No matter where you live, animals can surely be found living on the street. At any given time, there are about 70 million strays in the United States; these animals, mostly cats and dogs, are at huge risk for illness, injury, and even death due to the harsh conditions of living on their own outside. Even the approximately 10% of animals that make it to shelters don't fare much better, as shelters often have incredibly high euthanasia rates.
Luckily, though, there are still good people out there doing the hard work needed to save even some of these animals. Just take one look at the people behind the non-profit Forgotten Dogs of the 5th Ward Project in Houston, Texas. They run purely on donations of money, time, and supplies, and yet they're making a huge difference.
Since 2011, a group of committed animal lovers set out, determined to make a dent in the huge problem of canine homelessness, specifically in Houston's impoverished Fifth Ward.
Five years later, they have about a dozen core volunteers, who are there through thick and thin. The "feeders" go out twice each week and dispense dog food to any and every dog they see on the streets. This usually amounts to between 40 and 60 dogs on any given day. Over the years, they've also rescued a whopping 864 pups from the area they serve! While they've been making a big difference where it counts (in the lives of the pups they help), their message hadn't spread too far outside the city.
That is, until this pup unknowingly posed for perhaps the most heartwarming image ever captured.
During their regular feeding route, volunteers came across this pup. Although they would like to immediately take in every dog, that's just not possible because of the lack of available space and foster parents. Volunteers tend to rescue pups in the worst shape on the spot since they need immediate medical attention. Despite his sad situation, this sweet dog looked to be in relatively good condition, so they snapped the shot and made note of where they'd found him, fed him, and went on their way to feed the other dozens of hungry homeless dogs waiting for them.
They continued to keep an eye out for "Dog with Toy," without much luck ... until they ran across 89-year-old Fifth Ward resident Calvin.
Like the volunteers at Forgotten Dogs, Calvin has a soft heart and open arms where the dogs of Fifth Ward are concerned. Over the years, he's had a hard time leaving any stray on the streets; he's opened his yard to as many as 20 pups at one time! Calvin, who doesn't drive, even walks to the grocery store to haul back 50-pound bags of food to feed his dogs, as well as heavy bags of ice in the summer to help them keep cool. He told the volunteers that the teddy-loving dog was his, a former stray, but the pup hadn't really taken to being contained. Despite attempts to close any and all holes in his fence, and even add some height to it, this pup just wouldn't stay inside. Sadly, Dog with Toy has yet to return to Calvin's yard and volunteers could see how pained he was by the pup's absence. Calvin said it's likely that the dog, who was never neutered, took off after a female in heat.
After hearing that, volunteers knew there was at least something else they could do to help Calvin and his other dogs.
Spaying and neutering pups can make a huge difference in the struggle against ending animal homelessness. With each litter producing on average six pups, strays reproducing contributes greatly to the already large problem. Volunteers immediately set up an appointment with Calvin to get his dogs fixed. Along with dispensing food and general medical attention and facilitating fostering and adoption, the volunteers at the Forgotten Dogs of Fifth Ward Project aim to connect all pet owners with low-cost or free spaying and neutering services. Now, all that's left is to hope that Dog with Toy makes it home to his sweet owner!