When a pet owner becomes homeless, what happens to their beloved animal? Portland Rescue Mission, like most shelters, can accept only service animals due to health and safety concerns. The choice of keeping a pet while homeless can be a difficult one.
James has an unlikely reaction when he watches his gangly black puppy Bigera chow down on a can of dog food: His stomach rumbles.
“Sometimes there’s not enough for the both of us that day,” he said. “But I make sure she always eats. She has to. She’s what keeps me sane out here.”
“Out here” are the streets where James — who asked that his last name not be used — lives with Bigera.
They have been together for a little more than four months. At night they sleep on a doorstep.
As each day ends, James said Bigera runs back to the stoop and lies down as if she knows she’s returning home.
“I wish we didn’t have a doorway,” he said. “I wish we had a house to go into, but it’s what we call home for now.”
More and more, people who until only recently had somewhere to live are out on the streets of Portland with their pets, said Amy Sacks, who runs the Pixie Project, a nonprofit pet store and shelter for animals.
She tracks down homeless people in alleys and under bridges and makes her pitch as to why they should make sure their pets get proper care.
“It’s the economy. I am taking so many animals that are family pets,” said Sacks. “I just took in a 9-year-old dog, and these people were besides themselves. They had the dog since it was 7 weeks old, and they lost their home.”
Sacks said she knows that no matter how much she helps, the animals will still live on the streets since Portland — like many cities — does not usually allow homeless people to bring pets into shelters.
“It’s gut-wrenching,” she said, describing her work.