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Paws everything: Curbside vendors share what their furry friends mean to them

By Nathan Poppe, The Curbside Chronicle

The editors of The Curbside Chronicle make room in every issue to share personal stories from Curbside vendors, as their goal to document the challenges of homelessness. Homelessness can be an extremely difficult path and going it alone is never easy, which is why readers might notice that some of the magazine’s vendors have pets. In a series of conversations with Curbside vendors, we find out more about the furballs who have wagged their way into vendors hearts and become an integral part of the Curbside community.

Mildred and Poppy

Not everything in a junkyard is worth throwing away, as Mildred and her late husband discovered. That’s where they first found Poppy. As a kitten, he was originally named Popcorn because of his rambunctious attitude and habit of bouncing all around the house. The cat’s now been in Mildred’s family for an eventful 12 years. Poppy was there for Mildred when her husband passed away. He also stuck by Mildred’s side when she was experiencing homelessness and taking refuge in a warehouse. Nowadays, the two share an apartment in Northwest OKC [Oklahoma City] and Poppy tends to Mildred with affection when she’s feeling under the weather.

How did Poppy come into your life?

Mildred: I got him at the junk yard across the street from the Jesus House. I was walking there; me and my husband. They gave me Poppy. I kept him and I fed him with a bottle. He’s been in our family for 12 years.

That’s a long time! So how did he get the name Poppy?

He was real rambunctious when he was a kitten. He got some Alpo [a brand-name pet food] when we ran out of canned cat food. We gave him a can of Alpo and he started shooting up the drapes. And so we called him Popcorn ­– but Poppy stuck.

I consider all animals family

That’s sweet. You’ve talked about how your husband passed away and then afterwards you experienced homelessness, but Poppy was there with you through that. Is Poppy a good companion?

Oh yes, he’s a very good companion.

What was it like after losing your husband and losing your housing? What did Poppy mean to you?

He means a lot to me. I love animals. They’re sweeties. He says “mama”. He knows when I’m sick. He can be real clingy when I’m sick.

You stayed in a warehouse with Poppy when you were homeless, didn’t you?

Yes, he was constantly following me around.

Are you happy that you still have Poppy in your life?

Yeah.

Would you consider Poppy family?

I consider all animals family. He can say “mama” very clearly. You run around [and then you hear] “mama!” [Laughs] If I’m coming up to the door, he’ll go “mama!”

Do you look forward to seeing him after a day of work?

Oh yeah, I look always forward to that. He’s known me all his life.

***

Mark, Rene, Jillian and Stormy

When Rene and Mark found Jillian, her eyes were matted shut. They thought the sick cat wasn’t going to pull through. “We had to bottle feed her and everything,” Rene remembers. The two used their magazine money to help with formula costs and to pay for Jillian’s medication.

Thankfully, Jillian made it and was named in remembrance of Rene’s friend who had passed away on the streets earlier that year. A little later, another stray kitten named Stormy joined the bunch. “How can you resist?” Mark says. “We have a love of animals,” Rene adds. “Our goal one day is to have a farm full of animals… They give all the love they can possibly give and never take it away.”

Last Christmas, a friend visited Mark, Rene and their fur babies at their newly-inhabited apartment. Their guest left wishing he could’ve been spoiled as much as their cats were during the holiday. “I know if I had Bill Gates money, I’d have nothing but a bunch of cats!” Mark laughs.

How did you guys get your cats?

Mark: Well, we found Jill on the curbside. We started to name her Miss Curbside at first. Rene was like, “It reminds us too much of where we found her and that’s sad.” We found her on the curbside and then we found Stormy on the curbside down the road.

They give all the love they can possibly give and never take it away or say a bad word

What made you decide to take her home?

Mark: Jillian was only about 10 days old when we picked her up.

She was really little then?

Rene: We had to bottle feed her and everything. Curbside helped with the formula cost and bottle cost with her. We went and had her fixed, Curbside helped pay for her medications and stuff.

Mark: When we found Jill, she was sick. Her eyes were matted shut. It was over for her, I thought. I’m glad we kept her, though!

Why did you name them Jillian and Stormy?

Rene: Jillian was one of my friends I had pass away on the streets about the week after I got my apartment.

Mark: And then we named Stormy because –

Rene: Of her grey coat!

That makes sense! What do they bring to your lives?

Mark: We’re happy to have them. [They’re] something to cuddle or hold on to and something that needs you – that’s where it gets scary.

Rene: Undeniable love. They give all the love they can possibly give and never take it away or say a bad word or anything else.

***

Dizzy and Country

Dizzy the dog has a knack for making days better.

For Country, having a companion makes everything in life easier to handle­– even experiencing homelessness on the streets of OKC together. The pup won’t go anywhere without his owner and even keeps an eye on Country’s belongings while he’s asleep. There isn’t anything the pair doesn’t share – including a big, comfy bed in their newly-acquired apartment.

Dizzy and Country. Credit: Nathan Poppe

You were homeless when you first got Dizzy and you were living on the streets. During the last six months of your homelessness, you had Dizzy. How did he change things for you?

Country: He made the days better. [He made it] easier to deal with people, things and life. [It was wonderful] to have somebody with me all the time. He also helped watch over my stuff when I’m asleep.

So Dizzy made a pretty big difference?

A lot. A whole lot.

What does Dizzy mean to you?

Everything. He won’t go nowhere without me. He’s my family and he sleeps in my house.

You don’t have family you stay in contact with do you?

Just my mom. It hard to stay in contact with no phone.

How’s it been moving into housing with Dizzy?

It’s been good.

Was that transition hard?

At first. Still is a little bit.

Are you working on training him?

Country: Nah, he works on training me! He ain’t a good watch dog but I don’t want him violent toward nobody.

How do you describe Dizzy to people?

He’s my brother. He’s my best friend. He’s not my boy and not my kid: he’s my friend. We’re equals.

***

Cathy and Penney

When the sun hits her coat, Penney’s fur shines like copper.

The boxer mix met Cathy at a gas station. The dog had been abandoned and was getting kicked around while looking for food. Even though Cathey was experiencing homelessness and living out of her car, she always kept a bag of dog food around in case she came across an animal in need. They’ve been together ever since.

How did Penney come into your life and how did she get her name?

Cathy: [My partner and I] were living in our car. We had stayed overnight at the Petro. I saw her that morning. People were being mean to her because she was hungry. She was trying to get into the restaurant and to climb into cars. I gave her a little food and there was a penny by her foot, so I called her Penney. Also, when the sun hits her, she’s kind of coppery-looking. I picked her up and put her in my car. She’s been in there ever since!

You’ve had her how long now?

She was 2 months old and now she’s 15 months, so we’ve had her 13 months.

Cathy and Penney. Credit: Nathan Poppe

Has she been a good companion?

She’s a very good companion. A lot of times, people don’t understand that when you’re homeless, sometimes you just need something you can sit and be with. For a lot of homeless people, an animal is all that they have to love them. They feel that they’re not loved and they end up with a companion that they don’t turn loose. Their dogs are always with them.

Does Penney bring love into your life?

Lots of love! And she gives me something to worry about besides my own problems in life. Animals are like kids and you have to make money [to support them]. I sell The Curbside Chronicle so that we can feed her what she likes to eat.

What does she mean to you? What role does she play in your life?

Oh, she plays a lot of roles in my life. I don’t like to go anywhere without her and I feel safer with her there. She means a lot to me. I can’t even give a full description of what she is to me. She’s my girl.

***

John and Prince

Prince isn’t royalty but he’s the king of good boys.

You can often find Prince alongside John as he sells The Curbside Chronicle outside of Kitchen 324 in Downtown OKC. The little guy lights up the sidewalk. John swears that he’s able to brighten even the darkest of days. Even customers say they feel better when Prince is around. The duo take care of each other, and John’s proud to say Prince never falls behind on his shots. They’re a team.

How’d you choose the name Prince for your dog?

John: When I picked him up, the reason he got his name was because he was the unique one of the bunch. He was the only one with the white on his chest, paws and the tip of his tail. He just looked like a Prince!

How did you get Prince?

Another lady that was homeless, her name is Gypsy, her dog had given birth to some pups. This was right after we got [our other dog] Babyboy. Gypsy made a deal with us: $20 bucks and we could have a pup. Since then, he’s been homeless with me and he’s lived in a slumlord’s boarding house with me. I’ve been back on the streets again, but then last 16 months we’ve been blessed and in our own spot.

John and Prince. Credit: Nathan Poppe

You have been in housing for a while now, but at the start he was outside with you. Where were you staying when you were outside with Prince?

The woods. Then when we got into a boarding house. We stayed in a cubby hole on Main and Indiana. We did that because it was the safest place for me when the weather was bad, you know?

How did it feel to have him with you on the street?

It felt safe. It was good to have a companion.

What does Prince mean to you?

Well, he’s my child: number one. I’ll do anything for him. Some days he eats better than I do. He’s already started out better than I did this morning: he got two pieces of turkey and two eggs! I take care of him, you know? He’s never been behind on his shots. I do pride myself on that.

What’s it like bringing Prince to work with you?

I can tell the difference when he’s out here [with me]. I get asked about him. [My customers] are so used to seeing him around here.

Does he lay next to you while you sell the magazine?

I’ll pace back and forth, and he’s never far off from me. If I go to the restroom, someone will watch him for me. He’s not just a part of my work as a vendor. [He helps with] the things that I suffer from mentally: Prince aids the medication that I’m on.

He keeps you calm?

He gives me something to focus on while I’m out here.

What’s it like knowing Prince has your back?

It’s really awesome. This little guy, he’ll just light up the room! You can be in the worst mood. I’ve even had customers of mine tell me that, although they might have something going on at the office, when they see Prince out here they forget about what was going on!

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