When the building Diana’s apartment was in was sold, she didn’t think anything of it. But when the new owners quickly changed the pet policy to no longer include her dogs, life changed in an instant. She was faced with a choice: sign a new lease and surrender her dogs, or leave.
For Diana, this wasn’t a choice at all.
Griffin, a rat terrier mix, and Phoebe, a maltipoo, are as much Diana’s children as her own grown kids are. Abandoning them was never an option. She searched for affordable apartments, but it was harder than she ever imagined. Suffering from depression and social anxiety, she did not have a job and lived on social security benefits. Finding housing was hard enough; finding one that would allow her family to stay intact was seemingly impossible.
So at the end of the month, she packed up her car, and she and her faithful companions took to the streets. Her grown daughter suffered from mental health issues, and not wanting her to endure life in a car, she was able to place her in a group home. But she wouldn’t abandon her either. She stayed close by so she could visit her any time.
That was six years ago.
Since then, Diana and her dogs have continued to stay together—living in an automobile near where her daughter has shelter. Every time she thinks she finds a place to live, it’s “cats only” or “no pets allowed.” Two years ago, she signed up for housing assistance. She has been on a waitlist ever since.
She spends her days at the park or with her daughter, and her nights finding a safe place to turn off the car and catch some shut-eye. She will not accept any housing deal that requires her to give up her dogs. She needs them as much as they need her.
Diana provides for Griffin and Phoebe what she can: food, water, shelter from the elements, and love. She just needs a stable place for them to sleep, a front door to walk through. BAF cannot provide that, but we can help her get an ESA certification so Diana can never be denied housing for having them with her. She’s in this position because her dogs mean more to her than a roof over her head. But she never should have had to choose to begin with.
Every day, countless people are faced with this same situation, the same choice that really isn’t a choice at all. They lose their housing because of a change in policy or a change in circumstances. But love is unchangeable. And so they respond like Diana did: they pack up their pets and live together in their cars, in back alleys, or in tents that line the street. They wait for housing assistance, knowing there are far fewer options for them because they come with a dog or a cat. They refuse to go to a shelter for even one night if the shelter will not take their pet. They refuse free meals, if there is nowhere safe for them to leave their companions while they eat. Given a choice between their pet and anything in the world, they will always choose their beloved companion.
Some of the most dedicated pet guardians have no permanent address. They have chosen love over four walls and a door; they have chosen commitment to their family over protection from the elements. These are choices no one should ever have to make. But when they choose to never give up on their pets, then we, Bark Avenue Foundation, will never give up on them.
We will continue to be in contact with Diana, helping her in any way we can. Whether it’s vet care for 11 year old Griffin or 9 year old Phoebe, or an ESA assessment, or even some pet food should she fall short one month, we will not abandon her because she will not abandon her pets.
It is through your support and your generosity that we are able to help Diana and so many like her who will always choose love, because in the end, love isn’t a choice; it’s the only answer.
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.