Puppy love. That’s what this story is about.
Puppy love, the kind that I speak of, is pretty simple: it is the intense bonds that exist between dogs and their homeless owners. For many homeless, dogs provide the unconditional love, support and even therapy needed to cope with the hardships of life on the streets.
On the second Saturday of every month, no matter the weather, you will find Sacramento’s homeless and their dogs queued up at the University of California Davis’ Mercer Veterinary Clinic next to Loaves and Fishes’ new Friendship Park. Lines can can be long, but for the homeless the wait is well worth it.
The Mercer Veterinary Clinic for the Homeless is a program operated by student volunteers of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. Since 1992, the Clinic has provided the pets of homeless individuals with basic veterinary care, access to emergency care, and pet food — all free of charge. Dogs are the primary patients far outnumbering cats. Dogs with medical problems requiring surgery, radiology or other advanced care, are referred to Clinic approved veterinarians in the community.
In My Dog Always Eats First: Homeless People and Their Animals (2013), Sociology professor Leslie Irvine provides crucial insight to the central role that dogs play in the lives of some of the homeless community. “For many homeless their dog is more than a companion. In many cases the dog is their only family.” Dogs give many homeless something to live for. Those who work at the Mercer homeless animal clinic and Loaves and Fishes know this.
Over a period of three months, I was at the Clinic on second Saturdays photographing the interaction that occurs among UC Davis veterinarians, student clinic volunteers, the homeless and their dogs. In these images, you can see, and perhaps feel, the healing power, comfort, joy and companionship that dogs bring to their homeless owners.