Strangers intervene to help a homeless faithful to his dog | Regional
WINSTON-SALEM, AP — Among a population that has sadly faded into the everyday backdrop of a growing urban landscape, Spencer Parks stands out for a big reason when it begs near busy intersections.
Duchess, her sweet 120-pound Staffordshire Terrier mix, stands guard nearby.
“They say don’t choose a dog, let the dog choose you,” Parks said. “She chose me. This dog is my soul mate.
Because he is homeless – Parks sleeps in a tent for several nights – his options are limited when it comes to caring for Duchess.
For a myriad of health and safety reasons, overnight and emergency shelters do not accept pets. It’s the same with friends who have offered canapes.
You can stay…but you can’t bring your dog.
So when the cold, snow and ice erupted in what had been – until recently – a mild winter, Parks never considered going to a shelter, even for one night. “Absolutely not. I couldn’t,” he said.
Earlier this month, while considering limited choices with overnight lows approaching 20 degrees, a chance encounter changed everything. A single act of human kindness has turned into an avalanche of support.
LOYALTY WORKS TWO WAYS
No one wakes up one day and decides to go live in the woods. It happens gradually and then suddenly.
Generally speaking, homelessness almost always results from a combination of factors, including bad luck, bad decisions, loss of a job or family support, financial hardship, substance abuse and/or disabling health, both physical and mental.
“It’s complicated, for sure,” admitted Parks.
Among other things, Parks is dealing with polyarteritis nodosa, a rare version of vasculitis, which he has had since elementary school. In recent months, it has left him unable to wear a shoe on one foot and a painful, slowly healing leg injury.
(Polyarteritis nodosa is an autoimmune disease that attacks the vascular system and internal organs by inflaming and bursting blood vessels. It leaves open sores, constant pain, and is incurable. Symptoms are managed with steroids and painkillers.)
When he could, said Parks, 33, he worked in construction. He’s on disability now, but a few hundred dollars a month from Social Security isn’t enough.
For about three years he and the Duchess lived in a tent. His sister sometimes stays with them. “It wasn’t that bad,” he said. “There was a queen-size mattress with a topper, a sofa and an ottoman.”
Paying for food, medicine, and gas for multiple trips each week to a High Point clinic quickly depletes his meager monthly disability payment, so Parks begs (with a city-issued permit) to get by. to go out.
Curiously, that’s when his luck started to turn.
A passerby couldn’t help but notice the bearded Parks, his tall girlfriend and a hoodie with his picture emblazoned on the front.
This person stopped for a quick chat, took a photo, and passed it all on to a colleague named Maria Wood, a board member of FurEver Friends NC, a nonprofit organization dedicated to animal welfare. , as she knew Wood might be able to help.
And because Wood is who she is, she immediately started taking action by tapping into a long list of generous contacts. “I tell my dogs I’m going to work so I can pay for their house,” she laughed.
Over $850 was raised in a few days to pay for a stay at the motel. Dr Amy Pugh of Clemmons Veterinary Hospital agreed to examine Duchess and treat all illnesses – free of charge.
“Veterinary care is huge,” Wood said. “It’s not cheap.”
Once word of what was happening spread, dog lovers from as far away as Maine sent in blankets, a handmade dog sweater for Duchess and made sure food and drugs would not be a problem.
Not that feeding Duchess was ever a problem. She’s well cared for, so much so that when Parks said he always made sure she was fed before even thinking about her own needs, you believe him.
And the affection is clearly returned. She sits patiently beside him, watching him when he speaks as if she understands every word. When he scratches his head and stomach, Duchess responds by licking his cheeks.
The Duchess understands loyalty and returns it.
“People said, ‘Why don’t you just get rid of the dog? He only has a few years left,” Parks said. ” But I can not. I know I could find a place (to live). I love it. …
“It seems cruel to have taken care of her for all these years and left her when the end is near.”
Before any of those things happened, even before Duchess and Parks could move into their little Spartan motel room, there were a few obstacles left, the least of which was Parks’ physical location to set everything in motion.
AN EASY REQUEST
Once his coworker described meeting Parks and Duchess, Wood tried to contact him through a Facebook account that hadn’t been updated in some time — a total shitty shoot.
To his surprise, the message was seen and Parks called the phone number Wood had left. She learned of the area where he was camping, his ailments, and the challenges of finding a place for both of them.
But before Wood could go in person to get Parks, she tested positive for COVID-19 and got stuck in quarantine. (Is there anything COVID hasn’t destroyed?)
Rather than wait, she phoned Debbie Garner, another dog rescue volunteer, and asked for help. It wasn’t a hard sell.
Garner tried the cell number provided by Parks. It had moved into a friend’s garage for a few days and was harder to find. However, he answered a call from a number he did not recognize. She confirmed the news that a room had indeed been paid for and said she would pick him and the Duchess up right away.
“He was excited,” Garner said. “Before he could hang up, I heard him say, ‘Duchess, we’re going to warm up and Dad is going to take a shower.'”
Parks thought the offer was for a day or two. But it had become much more than a temporary shelter.
By then, what had started as a simple effort to secure a motel room for a few nights had snowballed. A month’s rent, the vet visit, and even help getting into a local healthcare clinic to eliminate long commutes were all offered.
Garner also reached out to a friend, Lea Thullbery, director of diversion and outreach at Cities With Dwellings, to see what the long-term options might be.
Thulbery in turn saw Parks added to a long list of people waiting for transitional/subsidized housing and was asked about other needs.
Meanwhile, the animal rescue community continued to fundraise to help offset the obscene cost of Parks’ own medication, collect camping gear for when the weather breaks – the waiting list for housing is over a year away – and to explore longer-term options to help other homeless people who cannot bear to abandon beloved companions.
As for those who have stepped out of their comfort zone, eye-opening lessons have been learned about the daily hurdles homeless people jump over just to survive.
“I knew, well, I thought I knew, after reading about it so many times,” Garner said. “But when you see it in person… being homeless is a full-time job. It’s exhausting.”
None of this is lost on Spencer Parks. He fully realizes that strangers have gone out of their way to lend a hand.
“I had started to lose faith in humanity,” he said. “But it’s starting to come back. I appreciate everything everyone does, believe me.