Photography by Krystal Ramirez
For people experiencing homelessness, the streets can be lonely and people can act needlessly cruel. So when they find companionship with a dog, their pet can become their world.
“I don’t know who has more separation anxiety, me or her,” says Ronald Cochran, pointing to his dog Cookie, a 3-year-old chihuahua and terrier mix. The two have been homeless living in a tent behind a barbershop near Tropicana Avenue and Nellis Boulevard since November.
When people see Cochran and Cookie on the street, he says they don’t understand their bond.
Cochran has had Cookie for about two years. She’s gotten him through the loss of his fiancée, the depression of living on the street and suicidal thoughts. She also acts as his protector, barking and growling when people she doesn’t trust get too close.
“Without her, I wouldn’t have survived,” Cochran says.
Part of their survival is keeping Cookie healthy—a challenge for someone who struggles to nourish himself, let alone a pet. That’s where Street Dogz comes in. The nonprofit makes sure no pet has to be surrendered because the owner lacks resources.
“We will do whatever it takes to make sure the owner can keep that dog,” says Cheryl Noori, the founder of the organization.
A few years ago Noori, a social worker, noticed a homeless man with a chihuahua. She happened to have dog food in her car and donated it to him. Before that moment, she never realized just how many people who were homeless had a pet.
Her mere observation became a full-fledged nonprofit in 2014.
Run entirely by volunteers, Street Dogz started setting up at homeless outreach events passing out free pet food. In no time, it started offering free pet grooming for those who couldn’t afford the upkeep.
As Street Dogz became more established in the community, both among the nonprofit sector and those on the streets, its clients began calling anytime a need arises. Now, the nonprofit makes deliveries to people throughout Southern Nevada and has expanded its services to both homeless populations as well as low-income individuals.
“We easily go through about 500 pounds of food per week,” says Chelsey Conlin, who volunteers to do deliveries.
Along with seeking dog food (any and every kind, opened or unopened), the organization also collects collars, leashes, strollers and dog-specific clothing that would help pets endure the elements, such as shoes in the summer or sweaters in the winter. It pays for medical services that range from spaying and neutering to vaccinations, medications or any medical emergency the animal might face. On the rare occasion the dog has to be euthanized because of a medical issue, the organization will pay for it and even have the pet cremated for the owner.
Since last summer, Street Dogz has worked with Sunrise Hospital along with a few other medical facilities. If a homeless patient is admitted and has no one to care for their dog, the organization will pay to board the pet. It has even found foster homes for people who have gone to jail.
With its donations, the nonprofit has also paid for other services that have helped keep low-income individuals with their pets. “It could be building a dog house for them,” Noori says. “It might even be paying a $50 power bill.
They’ve even bought bus passes and helped some clients get jobs.
It’s those extra steps that make Street Dogz so essential.
Cochran stumbled onto the organization by chance as he walked passed one of Street Dogz’s recent outreach event. There, he was able to get Cookie a fresh haircut, a new leash and food. While he shares the human food he receives with his dog, having dog food helps keep Cookie healthy. And keeping Cookie healthy is the most important thing to Cochran.
“These organizations deserve a lot of credit for what they are doing,” he says. “I don’t know how I would feed Cookie without them.”