It can sometimes be hard to understand why a person who is homeless would have a pet. If they can’t fully take care of themselves, we might wonder, why add an animal to the mix? And is the pet getting reliable, proper care? The answer, says Betheny Green, founder of the non-profit My Dog Eats First, is that for people who have very little, a pet provides hope, unconditional love and affection. And, she adds, some people who live in beautiful homes in this city don’t take care of their pets as well as the homeless people she has served through her organization.
Green, who works with dogs and other pets daily in her Paws Pet Care service, was moved to embrace a different type of service last summer. While out to lunch in the Highlands, she and her son crossed paths with a young man with a dog on a rope leash. The man appeared thin and hungry, and Green’s son gave him the lunch he had just ordered. Before eating any of the food himself, the young man gave half to his dog. It was Green’s first direct encounter with homelessness in Louisville, which she says is “not talked about,” and it got her thinking about the fact that the man had nothing. Nothing but his dog.
After getting started by providing pet food and supplies to homeless families on her own, Green this year created a 501c3 to better organize her efforts. My Dog Eats First runs solely on donations of food, supplies, money and in-kind services. Each Wednesday evening, Green and volunteers meet at the Orange Lot at Waterfront Park at 7:00 p.m. to distribute pet food to homeless and low-income families. Afterward, they also provide pet supplies to people living in a tent camp off Campbell Street. “A lot of the people are veterans,” says Green, “and the system has really failed them.” Most of the pets are dogs, with a few cats, rabbits and ducks, as well.
Her group, says Green, has been “moved around” a lot, and asked to refrain from gathering, but has finally secured the Waterfront parking lot as an approved meeting spot. “People should come see and they will really understand,” she says. “A lot of it is a desire for conversation and companionship. Volunteers can also bring their dogs during warm weather to socialize.”
Green talks to folks, educating them on proper pet care and letting them know of other resources that are available in Louisville, such as free spaying and neutering. “They don’t necessarily know about these services, and they also don’t have transportation,” she says, so she has an agreement with Blue Cross Animal Hospital to provide free services for the pets of the homeless.
Green encourages Louisvillians who want to help support homeless citizens and their pets to first share the word about My Dog Eats First through social media. The My Dog Eats First Facebook page is frequently updated and a good place to start. Monetary donations can be made through the Web site, and a wish list of supplies is also kept up-to-date. Finally, Green will personally pick up any donated supplies, and often spends much of her own free time doing so.
“We have a homeless problem here in Louisville, but it is swept under the rug,” says Green. “And a large percentage have pets.” People are quick to judge, she observes, but by taking action, she has “fallen in love with all of them.”
Photo: Shutterstock Copyright: Shinseeho