An animal welfare organization provided free veterinary care for the pets of homeless youth in Vancouver Sunday — and slipped in some help for their owners while they were at it.
Tasha, who preferred to only give her first name, has been living on Vancouver's streets. But she says there is nothing she wouldn't do for her dog, Bella.
"Some people are like, why the f--k do you have a dog when you can't even take care of yourself? But it's easier to take care of a dog than it is to take care of yourself."
Tasha says she has never stayed in a shelter because she's concerned about bed bugs and drug use. So she sleeps outside with Bella instead.
"She's the only thing I have," Tasha said. "Yeah, that's the reason I'm alive."
The Roxy's Relief program offered by Paws for Pets recognizes the important role many pets have for vulnerable people like the homeless.
"A lot of the time getting a pet has saved the life of people," said Dr. Shawn Llewellyn, a veterinarian with Paws for Hope.
Offering help for pet owners
And while the pet owners are at the clinic taking care of their loved ones, the clinic staff try to help them take care of themselves too.
"If we're able to harness the care they have for their pet, then we can engage with them to provide care for themselves," said Kelsi Jessamine, one of several UBC nursing students at the clinic.
Health care workers offer flu shots, dental hygiene, disease testing, and naloxone training.
But for some, it's not an easy sell.
"She definitely eats better than I do," Tasha said of her dog, Bella. "I eat chips and rice, and she eats the best dog food there is."
With files from Deborah Goble