As we developed this idea, the perfect opportunities seemed to fall into place almost like magic. Late last year, I wrote a profile, and produced a short film, about a same-sex Brazilian couple who set out to adopt a child, only to learn at the last minute that the child they intended to adopt — a 5-year-old boy — happened to have two older brothers, 8 and 11, also in adoption shelters. Despite their own financial difficulties, the couple adopted all three boys at once and quickly formed a loving family.
The father whose income supported the family, Francisco David, learned that his employer was going bankrupt, and he would thus lose his job.
It became immediately apparent that Francisco was the ideal person to spearhead our project. His upbringing — raised in poverty by a single grandmother — made him naturally suited to understand the plight of the Brazilian poor. That he had just adopted three parentless children demonstrated his eagerness to help those most in need. And his work experience — the job he lost was as a supervisor of construction projects — meant he had the ideal skills to develop a realistic blueprint for the shelter. So Francisco became the shelter’s executive director.
Then we found our first homeless hire. In March, I was walking in Ipanema, one of Rio’s richest districts, when I saw two young homeless men — Lucas and Wallace — caring for an obviously sick puppy with incredible devotion and tenderness. They had watched countless wealthy people step over the obviously distressed puppy until they decided they could no longer bear to watch her suffer.
They picked her up and spent hours going from one veterinarian to the next until they found one willing to treat the puppy for free. She was diagnosed with a serious, usually fatal, neurological virus to which unvaccinated puppies are particularly vulnerable. The virus was already too advanced to cure, but the puppy’s tragically short life was made so much better by the constant love and attention she received from two people who often have difficulty feeding themselves.
One of the two — Lucas, 20, who also has an adult dog of his own — became the first homeless person hired, and he is now working directly with Francisco to develop the shelter. The salary he began receiving has enabled him to rent an apartment and begin to stabilize his life.
Perhaps the most important development was the creation of a partnership with an agency in Rio, CREAS that specializes in helping homeless people transition off the street. As part of our partnership with CREAS, staffers will immediately provide temporary housing, clothing and counseling services to all homeless people hired at the shelter.
CREAS will then provide ongoing support to help the new employees obtain identification, open bank accounts, manage their finances and ultimately find both permanent housing and permanent employment outside of the shelter. Finding an infrastructure of social workers and other experts in the homeless population — to help them convert this employment into a means to exit the street permanently and create a stable life — was a critical piece to our puzzle.
We have also secured the support of a team of volunteer veterinarians, nurses and animal rescue activists to provide medical care to the shelter animals. In sum, there exists now an exciting foundation and a blueprint brimming with potential, to build this new type of homeless-run animal shelter.
The only piece the shelter is now missing is public support. We are initiating a campaign to seek donations and other forms of aid from those who wish to help get our shelter off the ground and sustain it into the future.
The central challenge we face is the severe economic and political crisis plaguing Brazil. Harsh austerity is being imposed across the board and, as usual, those who are most marginalized, most voiceless, most in need, are the ones bearing the brunt of the suffering. The few services that existed for both homeless people and homeless animals have been slashed or eliminated altogether.
In 2016, my husband successfully ran for a seat on the Rio de Janeiro City Council. He featured programs to help the homeless population, as well as animal rights, as a centerpiece of his campaign, only to find, upon taking office, that the finances of the city, the state, and the federal government are so dire that obtaining any funding for such programs is virtually impossible. One of the first announcements of Rio’s newly elected conservative mayor was the elimination of the office that provided services to the city’s animal population.
That’s why we are turning to the public for help. We were able to obtain modest start-up funding by circulating our proposal to several individuals who have a history of supporting both homeless programs and animal rights activism. That is what has enabled us to initiate the project, make our first couple of hires and begin work to get the project off the ground.
But more is needed to make this project a reality, and to fulfill the potential we genuinely believe can be achieved. We estimate that the annual expenses for the shelter — including medical care for the animals, and the salaries for our homeless employees — will be roughly $250,000 USD. We also have to either purchase or rent the locale for our shelter. We are still attempting to raise private funding, but now see that public support will be vital.
We are very eager to demonstrate the power of this project so that other similar shelters are created around the world. We will provide regular video and written updates on the homeless people we hire and the animals we rescue and place for adoption.
Anyone who loves animals and has ever adopted one knows what a fulfilling and rewarding experience it is. For those who live on the street — who struggle with the most basic needs and are often rendered invisible — adopting and caring for a pet becomes their central means of fulfillment and purpose.
To tap into that love and this unique bond, to unleash that passion and energy, can create unlimited benefits for both. We would greatly appreciate your help in making this vision a reality.”
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