When Claudia Dethman got sick, she knew what she had to do.
Dethman was in her early 60s, and the flu was contagious and deadly.
She was living in her car at the time with her service dog Christian, an 18-month-old Corgi who she loved more than anything.
When she went to the hospital, Christian went with her.
That was the last time Dethman saw him.
Christian, like most animals who come into the hospital, was sent to the Seattle Animal Shelter. Policy there is to hold an animal three days if they don’t have an obvious owner. It’s six if they do. Dethman went into the hospital at the beginning of February of 2018. When she came out, Christian was gone.
“I just want him back,” Dethman said, still, these two years later.
Dethman’s case is not an isolated incident.
This hospital, strapped for safe places to put animals that might endanger other patients if other arrangements cannot be made, send pets to the animal shelter for care. That is a risk for people experiencing homelessness who have pets. Without someone to help them or the money to buy pet care, people can lose the creatures they love and on whom they depend.
Joshua Trujillo, a Real Change vendor, has had similar experiences.
Trujillo has fragile health. He barely remembers the number of times he’s stayed in the hospital and his service dog, a Chihuahua named Bella, was taken to the Animal Shelter. One time, he said he had to pay $400 to get Bella out.
“I understand we’ve got the law for a reason, but it seems like the law doesn’t care about the effects on people who need to be in the hospital,” Trujillo said.
That time, a police officer came to where Trujillo was in the hospital to tell him his options. He could get someone to come pick up his dog or she would go to the shelter for safe keeping.
Sick and out of sorts, Trujillo barely knew what was going on, much less why a police officer was the one talking to him.
A different time, Trujillo gave his dog to a woman who he did not know to avoid sending Bella to the Animal Shelter — then, he nearly lost her. The phone number the woman had given him did not work. By luck, Bella turned up in the Georgetown tiny house village, where Trujillo has friends who recognized her and alerted him.
“It’s difficult for people like me when an animal is all they know and all they have known,” Trujillo said. He still tears up just thinking about it.
People who are ill and people who are in custody face the same dilemma — how will they make sure that their pet will be all right while they are put away.
“Just because they are homeless doesn’t mean they love their pets less than anyone else,” said Marti Casey, spokesperson for Doney Coe Pet Clinic, which provides free services to the pets of people experiencing homelessness.
Homeless people bond with pets the same way housed people do, but they may lack the resources to give their animal everything they need, Casey said.
“Veterinary care is very expensive, and boarding is very expensive,” Casey said.
The Goochy Project has emerged in Seattle from another situation that threatened a similar separation.
Goochy was a pup whose owner was medically fragile, needed hospitalization and was wanted on warrants. Cheryl Carp worked with Goochy’s owner and knew Goochy needed a place to stay.
“He was completely terrified to turn himself in on a warrant because he was afraid to lose Goochy,” Carp said.
Carp is now Goochy’s human friend — she took the pup in and took care of him after his original owner passed away. Now, she wants to be there for people experiencing homelessness who find themselves in the same situation as Goochy’s owner. It’s not the Animal Shelter or hospital’s fault that they can’t fill those pet care gaps, Carp said.
That means getting homeless advocates on board to make referrals to the Goochy Project and have foster families willing to take on a pet while their owner is sick or incarcerated.
“My wildest dreams are that the Goochy Project has a robust list of fosters that we can call on at any moment,” Carp said, “that we are known in the provider community so if providers have a client, they can come directly to us.”
Ashley Archibald is a Staff Reporter covering local government, policy and equity. Have a story idea? She can be can reached at ashleya (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Ashley on Twitter @AshleyA_RC.
Read more in the Mar. 11-17, 2020 issue.