Over the last couple of months — presumably related to the snows finally melting — I’ve seen an increase in panhandlers around KW. Not surprising, really. It’s a pretty basic reaction to cold and bad weather to find somewhere to bunk down somewhere.

However, I’ve seen an increasing trend, something I’d only occasionally seen in the past. And that trend is dogs. In past years, sure, every now and then a panhandler would have a dog with them. But this year, most of the panhandlers have had dogs with them. I don’t know if that’s connected or not to the fact that most of the panhandlers lately appear to be fairly young.

Thing is, it makes me angry. Panhandlers make me uncomfortable. I don’t like talking to strangers in general, and I like it even less when they want my money. (This does not apply to kids who’re out selling stuff for sports teams or school fund raising or what have you. I empathize with them.)


But, yeah, these kids with the dogs — it pisses me off. It pisses me off because, fundamentally, my brain says that if you are not in a position to take care of yourself, you have no business dragging an animal — who is completely reliant on you for the necessities — along for the ride. You can’t take care of you? How exactly do you think you’re going to take care of them? There’s a reason why one of the questions on the Humane Society adoption application asks how much you think it costs per year to own a pet.

And at the same time, I feel like an asshole. An entitled asshole. Because I’m pretty sure these kids aren’t on the streets because they think it’s the best place to be. I’m no social worker, but typically kids leave home because home is bad news. And if you’re homeless, chances are you don’t have a lot — money, food, clothes, shelter, family, friends, stability.

And hey, guess what? I have all those things. And I know, as fundamentally as I know I need to breathe and eat and sleep, that I need animals around me. My mother knew this when I was a toddler, and our family’s dog adventures started when I was three. And if I need and enjoy having animals around in my life of wealth and comfort and stability, I can only begin to imagine what it means to kids who don’t have these luxuries.

Having a dog gives them someone to provide companionship and security. Someone who won’t leave them, and is theirs, so can’t be ruined or discarded or taken away. Someone to focus on, to give purpose and commiseration. If it’s November and raining and the last time you ate was yesterday morning, your dog is probably cold and wet and hungry, too. It sucks, but you’re not alone in that. And getting shelter and warmth and a meal for both of you gives you motivation and an immediate goal.

But at the same time, my mind won’t shut off. These pets of homeless kids, how likely are they to be spayed or neutered? How likely are they to be up to date on their shots? To have wounds or illnesses treated? To be regularly fed a healthy and appropriate diet? These animals can’t talk, can’t really voice their own opinions on the situation, but don’t they deserve better?

And yet, they’re dogs. They’ve been domesticated for millennia. They’re man’s best friend and constant companion, and with the exception of by force, they’re not leaving their masters and mistresses. Come hell or high water, snow banks or starvation.

There would be no point in stopping on the sidewalk to lecture these kids. They can’t afford $400 vet bills and $80 bags of food. The Humane Society charges to take dogs (though this is not carved in stone), and if the kids just abandoned their pets the dogs would be even worse off.

So what do I do? Should I give them money and hope that that helps both of them for a little while? Should I ignore them and keep moving and seethe? I have worked at the Humane Society; I have worked at a vet clinic. I have seen the condition of some beloved pets, and of some unwanted pets, and, interestingly enough, the condition isn’t always all that different. An absence of that aforementioned motivation and immediate goal, I guess.

I don’t know. I admit that very rarely do I give money to panhandlers, with pets or otherwise. I don’t like things I can’t control at least somewhat, and I can’t determine what that money will go for. I am well aware that addiction is not exactly rare on the streets. I am much more comfortable giving where I have better choice in where it’s going (or at least I have the illusion of it).

So I see more and more kids out there with dogs. And I get angry. And I go home to my cat with his two kinds of specialty food and expensive grooming tools and plethora or toys and many napping spots. And I balance feeling like an asshole with knowing that it’s something that’s never going to be okay with me. I just try to inject as much gratitude that it’s not me into the thought process as I can.

4 Comments on The one with the waggly tail

  1. Toronto panhandlers seem to be fond of bigm, mean, growly, snappish dogs. I suppose I might want something that would help protect me too, were I on the street, but it adds another dimension of complication.

    Could always buy some dog food for them, I guess.

  2. You’re absolutely right, you sound like an asshole. Animals may sometimes live with horrible conditions, where they are certainly not given proper care – however, being homeless is not a clear indication of owners who neglect their pets. What about affluent pet owners who feed their pets, but rarely, if ever, take them for a walk? Is that neglect?

    Let’s expand our horizons, and think about the bigger social issue at hand. Specifically, homelessness and how it affects PEOPLE living on the streets and not just animals. It’s quite easy to be hypercritical and supercilious when sitting on such a HIGH horse.

    Note from Melle: I debated approving this comment. I don’t care if someone thinks I’m an asshole or says so publicly, even on my own blog. And I think the points made are certainly valid (if taking off into far larger territory than I was attempting to address). However, my issue is with the anonymity of the commenter. It’s really easy to be at least semi-anonymous online. You can hop up on whatever soapbox you want, and dial the sanctimony up to 11 if you like. However, if you don’t have the balls to sign your name to what you have to say, your credibility, even if the argument is reasoned, correct, and doesn’t resort to name-calling or other lameness, remains pretty much zero.

    I only hope it was a stranger, and not one of my friends, cuz that would be really sad.

  3. I know that in BC in the 1990s, panhandlers had dogs because welfare would give them an extra $75 a month if they had a dog, and having a dog meant you made more money on the street. That could be what’s going on in Toronto.

    I’m sure there’s the companionship component, but the extra money doesn’t hurt, either.

  4. I too am annoyed by it. For one thing I want to get a dog, and although I could probably afford one I am waiting until co-op is done and I will have a semi-stable life. And the other is that the homeless people with dogs are scary. I was walking home from Bridgeport one day (I live on the otherside of Westmount) and had to take the long way home (ie. not on Erb or Bridgeport) because a crowd of at least 6 homeless people all with dogs were being loud and obnoxious on the street. The twoonie guy is okay but when they get together in a gang it gets uncomfortable. Especially since all their dogs are loose

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