A guy in Georgia was on his way to work at an animal shelter one summer morning in 2017, when he was brought up short. Just outside the entrance to his workplace was a man lying on the sidewalk. Concerned, the guy decided to check if everything was all right with the prone stranger. The worker discovered the man was physically okay, but heartbroken at the possibility that he may have lost his best friend in the whole wide world forever.
It goes without saying that being a homeless person can be tough. But besides the toll it takes on the body, it can be emotionally hard too. Life on the streets can be lonely. As a result, it is little surprise that those without their own four walls seek solace and find good company with a four-legged friend.
For one homeless man in DeKalb County, Georgia, his canine companion was his best friend. He had bottle-fed his Chihuahua, Tita, since she was a baby. Consequently, as you can imagine, the pair shared an immensely close bond. So similarly imagine the destitute man’s horror when tiny Tita went missing in August 2017.
He was down on his luck already, but now he was completely at a loss. The homeless man had few ideas about what to do with himself after his best friend went astray. Two weeks went by, and there was still no sign of the small dog. So the man went to the only place he felt he had a chance of seeing Tita again – the local animal shelter.
The LifeLine initiative at DeKalb County Animal Services Shelter in the small city of Decatur had helped the itinerant raise his Chihuahua from puppydom. Consequently, the man knew that he could trust the staff at the sanctuary just outside Atlanta. So he gathered up all the money he could and bought a ticket for a bus to the rescue center.
However, by the time he got there, the facility was closed for the day. Having travelled some distance, the homeless man decided to wait for the shelter to reopen. So he settled down on the sidewalk and fell asleep for the night. And there he was, curled up on the concrete and startling Jarvis Smith, a kennel technician, when he arrived to start work the next day.
Smith roused the slumbering man and learned about his missing Chihuahua. The itinerant asked Smith if anyone had handed the dog in, and the tech had to break some disappointing news. The vagrant’s journey had been in vain – Tita had not arrived at the facility. But Smith was able to offer a glimmer of hope. He raised the possibility that the dog could have been at his organisation’s freshly established second shelter. But, unfortunately, the new location was in the city of Chamblee, some ten whole miles away.
The news came as an added blow to the dog’s owner, who had just spent all his money on getting to the first shelter. Consequently, he was faced with little option but to walk to the new one. “He was crying, he was upset,” shelter director Kerry Moyers-Horton told the Huffington Post website in August 2017. “He was obviously devastated.”
Seeing the man’s obvious anguish, Smith decided that he would have to do something. So the kindhearted kennel tech dipped into his own pocket to give the distraught dog owner the price of a train ticket. Consequently, the guy made tracks once more in his ongoing search for his beloved Tita.
When the pet owner arrived at the DeKalb County Animal Services Shelter in Chamblee, he was overjoyed to learn that tiny Tita was there safe and sound. The Chihuahua had arrived at the shelter five days prior. And when the man started describing the missing mutt to the workers there, they knew immediately that it was their new arrival he was after.
Moments later, the pair enjoyed an overwhelmingly emotional reunion. Shelter staff member Tracy Hunton Thompson caught the whole thing on camera. In her moving footage, the relieved man collapses onto the floor as his ecstatic dog jumps all over him with her tail wagging in a blur.
As everyone from the DeKalb County Animal Services Shelter looked on, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. “All he wanted was his dog back and, obviously, she was just as happy to see him,” Moyers-Horton said. “He was crying, she was crying, we were all crying.”
“You could see the joy in his face when they were reunited. It was wonderful,” shelter spokesperson Karen Hirsch added in an interview with animal interest website The Dodo later in August 2017. She added, “The joy for both of them was palpable.”
The episode obviously made Hirsch feel philosophical. She continued, “It lifted everyone’s spirit to see it. Love is love, no matter who it’s coming from,” Hirsch also had words for those who feel homeless pet owners are not suitable to look after an animal. She said, “He probably puts the dog first in his life, because without her he doesn’t have anything.”
Following the reunion, Thompson decided to share the story and her heartwarming footage on Facebook. “Never let a chance pass by to help someone,” she wrote underneath her post. “Our employees never do.” The video went viral and soon enough almost 800,000 people had watched the emotional clip.
Furthermore, the Thompson’s update attracted dozens of comments from around the globe. “That made my horrible week 100 percent happier,” one Facebook follower wrote. “There is no better love than the love you and your pet share! Awesome ending!”
Although Tita was in relatively good shape, the shelter gave her some medical care before handing her back to her owner. The Chihuahua received a rabies jab and treatment for fleas. Staff also gave her a new leash, harness and collar, but they waived the reclaim fee her homeless human would normally be expected to pay.
And the animal welfare staff’s kindness and generosity did not end there. Representatives of the shelter’s LifeLine Animal Project also offered to source regular food and medical care for Tita, to ensure she remained in tip-top condition. Moreover, the initiative would provide vaccinations, eye tests and flea prevention as and when they were needed in the future.
DeKalb County Animal Services is proud to support homeless people with pets on the community’s streets. However, Hirsch is reminded that not everyone sees the cause as a worthy one. “Some people don’t understand giving a pet back to a homeless person,” she told The Dodo. “But some of those people take better care of their pets than some of us with homes.”
But Hirsch had some advice for those who think animal companions are a no-no for a hobo. “If you see a homeless person with a pet, and are hesitant to give them money, you can give them dog food, or even flea medicine,” Hirsch said. “They also need bottles of water. Just basic supplies that humans and dogs can use. Their pet is sometimes the only thing they have in their lives.”