“Stay at Home.” That’s the order many of Americans—and others around the world—have been given.
The entire world has changed in the past two weeks. School closures means children are home all day. Businesses whose operations can manage it, have sent their employees home to figure out a way to work from there. Laptops on couches, reports spread out on the dining room table… and the kids in the living room asking for lunch, wanting to play a game… and the dog needing to go outside and the cat needing to be fed. It can all be overwhelming.
For those who lost their job entirely, they are now also at home, not working, some tending to their children, and left to focus on figuring out how to pay rent in a week’s time. Many Americans live paycheck to paycheck, and are only one missed rent check away from living on the streets.
And for those who already live on the street with no home in which to stay, what are they to do? Our community’s most vulnerable to the virus, many senior citizens, are unable to shelter in place because they have no place nor no shelter. Often, in crowded areas, a six foot distance between people is not feasible.
While the State is trying to find solutions to house those who become ill and are most at risk, life continues on for the unsheltered people and their pets. If they become so ill to seek treatment, who will care for their animals? If their pet falls ill, how will they seek treatment?
Bark Avenue Foundation has always been there for our clients. To keep in line with our State directive while still serving the community, staff and volunteers are working from home. Only our executive director, Christy Schilling, is going out to pick up donations and deliver much-needed supplies to LA Family Housing and directly to clients. She has little to no contact with anyone, and even the recipient cannot give her a hug in thanks or shake her hand.
But we don’t only provide supplies. We provide support that has no monetary value.
I met Joe and Erik and their two pit pups Emma and Precious last fall at a monthly UPP clinic. They love their canine kids, and despite a wrongful eviction and living on the streets for over a year, they never once considered giving up their girls. LA Family Housing helped overturn their eviction a few years ago, but with Joe’s medical conditions making it impossible to make ends meet, Joe and Erik have been receiving assistance from them ever since. Last year, Bark Avenue Foundation began providing assistance to Emma and Precious who started developing medical issues of their own.
Most recently, Emma started to develop skin growths and was having seizures. BAF assisted them with vet care and medications, but the cause had yet to be found. Yesterday, Erik called Christy to say Emma had taken a turn for the worse again. While Emma had been taking her anti-seizure medicine as prescribed, the medication wasn’t working. She suffered five seizures, lost bladder control and lost the ability to use her back legs that morning. She needed to see a vet immediately.
Currently most vets in the LA area are curbside. To avoid possible contamination in the close quarters of exam rooms, pet parents hand over their pet and then wait in the car while the examination takes place. Not ideal in this situation which didn’t look like it would end well.
Christy spent the morning calling veterinarians to find one who would take Emma in immediately, and not only that, but if the decision was what she feared, that Joe and Erik could be in the room with her in her final moments.
Many calls later, Christy finally found one. Christy paid for the vet visit over the phone, and the doctor examined Emma. Together Joe, Erik, and the vet concluded that the kindest thing would be to say goodbye to Emma. There was no cure; no treatment. They had done all they could for her. It was time.
It is not the outcome anyone wanted. But it was the compassionate choice. If BAF hadn’t been able to help, Emma would have suffered and her devoted guardians would have as well; the pain of not being able to help a loved one runs deep. Not being there when she crossed over would have been devastating.
It will be a rough night, and a rough week, and even months for Emma’s dads and her sister Precious as they grieve and mourn her loss—all the while trying to survive, and trying their best to keep their family healthy.
There will be much loss and much grieving for many in the coming months. But we can stem the tide by doing as authorities have ordered: stay at home. For those who have no home, are in emergency housing or receiving housing assistance, we, as a community, need to protect and help them. Helping them is protecting the community as a whole. We don’t want to be calling for fosters when their guardians are put in hospitals, or worse, calling for adoptive homes for those guardians who do not make it out of the hospital. We can avoid that by keeping them healthy now.
The people in our community experiencing homelessness are a strong and determined demographic. Some have survived domestic violence and escaped; some have made it through cancer treatments, but then subsequently lost their homes paying for those treatments; some are veterans who have seen and experienced horrors we cannot imagine; yet all continue to survive. They do so not on their own, but with the services our community provides: housing and food pantries; and for their pets, Bark Avenue Foundation.
BAF strives to keep people and their pets together. For the pets, their people are home. They do not know a global pandemic threatens their persons. They’ve been through everything with their people and would go to the ends of the earth to keep them safe—just as their people would do for them. But the pets cannot protect their people from this; which is why we need to do it for them.
It is a trying time, and the last thing on anyone’s mind is donating. We are all struggling in our own new realities—juggling work and childcare and home schooling, or just trying to figure out where to get the money to pay for our next meal. It is difficult for all. We implore those who are still on solid ground to please give what you can if you can. We want to continue to be here for all those we currently assist, and also for you, should you need us down the road.
Please come together with us (while being safely at least six feet apart), to provide for those whose struggle to stay with their pets just got a whole lot harder.
Please go to Kindest.com to donate. They are matching the first $100. Donations of any size are appreciated.
In loving memory of Emma.
Stephanie Wescott is a freelance writer whose mission is to save animals’ lives through story. Although she hails from New England and resides in Southern California, you’ll mostly likely find her somewhere in between on the open road with her canine companion Tucker, searching for trails to hike and stories to tell. You can follow their tracks and read their tales at www.alltuckeredout.org.