3 Questions

3 Questions with Karen Cain of the Street Homeless Animal Project

Sometimes love has no address. Karen Cain is the creator and executive director of the Northern New Mexico Street Homeless Animal Project, a nonprofit that centers itself around providing quality care for the companion animals of the homeless population through necessary veterinary and emergency care, spay and neutering services, vaccinations, leashes and harnesses while promoting education and advocacy. Organizers believe that no companion animal should be hungry or in pain just because their guardian doesn’t have a roof over their head or money in their pocket. Cain sat down with us in an attempt to bring more awareness to the priorities and goals of her organization.

Is there anything that you wish more people knew about your organization or the issues you are trying to address?

I would like people to know that you don’t have to have four walls and a roof to love something, someone, more than your life. And that’s what I see on a daily basis. People will go without food themselves to provide for their companion animal and it is just heart-rending. I think it’s important for people to know how important and vital that is to so many of us. I think one of the things I’m proudest of about SHAP is that we have absolute trust out on the street with the community. We know people well. We know their companion animals well, their lives, their stories. Something else people should know is that it could be you or me out there, and I think sometimes we think that couldn’t be. The reality of that is that a chain of events could occur: a job joss, mental health problems, struggles at home. One of us could be out there, and that’s important for folks to know. We’ve had people from all walks of life who, for a variety of reasons, have landed out on the street. Other than that, we have a moral and ethical obligation to love, to care for and to help one another out, human or non-human alike. What we want to emphasize is that SHAP’s mission is to alleviate animal suffering and keep homeless families together.

What are some goals or specific priorities SHAP is trying to accomplish this year?

Obviously all public efforts were halted by the pandemic, but we are starting to ramp our events [back up]. What we do is tabling, which means we are out at a particular place in the city, handing out information—a wonderful way to meet new volunteers and donors. I love doing that. It’s really effective and you get to meet new folks in the community. I couldn’t imagine this program not existing. The level of suffering that could occur is frightening to me. Where would someone go if there was an emergency in the middle of the night? Where would someone go if their dog was hit? There is a reassurance in knowing that people can call us, text us, or email us 24/7 so that we can route a referral to Smith Veterinary Hospital to get them help as soon as possible. These tabling events are so important because they open the eyes of those in need of help from SHAP by giving them new opportunities as well as those who would like to dedicate their time and effort into our organization.

What are the most effective ways for Santa Feans to help? What sorts of donations could help alleviate the need for more urgent supplies?

The most wanted supplies out on the street are leashes, harnesses, bowls and food. With our biggest expense being veterinary care, money or donations to Smith Veterinary Hospital or SHAP would be directly put into an account at the clinic. Also, volunteers would be terrific in a number of capacities, so we can organize more public and educational events. By reaching out to Peggy Laurel [at nnmshap@gmail.com] and getting in touch with us through her, we can tease out people’s strengths and figure out what they would like to do and how they would like to participate in our organization, whether it be planning events or being out there on the street. We’ve experimented a lot with other [donated goods], and we’ve found they don’t work too well. We don’t hand out toys because we’re concerned about obstruction and animals swallowing something they shouldn’t. Prolonged wear of hot pavement booties can lead to foot problems, so it’s important for people to know that certain necessary donations—leashes, harnesses, bowls, food—are really most wanted.

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