Local campaign helps homeless pet owners

By Megan Curran –

A new holiday charitable campaign aims to direct seasonal donations towards an often forgotten group of people in need: homeless pet owners and their animals.

“I want to demystify the idea that homeless people shouldn’t have pets, because a lot of people think that,” says Karla Briones, who is spearheading the multifaceted campaign. She is the franchisee of the Hintonburg and Kanata Global Pet Foods locations.

Karla Briones is helping raise funds for homeless owners and their pets. Photo by Megan Curran
Karla Briones is helping raise funds for homeless owners and their pets. Photo by Megan Curran

“They’re not taking advantage of their pets if they’re homeless. If you see them panhandling it’s because they’re doing it to feed their pets,” she says.

There are two main elements to the new campaign. The first is Joy to Their World, an exhibit of fifteen photos shot by local broadcaster Sandy Sharkey, which showcases the special bond between pets and their homeless owners.

Briones and Sharkey went on ride-alongs in outreach vans and were connected with potential subjects by the Salvation Army and the Centretown Community Health Centre. They spent time with the people they photographed and learned about the importance of their relationship with their pets.

“I want to showcase through the pictures, not that they’re homeless, but that they have a bond like you and I would with our pets,” says Briones.

The exhibit, which will run through December, launched at Holland’s Cake and Shake with a special event on Nov. 22 in partnership with the Community Veterinary Outreach program, a local organization that provides free veterinary care to pet owners who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. Over $4200 was raised.

The exhibit space, the prints and the invitations were all donated by local businesses.

“It’s a very local, very community-oriented, grassroots event,” says Briones.

A second feature of the campaign is the giving tree. The festive tree will be set up in Briones’ stores leading up to the holidays and displays smaller prints of the photos from the Joy to Their World exhibit.

The featured pet owner’s “wish list” for their animal accompanies each photo. Shoppers can purchase items from the list that will be given to the pet in need.

“It’s not that much,” says Briones. “Some people were asking for a squeaky toy and that’s it.”

Briones has set up a giving tree in the store for the past few years. Previously, the tree held photos and wish lists for pets in local shelters. This is the first year the tree will benefit pets with homeless owners.

The fundraising campaign has also initiated discussions on a topic many people may not have thought too much about. Briones says the homeless pet owners she has met would do anything for their animals. They don’t eat so their pets can eat. They don’t sleep in shelters because their animals are not allowed in shelters.

“These animals are their lifelines. For many people that I met, they’re their only friends. For the first time in their lives they’re learning about unconditional love,” says Briones.

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