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Paws everything! The pets keeping Curbside vendors company in lockdown

By Nathan Poppe, The Curbside Chronicle

Beware. This story has claws.

But it isn’t anything to get nervous about. It’s simply our way of highlighting the importance of pets for people experiencing homelessness. These photos and accompanying stories show just how much Curbside vendors care about their four-legged friends. Homelessness is often isolating and full of loss, but that doesn’t mean someone has to go it alone. Pets are lifelines both during traumatic events—like the current worldwide pandemic—and in everyday life.

Photographer Kathy Martin wrangled these creatures—three dogs and one cat—and photographed them with care. She often works with animals at a local shelter where stories of past neglect are common. However, Kathy said she felt nothing but positive emotions while working with the pets on these pages.

“Their pets are well fed, cared for, groomed, are often well trained, and very obviously adored,” she grinned. “As a photographer, while I was trying with all my skills and tools to get their attention, I could see in the animals’ behaviour where their trust and security is. It’s definitely in their human. If everybody cared for their animals the way these pet owners do, then we wouldn’t need animal shelters.”

Lauren and Tippy

Before Tippy, Lauren McCaffrey-Washa used to consider herself broken.

Triggers sparked by PTSD or anxiety would remind her that too much in life wasn’t going as planned. Lauren, her husband, and Tippy have experienced homelessness together, but the Curbside vendor credits Tippy’s unyielding devotion for keeping things under control and reminding her that cracks can be repaired.

Lauren and her service dog, Tippy. This dog is very well behaved and particularly helpful calming Lauren’s anxiety. [Credit: Kathy Martin]

“Maybe I’m not broken at all,” Lauren says. “Maybe I just need that support to glue me back together. It’s really because of her that I can go into crowds and not freak out. It makes selling Curbside possible […] She’s my super glue to the end. She’s stuck on me, and I’m stuck on her.”

As a service dog, Tippy offers Lauren both emotional reassurance and a sense of security. She’s a furry, four-year-old sidekick who can sense when Lauren’s narcolepsy kicks in. If that happens at an inconvenient time—at say, the bus stop—then Tippy leans into Lauren’s legs to keep her alert. It’s not easy for Lauren to feel grounded, but this Labrador Retriever mix has that power.

“Tippy is her own creature,” Lauren tells me. “I think the higher powers out there, whatever they might be, put things in our lives when we need them the most […] She is such a people dog. She really thrives on delivering comfort and bringing relief to everybody.”

Shasta and Jay Jay

Jay Jay is four years old and five pounds of fluff.

Back when I met this teeny, travel-sized Yorkie, he hopped into some February snow and was completely swallowed by it. Shasta couldn’t help laughing hysterically at her dog—but Jay Jay is more than just good company. He’s a welcome distraction to experiencing homelessness and makes living out of a car less draining. It’s a tight fit, but Jay Jay is worth it.

Shasta and her dog, Jay Jay. As a puppy, Jay Jay was small enough to fall asleep in the palm of Shasta’s hand. [Credit: Kathy Martin]

“If I’m at odds with everybody in the car, I can take him for a walk and play with him,” Shasta says. “He understands me better than most people. That sounds strange, but he does. He loves me unconditionally.”

Jay Jay was found wandering a backroad in Texas. At the time, Shasta was living alone in a tent. She relied on Jay Jay as a sole companion because she was separated from family. Jay Jay went everywhere with her. It helps that he can fit in a purse. Jay Jay was a bright spot during an especially lonely time for Shasta. She needed a friend and she found one she’ll remember for a lifetime.

Jay Jay jumps for a treat. [Credit: Kathy Martin]

Blue

Erick can count on one hand how many friends will be there for him no matter what.

Blue, the German Shepherd and Doberman mix, is on that list. Erick tells me that words can’t come close to describing the importance of a dog’s companionship in his life. No matter what, Blue has his back. For a year, Erick has been experiencing homelessness, and lately he’s been sleeping outside in a tent. A dog’s protection—and more importantly their reliability—make a huge difference when you’re facing a terrible situation, Erick says. He’s less upset now that he has Blue in his corner.

“They mean everything,” the Curbside vendor says. “Blue is my best friend. He’s essentially my child. If it comes down to only one of us eating, then he’s gonna eat nine times out of 10.”

Erick’s dog Blue. This dog went missing shortly after the shoot but was recently reunited with Erick thanks to a local dog rescue. [Credit: Kathy Martin]

These feelings made losing Blue especially hard on Erick. In February, just a week after this photo was taken for this article, Erick visited Penn Square Mall with Blue. He tied the dog to a tree outside of Dillard’s. Blue was gone after Erick made a quick visit inside to replace his cellphone. Erick was heartbroken. He had no luck locating the dog until mid-March, when Blue was discovered through the Oklahoma Humane Society. Erick has already planned a reunion to celebrate.

“Blue loves pizza,” Erick grins. “When I get him back, we’re going to get pizza.”

Jamie and Jazzy

Jamie has been trying to get a good picture of her cat for the better part of eight years.

It can be difficult to get this house cat to sit still. Jazzy plays by her own rules and will lick at unguarded Blow Pop suckers if you’re not careful. But despite her feisty nature, she’s a sweet, furry friend with a brilliant white spot at the end of her tail. She was almost named Paintbrush because of this distinctive mark. Jamie grew up surrounded by cats for much of her life, but Jazzy is one of a kind. Being an anxiety reducer is one of her most special talents.

Jamie and her cat, Jazzy. One of Jazzy’s favorite treats is an unguarded lollipop. [Credit: Kathy Martin]

“At night, she’ll lay on my left side—it’s always my left side—and just cuddle,” Jamie says. “It makes me feel secure even though I know it’s making her feel secure, too. She can sense when someone’s upset […] She’s very loving and caring. She’s my fur baby.”

Jazzy was rescued from a Midwest City shelter several years ago and given to Jamie as a gift. The cat reminds her of a late, dear friend. After nearly a decade, there are lots of memories and emotions tied to Jazzy. Just the thought of giving this cat up makes Jamie tear up. The two were separated for a few weeks last year, but they were united after Jamie found a new apartment. The Curbside vendor feels lucky to have Jazzy back by her side—on her left side, to be exact.

Find out how to support The Curbside Chronicle, and all street papers and their vendors, through the coronavirus crisis here.