I read a post yesterday on Facebook that caught my attention. A client of mine reported that a friend of hers was in need of some camping gear. But not because she was going on a vacation. This woman and her family will be homeless as of the 30th of this month. They need camping gear to survive as a newly homeless family.
You see, money is tight for them like it is for so many others. This family has beloved pets, some of which are service animals, and their apartment gave them a mere thirty-days notice that they would no longer be accommodating animals. The service animals could stay by law, but the others who provide them so much emotional support could not. So the family had to make a choice: get rid of the animals or move.
They can't stay, and they don't have the money to move. They won't sever ties with their furry family members, so they are making a huge sacrifice. They are starting over, Little House on the Prairie-style. They are saving every dime and waiting for their tax return to come. Through the generosity of others, they have secured a large tent and a few other necessities, but they need so much more.
Now before you judge...not that you would, but some might, and I know how these things go and what questions might be asked:
• If they don't have any money, why do they have pets?
• Why don't they just get rid of the pets so they can have a safe place to live?
• Why don't they get a better job that pays more?
Let me fill you in.
I spoke to Dawn, the matriarch of the family. She told me about her husband, Michael, her daughter, Kim (19 years old), and her daughter, Deanna (18 years old).
Dawn suffers from Ehlers-Danlos syndromes (EDS). Since our mutual friend who connected us also suffers from it, I am somewhat familiar with the disease, but, from what I understand, the symptoms and problems that arise from EDS are plentiful and infinite, and differ from person to person, so I would never claim to know all about it. The Ehlers-Danlos National Foundation describes it as:
"Individuals with Ehlers-Danlos syndromes (EDS) have a genetic defect in their connective tissue, the tissue that provides support to many body parts such as the skin, muscles, and ligaments. The fragile skin and unstable joints found in patients with EDS are the result of faulty or reduced amounts of collagen. Collagen is a protein which acts as a "glue" in the body, adding strength and elasticity to connective tissue.
"EDS is a heterogeneous group of heritable connective tissue disorders, characterized by articular (joint) hyper mobility, skin extensibility and tissue fragility. There are six major types of EDS. The different types of EDS are classified according to their manifestations of signs and symptoms."
I could provide you with the list of symptoms, but you'll probably move on to another post in your feed within the first...eh...twenty pages or so, so I'll let those of you who are truly interested in exploring more check out the link to the EDNF web site and see for yourselves. I encourage you to do so. In summary, it's like something out of a horror story.
What Dawn has been able to achieve is remarkable. She beat the odds and got out of a wheelchair she had been sentenced to for life because of her EDS. She was in that wheelchair for thirteen (YES, 13) years. She describes her victory: "I was on my way to hospice when I said I needed help. I could ask an animal for anything; people much less so." Then along came Bella. Bella was a neglected and abused animal before she connected with Dawn. The two are inseparable. As an untrained rescue dog, Bella learned 53 commands and became her service dog. "Bella made me want to walk and fight and so much more. I have been out of a wheelchair for three years and pharmaceutical-free. I recovered both kidneys and my liver that thirteen years of medications had all but killed off. I did it all with my pets, for my girls, husband, and myself."
Not to be chiché, but they seem to be the definition of "rescuing each other."
Dawn's daughters, now young adults, both have EDS. Now that they are both over 18, their Social Security benefits (like the kind people really need) are greatly reduced, so money is tighter than ever. To make matters worse, Deanna has autism. She will be filing for disability as a young adult, but these things take time.
So what about Dawn's husband, Michael? Where does he stand?
Dawn filled me in. "Mike and I were teenage sweethearts...we are disabled family...Mike also has a connective tissue disorder that the doctors are trying to diagnose. He is barely physically able to work part time."
Despite all of these tribulations, the family devotes their time to and has been glued together by animal-related causes. Dawn told me that she doesn't remember a time when she wasn't rescuing some sort of creature (I could relate), and that she holds a special place in her heart for the bully and shepherd breeds–the underdogs. She says "so often they are overlooked, but they are wonderful little souls." Even though their family needs, they give to animals. Dawn reflects that "I have been trying to save every animal I could, since my first memories. Rescuing reptiles, dogs, cats, birds, and whatever helpless being heeded me...our rescue driving has been grounded, as the van has over 160,000 miles on it now, and we can't afford to replace it. All we ever asked for our transports is gas. We did the rest on a limited budget as a family."
Sometimes those who need the most give the most.
So what about their pack? Let's hear about their awesome animals!
Seven: A therapy cat for Deanna. An elderly orange tabby.
Sweetness: An ESA/therapy dog. Helps the family to alert when Deanna is at her worst. This chihuahua also loves to cuddle with Michael.
Bella: Dawn's "pride and joy," as described. A five-year-old Anatolian Shepherd.
Monty and Snauters: leopard gekos.
Dawn let me know that with her husband's health decline and loss of part-time income due to his condition, they have financially slipped to the point where difficult decisions have to be made. She says "I am not taking my children back to low income housing where we were victims of crime multiple times...I looked into shelters, but none could keep us all together given our daughters' ages and the pets...So yes, we will be homeless, but only for a bit. I will not settle for this for my family."
Even at this bleak time, Dawn maintains a positive spirit and a great deal of hope. Once they receive their tax return, they plan to purchase an RV, some land, and build up a home with their own hands. She pictures it:
"We'll build up chicken coops for eggs, a barn for a goat for milk products, and places to grow fruits and vegetables year-round. Maybe even plant a small orchard for nuts, avocados, and olives. We will have to build up solar panels for power, and a water cistern for bathing and drinking. We will build planters and fill them by hand composting and building soil. Adding in greenhouses and cold boxes for a year-round natural food supply. It's going to be hard. Many would think impossibly so, but I have come back from death's door and proved many experts wrong with just that one act. I was also not supposed to be able to carry children, or to ever walk again. Being told something is hard or even impossible has never stopped me from giving something my everything until another path opens or I progress. The only futile thought is not even trying."
If that's not inspiring, I don't know what is.
So while they wait for their tax returns so that they can start the next chapter in their lives, they'll be camping. Right now, the family is working on gathering the essentials and minimizing expenditures as they spend their last week in their apartment. They are still in need of quite a few things, so if anyone local or otherwise can provide any of the following, they would be forever grateful:
• foster home for their elderly cat, Seven, who would not fare well in a tent.
• campfire cookware
• small camp stove or solar oven
• a few good warm, low temperature sleeping bags
• camp cots
Dawn says "anything will help, and everything is appreciated."
She didn't ask for it, but I would be happy to facilitate any monetary donations that could go toward purchasing what they need in this transitional period. If you would like to donate, we've established a funding page.
When learning about this family's situation and the sacrifices they are making to keep their entire family together, it makes me cry and smile at the same time. While some people treat animals as if they are last year's fashion accessory, easily discarded, this struggling family is making a huge sacrifice to honor the commitment they made to their pets. They may not have much, but they have each other, and sometimes that's all a family needs to come out sparkling on the other end.