Pets Empower Looks to Prevent Barriers for Help in Recovery and Homelessness

Ten years ago, one might have come across Jordan Ross on the streets of the South End  or the Back Bay – holding a sign reading he was homeless and needed help.

At his side was his trusty and loyal black Labrador Retriever, Jazz.

As great as Jazz was, Ross said his dog soon became an impediment to him seeking services or trying to get into a shelter from the streets. Most shelters won’t allow dogs to enter, and one usually has to give up their pets if they want to enter recovery services.

Ross said he was at the point of wanting help, but it often meant giving up his dog – and he couldn’t bring himself to surrender the pet that had been through it all with him.

That, he said, is more of a concern among the homeless, addicted and victims of domestic violence than people may realize.

He said he would have never realized it himself if it didn’t happen to him. After graduating from Cornell University, he hit hard times and had to leave the family home with Jazz. That led to six months on the streets, and having Jazz with him made getting help harder because it meant giving up Jazz.

“When I was trying to get help and transitioning from the streets to permanent housing, it was hard to do with my dog,” he said. “That experience stuck with me and I wanted to help people going through the same thing. I had searched frantically for places when I was on the streets because I just couldn’t give up my pet. Most shelters wouldn’t allow me in with my pet. It really kept me from accessing help several times.”

Ross said he caught a break courtesy of the Stapleton House at the Pine Street Inn, which had formed an informal program to put pets of homeless clients in foster care. After living at Stapleton House on Harrison Avenue and getting his life together, he was able to forge ahead with his life and his dog.

However, he didn’t forget the experience.

It led him to start the non-profit PetsEmpower, which will have a red carpet dog fashionista competition fundraiser at the South End’s Urban Hound on Saturday, June 23, from 2-3:30 p.m.

“This event and this organization is really about allowing a relationship with one’s pets and allowing people going through a hard time to maintain those relationships,” he said. “After I got on my feet, I felt this was a way I could make a big impact.”

One thing he also learned was that the situation is even more pronounced for those who are victims of domestic violence and for the elderly who are in the hospital.

He said there are 16,000 pets in Greater Boston at any time that need to be fostered due to their owners being in the hospital, suffering from domestic violence, homelessness or addiction.

The idea is to find a network of communities – such as in the South End, Back Bay and Fenway – where people might be willing to take on a pet temporarily while the owner seeks help or medical treatment. By hosting the event, Ross said he hopes to raise money and awareness – as well as volunteers.

The 2018 Boston Pet Fashion Show will be hosted by Randy Price of WCVB Channel 5. For the show, 20 dog/human teams will strut their stuff on the red carpet, to the cheers and laughs of the crowd, and the beats of DJ Shankar. From those 20 lucky contestants, the judges will pick three winners:

  1. Fashionista: best pet fashion style.
  2. Cutest pet family
  3. Funniest

Please register to apply to enter your dog in the fashion show, or email [email protected] if you are interested in donating, sponsorship, or volunteering. In addition to the fashion show, guests will enjoy: a silent auction with some great items. A professional photo taken of them with their dog. Funds will be raised to help 100 domestic violence survivors, seniors, persons entering substance abuse rehab, veterans, and other pet parents in crisis find short-term pet fostering this year. Proceeds will provide veterinary care, transport, and food for pets while they are in fostering. After accessing services at shelters and in-patient facilities, the pet parents will reunite with their loving pets.

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