My girlfriend and I get a text from Rachel that says she’s almost here. She has no transportation, so she takes the bus. When she arrives, she’s all smiles, gives us a quick rundown of how things are going, and then we let her be. Because we know what she’s here for.
Rachel is currently homeless. She’s on the cusp of getting back into regular housing, but it’s been a struggle over months and months and months to get to the point where there seems to be a sliver of hope. There’s something that keeps her going, though. It’s her cat, Daisy.
How much does she love her Daisy? She works two jobs, is homeless, but still paid a woman to house Daisy for her since she couldn’t bring her to the homeless shelter or keep her at an encampment. She loves her so much that Daisy is often the only thing to keep her going.
I first became acquainted with Daisy through SNKC, but also through the KC Cat Clinic, where my girlfriend works. Rachel had reached out to both of us, desperate, trying to find someone to house her cat. But didn’t I just say she was paying a woman to do that? I sure did. Turns out, the woman had a bit of a hoarding situation going on; when the landlord found out, he demanded that all cats (there were over a dozen) be gone by the end of the day.
Rachel boarded a bus up the north side of town to get Daisy, desperate to get her out of there before the landlord simply released her out into the wild. Or worse. That was when we were contacted by her, distraught, going to get her precious cat, a cat that she had no idea what she was going to do with now.
Unfortunately, neither organization was in a position to really do anything. We aren’t a shelter and don’t do any sort of boarding. KC Cat Clinic is a private practice, not a shelter. So, my girlfriend and I took it upon ourselves to take her in. The relief in Rachel’s voice when she realized that Daisy would be safe was palpable.
In the meantime, Rachel’s working to get a place. We bring Daisy to meet up with her every so often so they can spend some time together and so we can hear how things are going with her. If you’ve ever known someone in this situation, you know how it goes.
She has her HUD voucher and has been trying to get into a place that takes them. She has lists with notes that she carries with her everywhere; if they were to disappear, she’d be back at square one. The amount of buildings that are either full or have some reason to not take her voucher has made a dent in her lists. They make a dent in her, too, emotionally. You can hear when she talks about her prospects that it’s always a struggle to stay positive.
But when she does get to the things she’s excited about, they tend to center around Daisy. There’s this place with a big old window for Daisy to sleep in. She was thinking she’d like to get Daisy a big cat tower to climb on. One apartment has a little area that she knows Daisy would crawl into and sleep.
It’s clear that Daisy’s what’s keeping her going. And why shouldn’t she be? Her own life right now is filled with uncertainty and confusion. And danger. She works security, and has had more than one run-in with folks meaning to do her harm. It may be too much for her to hope for something good for herself; there’s just been so much disappointment. But if she’s doing it for Daisy, well, she can do anything. She can have hope.
That doesn’t stop the setbacks, though. The place where she’d stored all her belongings until she could get a place caught fire; she lost nearly everything. She ended up with a black eye over an assault that happened where she was sleeping for the night. She loses her place in a shelter because she missed church, which is a requirement, so that she could work.
But none of that matters when she sees Daisy.
“Oh, my precious baby,” she says. We usually give them some time alone; that seems only appropriate. When she finally emerges, Rachel always has a smile on her face, and is usually at least partially covered in drool from her sweet baby.
She leaves us voicemails to play for Daisy.
She has a list of things to get for Daisy.
She has old pictures of her and Daisy on her phone.
Daisy, right now, is her life.
This is not unusual.
There are hundreds of pet owners experiencing homelessness. Some of them are able to keep their pets with them. Some are not. All are holding onto what they have. For most of them, it’s the bonds they have. And that means their pets.
Honoring that bond is important. It exists not just among those experiencing homelessness; nor is it just the provenance of the rich. Recognizing and honoring that bond cultivates that which is human in us, helps us have compassion by recognizing our shared human experience. Rachel may often feel that her situation is hopeless, but I have her hope in my apartment; she lounges on a cat tower and drools on me, oblivious to the endless hoops that her human is jumping through so that they can be together again, safe and sound.