorced, and then found himself in sunny California. Prior to living on the streets, for a decade Michael was clean and drug free. He had a business painting houses and worked two other jobs. After suffering a serious injury, he was unable to work and consequently laid off.
Michael is not a lazy man – a stereotype that plagues most of the homeless. He did however, fall down on his luck. We at Bark Avenue know that Lady Luck can turn on anybody. We want to extend a hand in spite of Luck’s fickle nature, because we believe the secret is to keep going. And yet, it is hard to keep going alone.
Once fired from his job, Michael became depressed, ashamed, and started using crack cocaine. “Everything closed in on me. I gave up. I wanted to disappear,” he described it. With nowhere else to go, he found himself on Skid Row, one of LA’s most treacherous areas. Over the next five years, Michael did what he had to do to survive, such as collect recyclables. Two years ago while rummaging through the garbage in an alley, Michael saw an abandoned, emaciated Pitbull puppy who’s face was covered with lacerations. He spent whatever money he had to treat the puppy’s wounds, and he decided to make this dog his family. He named him Man Man.
“He was a boy, but he looked like a little Man, so I just called him Man Man,” Michael told us.
For the last couple years Michael and Man Man have spent every minute together. They’ve slept huddled in Michael’s sleeping bag, sometimes in a tent or on the exposed sidewalks, if his tent had recently been stolen. Michael would often sleep while Man Man protectively watched over him in the dark. As LA homeless shelters do not allow pets, families are regularly told to take their pet to the shelter in order to be given housing. Michael knew that would be an almost certain death sentence for any animal dumped in the overcrowded LA county shelter system, much less a forty-five pound Pitbull.
Man Man was what Michael needed to go on. A cure for being alone. A best friend. But finding his footing back into the workforce and housing continued to be challenging.
We are no strangers to this type of story. Our founder, Melanie Pozez, has spent years helping homeless people and their animals. She has witnessed countless families who will continue to live on the streets just so they can keep their dog or cat. To many homeless men and women, people come and go, but their pets are their constant companions.
Up until three months ago Michael, had almost given up. But Luck turned once again, and Mary O’Grady, the new Director of the Bark Avenue PATH Shelter Program, spotted them as she turned off the freeway. Michael was panhandling with Man Man sitting by his side, and Mary, with years of experience rescuing and rehabilitating Pitbulls, was instantly gravitated towards them. She pulled over and was struck by how much Michael cared for his dog. When she asked him what she could get him, he told her dog tags and a leash so Man Man wouldn’t get lost.
Mary returned a week later with camping equipment and pet supplies collected from generous donors who responded to her Facebook post. She continued to check up on them from time to time, and a month later, she surprised Michael with a Thanksgiving feast that he graciously accepted and shared with everyone around him. Concerned that the cold temperatures and winter rains were taking their toll, Mary went to see them once more. Michael told her that he didn’t think they could make it through another winter, and Mary knew she had to act quickly. Together with Melanie, they pooled their years of experience helping the homeless and animals, and they moved this duo off the streets.
First there was a pet-friendly motel for several days while the process began to get Michael admitted into PATH. And as a new year approached, Mary and Melanie felt the power of what this could be – a chance to keep homeless people with their pets as they get the services they need. Just before Christmas, Michael and Man Man moved into their new home at PATH. Man Man is the sole dog at the facility, and his favorite toy is a basketball. Sometimes Michael sleeps down in the kennel with him so he doesn’t have to sleep alone. And just before Christmas, Mary became an employee of Bark Avenue Foundation, and a partnership with PATH was forged.
Today, Michael has found a path to healing and recovery. He and Man Man can walk easily on the streets, instead of fighting to survive on them. He hopes to be able to help other homeless people get back on their feet.
We at BAF have identified a gap in services for homeless people with pets, and are grateful to have initiated discussions with the PATH shelter in Hollywood to renovate their small kennel facility and replicate more happy endings like this one. By allowing people in need of shelter to accept help while being able to keep their pets, their family, countless lives can be changed for the better.
Here is to new beginnings. In helping Michael and Man Man, we found our roots digging deeper, and our organization growing stronger. It will take funds, professional support, and agreements with PATH in order for this program to move forward and be all it can be. Please consider supporting us as we help more homeless people and their pets get off the streets and rebuild their lives. To find out more about Michael and Man Man’s progress, please go to Bark Avenue Foundation’s Facebook Page.