‘Give a Dog a Bone' Week focuses on pets of homeless

Image courtesy petsofthehomeless.org, which is holding an awareness and donations week in Montgomery County. (Photo by Dan Lee)

LOWER PROVIDENCE — They’re not exactly strays, but they don’t have a place to call home either.

They’re the dogs and cats who depend on nearly half a million people who are struggling to survive themselves.

Up to 10 percent of the millions of homeless people in the U.S. own a pet, according to the nonprofit Pets of the Homeless, launched five years ago by passionate animal advocate Genevieve Frederick.

The Carson City, Nev., organization has collected more than 200 tons of pet food and supplies through nearly 500 collection sites across the country, which then distribute the goods to homeless shelters, food banks and soup kitchens.

“Some of our volunteers take it to the streets where homeless congregate,” Frederick said. “The need is great for communities to continue to donate to this ongoing effort.”

The week of Aug. 4-10 is the fourth National Feeding Pets of the Homeless “Give a Dog a Bone” Week, a time when the organization intensifies its effort to increase donations at community collection sites.

Pets of the Homeless volunteer Sherri Schilingo has been avidly taking it to the streets for four years now, dispersing pet food and essentials directly to the homeless and at soup kitchens like Open Door Ministry in Royersford, while educating the homeless about pet ownership.

“Summer is the slow time for donations and unfortunately now is when kitten food is needed most,” said Schilingo, who picks up donations that are collected at Trooper Veterinary Hospital, 7 N. Park Ave., Lower Providence, and Pet Valu, Audubon Square Shopping Center, 2660 Egypt Road, Audubon.

“It’s hard to get people to donate in the summer. But there are people who come to the vet and bring a bag of food every time they come in. And customers at Pet Valu will buy a bag of food when they’re there and drop it in the bin.”

Expired food and open bags are accepted, she added.

“If it’s expired within reason, we’ll take it,” she said.

Although many animal lovers may be confounded by the notion of a homeless person adopting a pet, Frederick noted, “If a stray dog comes up to a homeless man on the street and decides that’s going to be his new owner, so be it. I have no control over that. But if that pet needs help we would certainly help him, because that’s our mission.”

With its limited funds, Pets of the Homeless strives to get pets access to proper veterinary care, generally on a bus route that is convenient to a homeless individual.

The group has also given grants to veterinarians who visit areas where the homeless congregate to organize wellness clinics for pet vaccinations.

“If you have a homeless person who is working with a social worker, or just a homeless person on the street with a dog who needs medical care, if that person will advocate for that homeless person and give us a call to say ‘Here’s the situation, can you help this dog or cat?’, we will say yes.”

Frederick’s goal is for homeless shelters to wake up to the fact that their clients often have pets that need shelter as well.

“Unfortunately, many of these homeless shelters won’t allow pets. There are so few across the country that will allow pets that we are trying to bring awareness to homeless shelters of the importance of this. So we have said if any homeless shelter will let us know that they will allow pets but they need collapsible crates so that the dog can stay next to their owner, where they can get out of the snow and the rain, we’ll ship the crates to that shelter,” she said. “Once they see the benefit of letting the person keep their pet — because there are physical and mental benefits — and they go through the regulations to make their homeless shelter be a shelter that allows pets we will help them.”

For other collection sites and more information, visit www.petsofthehomeless.org.

Follow Gary Puleo on Twitter @Mustangman48.