Branching Out: My Beloved Companion

More Than A Cone gives back to animals in many ways, but there are other animals in need that go under the radar because their owners happen to be experiencing homelessness. The pets of those less fortunate nevertheless deserve veterinary care and treatment, and we believe it’s our duty to find ways to reach them since their owners are mostly unaware of us.

25% of homeless people have pets. Why? For the same reasons we all have pets. Some may say that homeless people are undeserving of pets, but we’d argue that the homeless are some of the most devoted animal stewards in our society, and they are just as concerned about the well-being of their pets as anyone else. We’ve seen firsthand homeless people who’ve gone without for months in order to save for treatments for their pets.

So MTAC set out to try and figure out a way to create awareness and support for pets of those experiencing homelessness. First we looked for organizations that routinely provided outreach services so that we could study how their setups worked, and find out if our outreach program would be a good fit. We found LOTS (Life on The Streets) Ministry. They provide a free breakfast, and free mobile laundry and mobile showers every Saturday at The Crossing Church in Costa Mesa. Saturday’s regular services are commonly known as “Breakfast at The Crossing”.

The first thing we saw when visiting Breakfast at the Crossing were people with pets. Thomas had with him his pit bull named Honeybun, Steve was with his dog, Bosco, and Jim was carrying his teacup poodle, Fifi, inside of his hoodie. When we asked if they’d like veterinary services to come to Breakfast at The Crossing they unanimously said yes, and proceeded to tell me of their pets’ many veterinary needs.

We drove away convinced Breakfast at The Crossing was the perfect place for us to see if we could pull off a free veterinary services outreach program. But there was still the question of what to call it and who would help us. We came up with My Beloved Companion because that’s pretty much what pets are to people, and it’s a universally relatable sentiment.

When MTAC approached VCA about My Beloved Companion’s outreach program they wholeheartedly wanted to help. They immediately offered volunteer veterinarians and technicians to treat the animals. Then Henry Schein Animal Health joined, providing medical supplies. Soon we had KONG providing toys and leashes, and KVP providing e-collars. 

With our ducks in order, we still didn’t know how many animals we would need to provide services for. There’s an unknown component to doing outreach with the homeless. They’re typically not wired to online social networks, and, understandably, there’s a tremendous amount of skepticism among them. The most vulnerable in our society are always the easiest to exploit, and they’re well aware of that.

So how to build trust when we have little access? We kept in touch with Shawn Davidson who runs LOTS. MTAC designed a My Beloved Companion flyer announcing the upcoming outreach program. Shawn passed them out and spoke about our plans at Saturday services. His estimated we’d probably see 15-20 animals, but with advertising possibly 35+.

As we neared the program date Shawn informed us with the good news that he expected a good turnout. We prepared for 75 animals just in case.

On the day of the outreach program, while setting up bright and early, there was still a palpable sense of the unknown. Would anyone show up? But to our great surprise My Beloved Companion’s first community outreach program was a huge success. In the first hour we saw 20 animals, and by the end of the day 50 animals were cared for by the loving volunteer staff from VCA.

We all learned a lot. It becomes perfectly clear what’s missing when you’re in the thick of it. But the overall consensus was that we should improve the program. And later Shawn followed up with a report that everyone on his end was thrilled with the program, and he asked if we’d return.

Coda: For More Than A Cone, the “cone of shame” is a misnomer. The cone was designed to do good, but it somehow ended up with a bad rap because of how silly it makes animals look. By transforming the cone into artwork we aim to change attitudes about the cone, and in turn underscore how significant and valuable animals truly are.

My Beloved Companion is not only a community outreach program, it’s also an awareness campaign with the goal of changing attitudes about homeless people. Through the art of messaging we aim to find common ground with all animal lovers, and promote volunteerism. No one sets out to become homeless, and hopefully in our lifetime it will no longer be a societal issue. But it takes more than money to solve big issues, it takes the will of a people to right societal wrongs. And, historically, the will comes from understanding and relating to an issue. Engaging is the first step.

– Bill Rangel, Executive Director, More Than A Cone

William Schwing