“I’ll be back. I’m coming to get you. I promise.”
Dhannie Crenshaw knew from the start it was meant to be. She found something special. Something that would change her life. Khandie — a blue nose pit bull found by a resident at the shelter Dhannie was living in at the time — was 22 pounds underweight and grieving after giving birth. That didn’t matter to Crenshaw: she saw in Khandie’s eyes a smart dog and faithful companion.
“I knew she would be easy to train as a service dog because of her temperament,” Crenshaw said of her canine friend. “She’s so beautiful in spirit. She’s very amazing and warm. She’s very, very smart — sometimes too smart.”
Before that fateful encounter, Crenshaw wasn’t used to stability.
“I’ve gone through some trials and tribulations,” she said. “I’ve had long COVID. I’ve been in car accidents. I’ve had my spine accordioned. I’ve had both of my shoulders pulled out and repaired. I was in a wheelchair for a year and had to learn how to walk again. I’ve had 95 percent of my stomach removed.”
Crenshaw’s housing situation didn’t provide much relief. After fleeing a partner, she bounced between transitional housing, shelters and being unhoused. Through it all, Crenshaw was never alone. Khandie gave her the courage to leave what she considered to be an unsafe housing situation and pursue new opportunities. She fondly recalls the day she adopted the dog in 2019, a week before moving into a new housing situation.
“One of my case managers came with me to the shelter, and I got my Khandie!” she said, grinning and clapping her hands.
As luck would have it, Khandie eventually led Crenshaw to Real Change this year.
“I was coming down for the vet clinic; Khandie had a UTI,” she said. Seattle Veterinary Outreach, a nonprofit that provides mobile veterinary services for low-income and unhoused people, holds a clinic outside the Real Change vendor center once a month.
“I had dealt with them before. I knew they were awesome,” Crenshaw said of Seattle Veterinary Outreach. “I found out about Real Change there and was like, ‘Oh my God! I gotta do this!’ I can go to school and take care of Khandie and not worry about a 9-to-5 when I need to study. I can take a break when I get sick.”
In her mind, Real Change provides not a “handout” but a “hand up.”
“You have to be invested in it, and they’ll invest in you,” Crenshaw said. “Everybody can get involved in it. We’ve been really blessed.”
The extra income from selling papers has been a lifesaver, too.
“Disability doesn’t pay a lot,” Crenshaw said. “You can’t even afford rent with it, and I still have to pay for lighting, water, garbage, dog expenses and everything else. There have been days we wouldn’t have eaten if not for Real Change.”
Together, Crenshaw and Khandie have had tons of positive interactions with people thanks to selling the paper. Little kids in particular are quite fond of Khandie (who did not respond to a request for comment).
One customer Crenshaw remembers was a man in his thirties suffering from long COVID-19.
“I said to him, ‘Keep your eye on the prize,’” Crenshaw said. “He had no idea you could get this sick [from COVID]. I said, ‘Yeah, you can, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel.’ I was able to pass on my perseverance to someone else.”
In Crenshaw’s mind, selling papers on the street exposes you to people at their lowest point. Because of her past struggles, she feels she can help them. Recently, she saw the young man again, and he appeared to be in better spirits.
Crenshaw is optimistic about 2023 and has set several goals for herself. She studies international business at North Seattle College and has taken several electives, including nursing and entrepreneurship. She’s a silversmith and hopes to hold pop-up shops to sell her work. She even hopes to borrow a Canon camera from school and use photography to tell alternative stories about being unhoused.
She credits the connections she’s made in Seattle for finding her scholarships to pursue her dreams.
“It pays to be kind to others,” Crenshaw said. “When you got that gift of gab, you’ll be amazed at what doors open up. I’ve been really fortunate and blessed in that sense.”
Khandie, meanwhile, hopes that mama will keep the treats coming.
Dhannie Crenshaw’s badge number for Venmo payments is 14667.
Arizona Hays is the Real Change vendor support specialist.
Read more of the Dec. 21-27, 2022 issue.