Joahn Edwards greets everyone at GRACE Marketplace with a warm smile as she takes her furry companion, Gypsy Rose, out for a walk every afternoon.
When Edwards, 58, first came to GRACE Marketplace, a low-barrier emergency shelter located in Gainesville, Gypsy Rose, her small mixed-breed dog, was in serious need of an operation for bladder stones. Edwards didn’t have the financial means to get Gypsy Rose the help she needed. But GRACE was able to help arrange Gypsy Rose’s operation and get her all her vaccines for free.
GRACE Marketplace’s animal welfare program was created to extend GRACE’s services to homeless individuals with pets. GRACE partners with St. Francis Pet Care to provide residents with vaccines and any treatment or operation the pet may need. GRACE also uses grants and donations to provide them with pet food.
Edwards talked about how she and Gypsy Rose shared a special bond because their traumas connected them. Edwards had her home was repossessed after her mother died, and Gypsy Rose had also lost her mother in an accident when she was a puppy. Edwards was elated to find somewhere to stay that accommodated Gypsy Rose.
“She had been through so many traumas and emotional situations with me that if I had to part with her, it would be crushing for me,” Edwards said. “This is a comfortable place for us.”
GRACE’s animal welfare services include a yard space for dogs and owners to play and a supply room where people can get pet food, treats and leashes, kennels, and crates. A special cat room also houses kennels with three cats belonging to GRACE residents.
A GRACE staff member can unlock the doors of the storage room during GRACE’s business hours of 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. for residents to take out food and any other supplies for their companions, according to GRACE’s animal welfare coordinator Riley Yates. Although GRACE provides supplies for all pets, owners are responsible for the overall caretaking, such as feeding and exercise.
“GRACE wants to accommodate residents who come in with animals. For a lot of shelters, people have to choose between staying homeless or surrendering their pets. Many develop deep emotional connections with their pets, so that can be a heartbreaking decision,” Yates said. “We don’t want to separate any families here.”
Roseanne Leblanc, 63, is another one of GRACE’s residents who came in with her dog, Ginger, a 13-year-old cockapoo. Leblanc came to GRACE from another women’s shelter because it was more suitable for both her and Ginger.
“I really like it here. I can get food and treats for Ginger, and we’re both happy we can stay together,” she said.
Dogs aren’t the only pets GRACE accommodates. One resident, 58-year-old Pamela Davis came in with her 45-year-old blue and gold macaw, Homer. Homer had been in an abusive household before Pamela found him.
Davis came to GRACE from Jacksonville after experiencing homelessness and financial difficulties due to COVID-19. However, she did not want to part with Homer because she said they depend on each other.
“I have severe anxiety, and whenever you have anxiety or a panic attack, it’s hard to stay focused,” Davis said. “He helps me stay focused because he’ll start getting antsy if he senses me getting nervous.”
Homer came in with a severe loss of feathers due to the anxiety he experienced from his Davis, Homer has slowly started to heal and grow back some of his feathers.
GRACE ordered bird food and provided Davis with a flight suit to accommodate Homer. The flight suit helps Homer try to fly while staying tethered to Davis.
“We’re both slowly getting back on our feet here,” said Davis. “I’m glad I have a place that welcomes him.”