More than three years ago, I rescued an older, injured dog named Mabel . I found her on the side of the road, in the middle of the Rio de Janeiro forest, as she struggled to walk.
At the time, my husband, David Miranda, and I already had seven dogs, so we thought, by adopting Mabel, that we were simply adding one more. We quickly learned, however, that Mabel was pregnant — very pregnant — with six puppies, which meant we had actually, and quite unintentionally, doubled our pack in one day, to 14 dogs.
We were able to find amazing homes in the U.S. for four of Mable’s six puppies, and kept two for ourselves. Several of the families who adopted Mable’s puppies described how those puppies enriched their lives.
Since then, animal rescue and animal rights activism has become an increasingly important part of our lives. Our pack has grown to 23 dogs — our limit, we swear! And we have picked up, fostered and placed for adoption dozens more. Each rescue is uniquely fulfilling and gratifying.
In the last two years, our work with animals has taken on a new focus: working with
homeless people who live on the streets with their pets . At first glance, this situation can seem grim and depressing: Many assume that animals who live on the street with homeless companions are mistreated or deprived.
But, far more often, the truth is the opposite: The bond that forms between homeless people and their homeless pets is often strong, deep and more profound than many can imagine. The mutual need, and resulting intense devotion, that homeless people and their animals develop for one another is inspiring and can be unlike what one might find in any other context.
The compassion, empathy and self-sacrifice defining the relationship between those who are homeless and their pets is extraordinary. It is difficult to explain how affecting it is to watch a hungry, homeless person receive a desperately needed meal and, without a second thought, instantly divide it in half to share it with their hungry dog or cat. Leslie Irvine, a sociology professor at the University of Colorado, has devoted much of her academic career to studying this unique relationship, and even named her book on the topic, “My Dog Always Eats First.”
As this work became more important to me and my husband, we produced two short documentary films — under the direction of the film unit cocreated by Oscar-winning director Laura Poitras — that showcased two different cases of homeless people devoted to animals.
The first, “Birdie,” told the story of an ex-convict who now lives on the streets, selling fruit and devoting himself to the care of his two dogs. The other, “Karollyne,” detailed the truly amazing story of a trans woman who is the matriarch of a homeless family that squats in an abandoned building and cares for dozens of dogs, cats, monkeys and other animals — most of whom were cruelly abandoned by people who drove the unwanted animals to the forest and dumped them.
But the unique attribute is that the shelter will be staffed exclusively by homeless people who live on the streets with their pets and thus have a demonstrated affinity for caring for animals in need. By providing them employment in animal shelters centered around the passion they have already developed — along with social work and other services to aid them in managing their income and transitioning them from the streets into permanent employment — we believe we can utilize the mutual support that homeless people and animals in need provide one another in order to help both.
The goal is to simultaneously empower and improve the lives of as many homeless people and homeless animals as possible. We hope — and genuinely believe — that the success of this project can serve as a model, a template, for inspiring similar shelters in other cities around the world.