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Helping the Homeless: Sierra Vista shelter adding kennels for pets, based on feedback

Posted at 4:22 PM, Jun 10, 2024

SIERRA VISTA, Ariz. (KGUN) — There are nearly 300 homeless people living in Cochise County, most of whom prefer to live in the fields and not a shelter because they don’t want to leave their pets behind.

Lilla DeLuca, grant and media manager for Good Neighbor Alliance, says more than half the homeless population in Sierra Vista and Cochise County have pets. She says it's common for people to not want to come to the shelter because they can't bring their pets.

“It’s like asking someone to put their kids someplace else before they can come stay with us,” DeLuca said.

Good Neighbor Alliance, Sierra Vista's only homeless shelter, is completing a two-year plan that keeps people looking for help and their pets together, by building a space with kennels.

“We recognize that for safety, for emotional well being, that in order to help somebody make their decisions to come out of the fields, they have animals, and we want to do our very best to be able to accommodate that,” DeLuca said.

The nonprofit received $43,500 from the Legacy Foundation of Southeastern Arizona to complete the project. DeLuca says the building will hold two large kennels and six smaller kennels. She says there will also be counter space in the building for smaller caged animals.

Tammy Stone, an employee at Good Neighbor Alliance, was homeless and suggested the idea of kennels because she had first hand experience of not wanting to leave her dog to get help.

“If I had to give my dog away when I was homeless, my mental health, probably would have went all the way down," she said. "I couldn't even stand the thought of not having my pet with me.

"It's just something that makes you feel like you haven't lost everything.”

Stone says often times a homeless person's pet not only is the last thing they have before they lost everything, but it can also be protections for them.

Lisa Wetting left "a domestic violence situation" months ago and traveled to Arizona because she thought there would be resources available for her and her dog. When she got to southern Arizona she realized she'd have to find a foster for her dog so she could go to the shelter and get back on her feet.

“My dog kept me alive," Wetting said. "There were times where I wanted to take my life, and I would look at him (and think I don't have that option)."

She says the fear with finding is a foster is that sometimes people take the dog and don't want to give it back — which is why it took her time to find the right person.

“They are more than just an animal with us, like they keep us alive in a way that no one understands,” Wetting said.

She says she wishes pets were allowed in more shelters because they help with the healing process and play a role in their owner's well-being.

“If you want us mentally well, you can't take away what keeps us mentally well,” Wetting said.

DeLuca says the kennels should be open by the end of July. They are waiting for the materials to be delivered and then will have to battle the monsoon during the construction process.

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Alexis Ramanjulu is a reporter in Cochise County for KGUN 9. She began her journalism career reporting for the Herald/Review in Sierra Vista, which she also calls home. Share your story ideas with Alexis by emailing alexis.ramanjulu@kgun9.com or by connecting on Facebook.