Chicago’s Homeless and Their Pets

More and more I’ve noticed that Chicago’s homeless population is embracing pets.  There’s the junkie kid in the Loop with the tan mutt.  There’s the guy who begs for change from his wheelchair with some kind of Golden Retriever mix next to him (and then when he thinks no one is looking, stashes the wheelchair in an alley so he can drink beer in the bathroom at Borders).  And more and more I’m seeing cats as companions for the homeless.

Good thing, or bad thing?  I don’t know.

I can understand people who think the homeless shouldn’t have pets.  After all, if they can’t take care of themselves, what makes them proper stewards of another life?

On the other hand, is it wrong to take the last piece of joy and companionship away from a human being who, by definition, has nothing else?  And how do you enforce a law against a person who has given up caring about the society of laws long ago?

Cat belonging to a vagrant

Cat belonging to a vagrant

Take this moggie, for example.  We’ll call him “Farley” (not his real name).  Farley is the long-time companion of one of the city’s long-time street people.  This picture was taken in a department store.

I’ve petted Farley.  He’s got a beautiful coat, a nice attitude, and is as fat as any house cat with a house.  But Farley is, quite literally, an “alley” cat.

Farley, like any homeless person’s pet, probably could run away if he wanted to.  If things got too rough, he’d probably hit the road — just like any cat would do.  But he stays.  Just like the wheelchair retriever, and the junkie’s mutt.  There is a bond between human and animal there.

So, what about all the other homeless people and the city’s oversupply of unwanted pets?  Perhaps there’s a match to be made there.  Perhaps a little pet therapy is exactly what some of the marginal homeless need to swing back into society, and give them something to care about, and something to care about them.

I think these thoughts, but then think about people who don’t have food for themselves — how are they supposed to feed an animal that depends on them?

Like guns, drugs, and terrorism, I don’t have the answer.  But I’d like to hear comments from anyone who feels strongly one way or the other about this issue.  If it even is an issue.  Or perhaps it’s an issue to come.

Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at

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