Imagine life where the ability or resources to care for your pet present a real challenge, in terms of access, financial difficulties or access to care. Would you give up your furry best friend or would you seek to find ways to remain together? Now, mix those challenges with being homeless.
"CAMP is committed to improving the quality of life for individuals with pets in our community experiencing financial or housing hardships," said Johannah Johnson-Weinberg, founder and president of Companion Animal Medical Project, or CAMP for short. "We are a group of animal welfare advocates, with professional expertise within the fields of veterinary medicine, social assistance and health care, animal welfare and organizational leadership."
- Courtesy CAMP
Several years ago, Johnson-Weinberg wanted to bring some type of philanthropic work into her life. "I had an idea that I wanted to provide veterinary assistance to individuals who were struggling financially or were having to surrender their pet because of a medical concern." She saw this issue arise in her work with the Humane Society and Bend Spay and Neuter Project, so advocating for pet retention became a focus.
The idea didn't originally target the unhoused population, but after holding its first clinic as a pop-up at the Bend Methodist Church in February 2020 and seeing over 40 pets and 30 people, they saw the need to help this community. "I thought, wow, we actually need to do this," added Johnson-Weinberg.
In August, the group applied for its 501(c)3 status and became an official nonprofit in December. Together with Dr. Patti Mayfield, DMV, co-founder and medical director, the two set out to advocate for helping anyone, regardless of their social or economic status, to help maintain their human-animal bond, especially in light of challenging circumstances. "If we can take a little bit of the burden off of someone in terms of vet care, then maybe they can help themselves," added Johnson-Weinberg.
"I help out wherever I can, at the monthly clinics where we go out to the different camps and administer vaccinations or hand out food or spreading the word to different businesses about CAMP's mission," said Gwen Gist, one of the newest CAMP board members. In college, Gist wanted to study veterinary medicine but changed her focus to human medicine instead; today she is the director of labs for St. Charles.
What got her involved with CAMP was a visit with her son to one encampment in the area. "It really affected me and I knew this was where I wanted to put my effort, into something that would feed my soul," said Gist.
- Courtesy CAMP
Studies have documented the importance of pet ownership amongst those without formal shelter. A study of homeless youth in Los Angeles published in Child Psychiatry and Human Development documented roughly 25% of the participants cared for pets and that the animals "kept them company and made them feel loved." Even in the difficulty of finding housing or shelter assistance because of their pets, these individuals valued the human-animal bond above all else.
Operating 100% as a volunteer organization, CAMP depends upon donations to provide medical and food resources to its furry (and sometimes feathered!) clients. CAMP received one grant from Deschutes County to help with spay and neuter costs, but local businesses such as Mud Bay, Bend Pet Express, Ruffwear and others have stepped up. Spider City Brewing created a special beer, Pilsner Enigma, for CAMP and will be hosting a Pint Night, Sept. 16, where 100% of the sale of this beer goes to CAMP.
The issue of houseless individuals and their pets is much greater than just what is seen on the surface. "They all have a story," added Gist. After one clinic, an unhoused woman came up to Gist and said, "Thank you for treating us like humans."