When I was organizing the Homes with Woofs event (we auctioned off designer doghouses and donated the proceeds to the Humane Society) I met Karla Briones, a pet food store owner with a heart of gold. (She owns Global Pet Foods; one of her two stores is on Wellington Avenue in Hintonburg.)
I found out that Karla was organizing an event called Joy to Their World. She’d come up with the idea of photographing some of Ottawa’s homeless people with their pets and teamed up with local photographer Sandy Sharkey and veterinarian Michelle Lem. Here are just a few of the photographs Sandy took, and a shot of these three amazing women (Sandy to the left, Karla in the middle and Michelle on the right).
Once Karla saw the photographs she knew they needed to hold an exhibition, and the exhibition quickly turned into an opportunity not just to showcase these gorgeous pictures, but a fundraiser as well.
In only four days, Karla had managed to rustle up enough silent auction items to raise $ 4,200 for a veterinarian outreach program on Somerset that provides care to these beautiful, loving animals. And talk about successful! I got there at 7, when it started, and the venue was already full. By the time I left, it was hard to move, there were so many people and more coming all the time. Incredible.
It was a wonderful and often emotional event. Not only were some of the homeless people there, but one of the artists who had donated to the silent auction told a packed room how she too had once been homeless, and how it was her little dog (I believe his name was Scrubby) and his unconditional love that kept her going. When she was finished, I don’t think there was a dry eye in the room and it reminded me that any one of us can find ourselves homeless.
Andy was at the event: this is a picture of him with his dog. He was homeless, but credits his dogs for helping him to change: he’s now housed and doing well. He says he felt pretty special last night and that that doesn’t happen too often.
There was a video presented in which we learned that homeless people don’t just love their pets, they look after them too; in fact, their pets are better cared for and in better shape than most of ours. The love and compassion in that video was extraordinary. I left feeling motivated to do more. And it made me think about what a neighborhood is, and what community is, and how fortunate we are to live in a city where we have that sense of community.
Our mayor, Jim Watson, is part of this: he popped by as well, as he so often does to community events.
So are the restaurants and small businesses and artists who pull together to support those other members of the community when they need help.
Last night that included Cake and Shake on Armstrong Avenue. They provided the venue and free treats. There were all the local businesses that donated silent auction items. There was the Kitchissippi councilor-elect, Jeff Lieper, who helped with organization and manned the laptop that was used to show the video and slides. There were those wonderful veterinarians who provide outreach to the homeless and their pets, and of course there were all those people who showed up to provide their support.
When you’re trying to decide where to live, remember this: it isn’t only the neighbourhood that’s important — it’s the community. Last night I was reminded why so many people love Hintonburg, where all of this happened.