Wet Noses and Wags: The Power of Welcoming Pets at Clare Housing — 

by Cary Walski, communications consultant, Clare Housing

The way that Michele Boyer, our program director, describes her, I imagine her like a queen. Her name was Margaret or Maggie, and she was a resident of Clare Housing. Maggie used to stride around the building wearing her Robes of State, in this case a literal robe, with bath slippers. The impression Maggie made was unforgettable. So was her companion.

Perched on her shoulder always was her friend and confidant, Ruby, a black-footed ferret. Maggie was Clare Housing’s very own Lady with an Ermine. This remarkable daily scene was made possible thanks to Clare Housing’s pet positive policies.

The month of February is all about love, the power of love — romantic love specifically. But there are so many other types love, and I’d like to talk to you about one that many take of us take for granted, the love of a pet, and the healing powers of that relationship.

Imagine you’re living with HIV. You’ve had trouble taking the 26 pills you need to take a day because of the stress you’re experiencing. You’re sick, and you’ve found yourself unable to work. You’re about to lose the home you worked so hard to pay for.  Fortunately, you luck out. You have the opportunity to move to a housing facility for people with HIV/AIDS where you can get better. But you need to make a difficult choice first – Ted, your 12 year old lab can’t come with you.

This is the type of tough scenario that Clare Housing’s pet policy was originally meant to prevent. Especially in the early days of HIV housing, when housing was more synonymous with “hospice”, pets were a bridge between home to a new space, one that at least initially didn’t feel much like home.

“People were losing so much in those days,” Michele explains. “Losing their homes, their health, we wanted folks to be able to bring their pets. We wanted the care homes to be a home.”

And a sense of home continues to be what pets help provide to our residents today. Just ask David, one of our care home residents.

David and Michael relax together in their apartment.

David and Michael relax together in their apartment.

When David first met his cat, Michael, Michael had just been fished out of a pot hole in a parking lot where he’d curled up to stay warm for the night. A kitten no more than a few weeks old, David could hold him in the palms of his hands.

At that time David had another cat named Angelo, and so he named the new arrival Michael. “I’ve always wanted a Michael Angelo,” David says with a twinkle. “I wouldn’t give Michael up for anything.”

When asked about the benefits of having Michael, David talks about the times when his illness gets him down or uncomfortable. Somehow Michael always seems to know. “He’ll come next to me and jump in my lap. He loves to cuddle.” When asked about the pet policy, David says this.

“It’s one of the ways that this care home, and Clare Housing, is a cut better than other assisted living and full care homes. The experience here is more like living in a home with things that you’re familiar with. And that’s extremely important.  I give [the staff] as much thanks as I possibly can every time I see them.

“I can’t say enough good things because I feel so good. Very little stress is given out here…I have lots of love to give out and that’s thanks to Michael, and to the staff at Clare Housing too.”

One Clare Housing staff member, Nancy Wilke, has gone above and beyond in her service both to residents, and their pets as well. Over her tenure at Clare Housing, she’s helped care for many pets after residents have passed on due to complications of HIV/AIDS or other reasons.

Over the years Nancy has cared for several residents’ cats, and even a hamster. “I had him for three years,” Nancy reports.

As Nancy likes to explain, when someone moves into Clare Housing, often their nervous and sad about losing their housing, “Their pets bring home with them.” Clare Housing’s pet positive policy is another reason why this organization is so wonderful and unique, and why I’m proud to work here and support this mission.

If you haven’t joined us already for a Journey Home program, it’s a great way to learn more about our unique approach to housing for people living with HIV/AIDS. And who knows, you might meet one of Clare Housing’s many four-legged residents while you’re here.

Visit the Clare Housing Facebook page to see a slideshow of some of our furry friends!