How Homeless People’s Animal Companions Get the Care They Need

A free DTLA clinic is a lifesaver for pet owners living in poverty

The corner of South Central and Industrial is usually bleak, with trucks grumbling past tents pitched on concrete—the suburbs of skid row. But on this crisp Wednesday morning a dozen dogs and their owners stand on the red curb, barking and chatting as they wait for toys, treats, sleeping pads, flea medication, brushes, blankets, and sweaters. On the other side of a folding table, Amanda Casarez shoves a plastic cup into a bag of kibble.


For many in L.A.’s growing homeless population, pets are their closest friends. “We have clients who are living in their cars right now because they refuse to send their dogs to a shelter,” she says, filling a freezer bag with chow. “They have no other choice. They’ve had their beloved pet for 15 years, and that’s their companion.”

Behind Casarez a half-dozen volunteers ready the day’s supplies for clients of the Pet Resource Center, a weekly collaboration between Downtown Dog Rescue, Inner City Law Center, and Los Angeles Animal Services. Before clients are permitted to join the weekly gathering on Industrial, they must first pass through the law offices on 7th, where they’re given vouchers for spaying, neutering, and other veterinary services. If they need a ride to the vet, they’ll get one.

Along a brick wall of the law clinic, Casarez chats with Carmen, a curly-haired woman with a puppy wrapped in a blanket. Carmen and her husband used to bring their pit bulls to the Pet Resource Center, but after he was killed in an argument nearby, she had to let the dogs go. Now she lives in an eight-person tent with her new companion, Sugar. The puppy nibbles on her finger while she lists what she’s lost over the years: her apartment, her car, her husband. “I don’t want a symphony,” she says. “I just need to let it out.” A man from Animal Services tries to help Carmen guess at her monthly income.

Not all of the clients here are homeless. Some live in temporary housing, others in more permanent situations that still place them on the edge. The law center’s attorneys often hear of pets being used as a reason to threaten evictions when a new landlord decides to reinterpret a longtime lease. Maybe the apartment is rent-controlled and happens to be in a coveted area like Echo Park or Highland Park. The lawyers move quickly to establish the pets as support animals and fire off responses on legal letterhead.

Casarez is reminded week after week how much the clients care for their animals. The previous Wednesday, an 81-year-old had a seizure and collapsed in front of the law office. His senior Chihuahua was boarded while he went to the hospital, but he checked himself out a few hours later to get his dog. Now Casarez is on standby to pick up the Chihuahua in case the man’s health fails again. “This program is not just 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.,” she says. “I’m on call 24 hours.”

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