Three years ago, Janie Partain's church was feeding the homeless in downtown Fresno, Calif. But church members had little to offer the dogs and cats the homeless brought with them.
FRESNO, Cailf. — Three years ago, Janie Partain's church was feeding the homeless in downtown Fresno, Calif. But church members had little to offer the dogs and cats the homeless brought with them.
So Partain and her husband, Steve, along with a few friends, started showing up each week with dog and cat food to feed the animals.
Since then, the effort has blossomed into its own animal rescue for the homeless. Called Westside Rescue, the group offers the pets everything from collars and tick treatments to spaying and neutering — and sometimes even a new home.
"I never knew we had that amount of homeless population — and then I realized how many of them had dogs," Partain said.
Partain and friends she met through local dog rescues decided to form their own group to help the homeless care for their animals. The group's primary goal is to raise money to buy food and provide services for the pets of Fresno's homeless.
Some of the homeless people the group serves say they're grateful for the help.
Randy Little is one of them. Little lost his job last year as a watchman at a repossession yard and he hasn't found work since. But his dog Repo, a Rottweiler-Queensland mix, remains his constant companion.
He bought a month's worth of food for Repo just before he lost his job. The food didn't last long.
Westside Rescue has given them dog food, paid to have Repo fixed and gave the dog a tick treatment.
"They are a godsend," Little said.
Like Little, some homeless people keep their pets even after they lose their homes. Others got them from friends who wanted to leave the animal with someone they trusted. Some homeless simply bonded with a stray from the street.
The companionship of a pet makes sense, Partain said. Many homeless people get rejected by family or friends, but their dog will never judge them.
"They love you no matter what," she said.
Every Friday night, Westside Rescue members show up with pet food, vaccinations, flea and tick treatments, collars and leashes.
Even before they arrive, people and dogs of all sizes — and an occasional cat in a carrier — line up along a busy sidewalk outside of the Fresno Rescue Mission family shelter. Team members see few dog fights, even though the line forms in close quarters.
Besides food and flea treatments, rescue members also clip animal nails and offer veterinary care. And once a month, they offer spaying or neutering through HOPE Animal Foundation.
HOPE discounts the procedures, picks up the dogs and returns them to owners in downtown Fresno the following day. Westside Rescue has fixed about 60 dogs owned by the homeless since last year, Partain said.
Stacey Houk, executive director of HOPE Animal Foundation, said other animal rescue groups don't put as much effort into helping the homeless with their animals as Westside Rescue has. "They have filled a gap," Houk said.
In some cases, rescue members have asked the homeless to give up their dogs if they can't care for them. In a recent case, the dog of a homeless man confined to a wheelchair was struck by a car and needed its leg amputated.
The man said he couldn't get his German shepherd-mix the help it needed so Partain took it to a veterinarian, where the dog was treated. Westside Rescue is now trying to find a permanent home for the dog.
The rescue wants to buy a microchip scanner and microchips that it can have implanted in homeless people's dogs so they can be returned to their owners, Partain said. Westside also plans to bring a trainer downtown to teach dog obedience classes.
Partain said she has been impressed by how much homeless residents watch out for each other and their animals. "I have learned a lot from them."