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Dublin: 13 °C Friday 17 August, 2018
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Opinion: A man and his dog – being homeless in Dublin

We bump into each other most days in the park, or outside the local shops. We are two very different people but we have one special connection: our dogs.

Patricia Tsouros

IMAGINE WAKING UP from your warm bed, taking a shower, getting freshly dressed, and heading out on your life’s path. At the end of the day, you return to the safety of your home. These are all basic needs that many people need and which we agree are fairly ordinary expectations. Shelter, clothes, food, education and family are all things that we usually take for granted and things that every person deserves.

Now imagine your normal, everyday routine being taken away from you. Imagine that for whatever reason – alcohol, drugs, addiction, mental illness – all of these essentials are gone from your life and you now face every day with society turned away from you, no home, no sanctuary.

I know such person; I have formed an engagement with him, I can’t call it a friendship. We bump into each other most days in the park, or outside the local shops. We are two very different people and with vastly different lives, but with one special connection – our dogs. Our daily chats are inevitably about our dogs; however, these apparently innocuous chats have given me a profound glimpse of his life. He is a weary-looking, attractive man who stands at an intersection of life with his backpack at his feet or on his back, quite often intoxicated. Always with him, curled up or playing, is his pit bull terrier, unfazed by the passing pedestrians and traffic.

He had ambitions and dreams

He lives on a park bench, and his most important belonging is his radio. He is highly intelligent, and we chat about all the latest news. He is articulate and passionate. He had ambitions and dreams. He remains optimistic and is always smiling, no matter what state of sobriety. He is surprisingly refined never asking or looking for anything. He tells me that people are frightened of him and deliberately avoid contact with him or his pit bull terrier. This perception of him by the public is understandable, but two more gentle souls are not easily found.

“Mark,” for the purpose of this story, and his pit bull terrier “Nutter” found each other in the loneliness of their homeless lives. Mark is devoted to Nutter and keeps him close with a leather collar given to him and a harsh rope from which he made a lead. They spend every minute of the day and night together. Mark talks, shouts, hugs, plays, and sleeps with Nutter. Since most shelters don’t allow dogs, Mark elects to stay on the streets rather than part from his four-legged pal. They suffer the storms, rains, and cold together; they bask in the sunshine and enjoy long evenings together.

He told me he found Nutter a couple of years earlier and having him has philosophically changed his life. Far from seeing the dog as an added burden in the everyday struggle for food and shelter, he now considers the dog to be his pal, a best friend, someone to care for and who unconditionally loves him. He tells me all the money in the world could not give him what his has found with Nutter. His life is grounded.

We underestimate the importance of animals

So why have I taken the time to write this story? We don’t think when we see a homeless person with their pet about the depth of importance that pet is to their lives. We underestimate how important pets can be to humans.

Pets have played various roles in life: that of a friend, companion, benefactor, protector, comforter, and more. This world would be a very different place were its sole inhabitants humans. Apart from being faithful comrades, animals also have numerous other benefits for humans, as Mark and Nutter’s story identifies. Until Mark met Nutter, his life was agonisingly empty and difficult. Now, as he reiterates to me, “Nutter eats first, then I see what’s left over for me.” That’s the narrative of Mark’s life! It’s probably the narrative of most homeless people in Dublin who are looked upon as a statistic.

We forget that all those people have a soul and heart that need nurturing, which they don’t get from society but do from their pets.

Patricia Tsouris is a Greek-Irish businesswoman with expertise in the emerging contemporary art market and the Co-Founder & Head of Innovation at www.artfetch.com. She is a mother, dog lover, and traveller, with a passion for photography, poetry and politics and fashion.

Pieta House is holding its annual Darkness into Light walk on Saturday 10 May: find out more here.

Read: Homeless director says there are new cases of people sleeping rough in Dublin every night

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Patricia Tsouros

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