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Clean Hands Still Dirty

It’s not a selfie. It’s a reminder. A reminder that sometimes you have an opinion, and sometimes you are the opinion. Like this moment. When someone else’s opinion reminded me of how hard the hustle can be. Even if you just want to wash your hands for lunch.

I’ve been helping the homeless since college. And yes, I know what it’s like to spend chunks of time on the street. But I did it on purpose, with the good fortune of knowing I could leave at any moment. That’s the blessing. And that’s why working with the homeless is still such a strong focus area for me and for The Pongo Fund. Because the need is great. Because no one should suffer.

This is a big and heated conversation and there’s more opinions than answers. But when they have animals, when they need help, when they ask for so little, it’s time to put our opinions aside and do what we can. That’s my opinion.

The Pongo Fund is working on a new project to help the homeless and their animals. I was walking the streets and stopped into a small place for a quick lunch. I was adorned in a Pongo cap, a second-hand black jacket, a well-worn yellow fleece, blue jeans, basic shoes. I’d shaved a couple days earlier.

My hands needed some scrubbing; I asked about using the restroom. The woman was busy, maybe she didn’t hear me. I asked again. She said it was for customers only. I said I wanted to wash my hands then I’d be back to order. She shrugged, like she’d heard it too many times before. She said I’m really not supposed to let you, but she pointed, I quickly followed before her kindness went away. I felt dirty as I walked to the back corner, and that’s when I got a glimpse of myself in the mirror.

To me I looked normal, like someone wanting to wash their hands before they ate lunch. I spend a lot of time on the street, this is how I look. A moment later I was back and thanked the woman for letting me wash up. She didn’t reply. I thanked her again. Without looking up, she said “sure, whatever.”

There was no other acknowledgment, other than me feeling like it was time for me to leave. I had money in my pocket, I really did want to get some lunch. But I left. Not because of her. Just because.

I passed lots of people bundled on the sidewalk and I wondered where they wash their hands when they eat lunch? But I knew.

The woman, she was young with kind eyes. I felt bad for her, what a difficult burden to bear. Working in a neighborhood surrounded by the harshness of winter homelessness can’t be easy. She wasn’t mean. She was just doing her job. Protecting the restroom because before you know it, you’ll find a line of people bathing there. And that’s not right either.

But how will she bounce back from these moments, of being asked to quickly judge someone’s ability to pay for lunch, and then based on that, allowing them the secret instructions to where to restroom is? She is too young to carry that weight.

I had clean hands but felt dirty.

An older woman sat on the wet sidewalk. She held two cigarette butts, one in each hand. These were not the kind of cigarettes you buy, these were the kind that had already been someone else’s cigarettes before. She talked to herself. She looked sad.

A few feet away a woman stood with her lifetime of possessions overflowing from a small cart. She had a backpack next to her cart, a small dog inside, head sticking out. She wore a front pack with another small dog snuggled tight. It was below freezing, the wind was no one’s friend. The street was their home. How did she stay warm?

An elderly man in a wheelchair, he was missing a leg. He had no coat, just a sweater that looked like it knew many winters. He pushed himself along; his arms the motor. The remaining leg grabbed the pavement in unison, pull, push; pull, push. He saw me watch him. A dog on his lap.

A woman with a walker struggled with a small bag draped over the handles. A small dog walked alongside, connected to a small leash in her hand. I hope the bag held lunch for both of them. She had no coat, the dog did.

Sometimes I feel lost in my own city.

My solace was knowing we’d be back again soon.

“Remember to be gentle with yourself and others. We are all children of chance and none can say why some fields will blossom while others lay brown beneath the August sun.” –Kent Nerburn

Sit. Stay. Eat. Live.

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His mouth is a mess and that’s led to all sorts of problems, but we’re on it fast. Harvey’s 10 but there’s so much more to this guy than his 10 years tell, something old-soul-in-a-big-kind-of-way. I sensed it the moment we met. I could not help but touch that Jimmy Durante schnozzle of his. That, and his head, and his ears, and his neck, and well, you get the idea. This is one special guy. Plus, he has a British accent, so when you talk with him, you swear you’re talking to Winston Churchill. He’s just a peaceful soul, channeling his inner Gandhi, and yes, his inner Scooby too. Maybe that’s who brought him to us?

His Mom, she does a great job with him. But living on just $407 monthly in SSI, she struggles to keep it together. After gasoline, auto insurance, utilities, basic expenses and everything that food stamps does not cover, she’s left with pennies. Yet she’ll often go without to make sure that Harvey has what he needs.

And right now this guy needs a dental, and he needs it bad; his messy mouth condition has led to other things gone wrong too. So by fixing one we hope to fix them all. The estimate provided by his regular veterinarian exceeded $2,000, and it would take a miracle for her to have that much money. The reality is that there’s absolutely no way she can afford that care. Until now, that is.

Because by working inside PONGO ONE, our Mobile Veterinary Hospital, we can do it for a lot less.

And that’s where you come in. Because your donations help us prepare to save lives for Little Princes like Harvey. And that means this Wednesday, Harvey will join the long list of kind souls receiving care from The Pongo Fund. We’ve got a chunk of time blocked out for him because we know there will be a bunch of extractions too, but when we’re done, this sweet guy’s smile will sparkle once again.

Donating to our Emergency Medical Fund is quick and easy:

Being there for Harvey when he needs us most.

And this is why we Pongo.

Sit. Stay. Eat. Live.
#pongoone #thepongofund #portland #freevetcare #petfoodbank

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I saw them as I drove up, a man sat in the driver seat, a big fluffy dog hung his head out the window. I smiled at the scene. Then suddenly the man was outside my window. He quietly asked if I worked with The Pongo Fund, I said yes. He asked for some information; we talked, I gave him the website address. He said he would find a laptop to learn more. Find a laptop; I know what that means. I complimented him on his dog, still hanging out the window, big smile on his face. His face lit up, he loved that dog.

He asked about some of the details I’d shared; we walked through things again. He spoke slowly, his words arrived with consideration. He asked about food. He needed to find a laptop. He quietly asked about food again. There were a couple other things too. Sometimes you play the hunch.

I asked him if they needed food. He said no. He shuffled his feet, he looked down, he said no again, they were ok. Then he said they’ll be ok. They were ok or they’ll be ok, those were two different things.

He’ll find a laptop and read about us and he’ll come back if he ever needs food. There was that “find a laptop” again. I asked what kind of food he fed his dog, his name was Hobbs, and he rattled off a list of things but none of them was dog food. I waited. He continued. Hobbs hung out the window. And when it felt right, I again asked if they needed food. He said no. I asked what Hobbs had for breakfast. He said they hadn’t eaten yet. It was 2pm. They hadn’t eaten.

I asked about dinner last night. He shuffled. I did an end run with the same conversation, hoping to get further. And finally we got there. They’d been out of food for a while, he didn’t remember how long. But instead of talking about food he wanted to talk about Hobbs. About what a great friend he was, about how much he loved him. That was the conversation that brought him joy; talking about being out of dog food made him sad. Hobbs didn’t care; he just loved hearing his name.

In the back of my car I had food. I got him a bag, a big bag, and we walked the few feet to his car and put it in the back seat. Hobbs was on it immediately, happy dancing next to this bag of food that would be his breakfast and dinner for today, tomorrow and for days to come. Hobbs regained his driver seat position, and a moment later he jumped out the window to thank me in person.

This dog that was soft like cotton pushed his head into my legs, getting ear scritchies and head bops and butt smacks. And he pushed more and I gave more and the man, he looked at how happy Hobbs was and he looked at the bag of food and he stood silent.

I had just left an emergency situation that we could not help, now we’ll work on the palliative side of things, that happens sometimes but it hurts. And now here was this dog giving me a chance to think about something else. I needed that, I really needed that.

This man, he quietly said “thank you, you don’t know how much this means to us.” I told him, both of them, that they were welcome.

But the truth was, they didn’t know how much it meant to me. Because it meant a lot.

“Thank you too,” I said, “Thank you too.”

For Hobbs. Hungry no more.

And this is why we Pongo.

Sit. Stay. Eat. Live.

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This is The Pongo Fund at our best. Doing what needs to be done. Leading with Love. Following with Compassion. Honey has a baseball sized mammary mass, it’s leaking brown fluid. That’s not good. She also had a bad limp limiting her ability to walk, and she’s got an upset stomach. We saw her last week, I’ve got the photos of the leaking mass but did not post them because I struggled with the words. That’s happening a lot these days. Too many moments, not enough words.

But we saw what we needed to see and we slated Honey for surgery later this month. It’s a big surgery, the estimate they got from another vet put it over $2,500, an amount these financially strapped folks could never afford. So thanks to you and your contributions, we’ll do it for them. We also sent her home with some meds for the limp and upset stomach. She was such a sweet girl. Honey is the perfect name.

Yesterday her people called and said Honey was not eating. That’s not good. So we quickly interrupted schedules and met at PONGO ONE to do some checking. But no one told Honey she wasn’t feeling good. She came bounding into the hospital without any limp, a big smile on her face. Maybe she remembers the great treats we have?

PONGO ONE has two exam tables, easiest on the back to use them. But Honey likes the floor so that’s where we gathered. Five people inside PONGO ONE, and Sweet Honey. We spent a lot of time examining and talking.

To Honey, that is, we talked to Honey.

For example, she told us she does not like spray bottles, they scare her. Since we spray alcohol to clean before taking blood, that meant no spray bottle. But Honey was ok with an alcohol soaked cotton ball, so we used that instead. It’s there on Dr. Melissa’s leg. Because this moment, it’s all about Honey.

Look at her eyes. Even with the muzzle, with everything going on, her eyes were peaceful. She knew she was safe.

As for her loss of appetite, it was back quickly when she saw our treat bag. Heartrate good, temperature good, stomach soft, everything right on. And then Dr. Robin ran bloodwork, because PONGO ONE has a full laboratory onboard. Everything was where it should be. What was up with Honey? No one knows. Maybe she just wanted to come back and say hi.

But here’s the thing; Honey wasn’t quite so happy last week. A previous encounter left her suspect around vets and the muzzle didn’t bring out her best side. But we worked through it together and yesterday, it was a piece of cake.

Honey was the star of the show and she loved every minute, Maybe the rectal and the bloodwork were not her favorite moments, but I think she knew we were there to help. Of course she did.

This photo, this moment in time; this is everything. Two veterinarians on the floor doing all they can to make Honey feel good. And together we all celebrated that moment, especially seeing how well Honey was walking just a few days after we treated her limp. Because that limp was gone. Poof! Like it was never there.

And the good lab report means we’re on track for surgery. That means in a couple of weeks, we’ll all get together again to remove that nasty mammary mass.

My point with this post, well, I don’t really know what my point is. I just wanted to share this moment because this moment was pretty special. If you could have seen Honey as she left, a big smile on her face, walking so proud, bouncing this way and that, knowing how brave she was; well, you’d be smiling too.

It was a good day, a very good day.

Being there for Honey. And for thousands more.

And this is why we Pongo.

Sit. Stay. Eat. Live.
#thepongofund #PONGOONE #portland #freevetcare #petfoodbank

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Max And More

Max is doing fantastic. He’s about 5, the sweetest guy. Loved getting hand fed treats. His Mom stepped in to rescue him about a year ago, his situation was bad and she knew he needed help. She gets by on food stamps and collecting cans and bottles, another reminder that those with the least are the ones who often step in to help the most.

Telling her that Max was doing great was everything we hoped for. And it sure did make her smile. Because who wouldn’t want to get good news like that? Heart rate, lungs, skin, ears, eyes, all of the private parts, the whole shebang, we cover it all. Seriously, these aren’t five minute exams. There was some Grade 2 dental to deal with, and we’ll get that another time. When The Pongo Fund and PONGO ONE rolls, this is exactly what we’re hoping for. To deliver good news. Because really, don’t we all long for some good news?

But we also had to deliver some news that wasn’t so good. Not for Max, but for some others. And that’s what we’re here for too. Because sometimes we need to diagnose the bad before we can make it good. So in that moment, it’s a bit of both, the good and the bad. And that’s why later this month PONGO ONE will roll out for some super busy surgery days, including a lot of dentals, and a nasty tumor that needs to come off ASAP.

There’s a lot of folks that cannot afford this level of veterinary care. That’s life, and a reminder it really could be any one of us. But they hope and they pray and they go to the vet for the good news that hits them hard when it’s not good news.

And they wait in the lobby with the best of intentions as the wonderful veterinary staff prepares the estimate to let them know how much it will cost to heal the pain, to pull the teeth, to run the bloodwork, to take the xrays, to treat the arthritis, to biopsy the growth, to remove the tumor, to do what needs to be done.

And while they wait, they pray quietly on the outside and loudly on the inside, hoping it is less than $100, because that is the most they can cobble together but deep inside they know it will be more.

And they still wait, clutching their dog tight to their chest, shaking with fear, wanting to run out the door because they know they cannot afford more than $100. And then the estimate comes back, and the vet has done the best they can to save money, and they’ve even gone back and run the numbers again and donated some pain meds because they want to help, and then the vet sits down with the person and they explain the estimate.

And the person, still holding their dog, still shaking, with the watery eyes they say are allergies but they’re tears, they sit together and look at the estimate that shows $2,000.00. And they pray it’s a mistake.

$2000, how can that be? And the person asks if that’s correct, and the vet understands, she knows what’s at stake, and she says yes, that’s the cost, $2000. And she even shows the items that have been discounted but all the person with the dog with the tumor sees is the $2000 and it could be $2 million because they don’t have it and even if they sell everything they have, everything they own is still worth less.

And with the most gentle tone, the vet who has faced this before suggests they go home and think about it. And this woman leaves, still holding her dog, walking to the bus stop blocks away, and crying because she needs to cry, and the only good part is that her dog loves to lick salty tears. And they go home.

We know this is how it happens because she told us this is how it happens. What do you do then? Besides counting the days and watching the teeth get worse or waiting for the abscess to eat through the cheek or for the tumor to double in size and then break open. Seriously, what do you do?

And that’s why The Pongo Fund is doing what we do. To go where no one else goes. To tackle the delicate surgeries, to tackle some of the toughest cases. We’re absolutely not running away from fighting the fight. Because when we sat around a table eight years ago and started The Pongo Fund, this was our mantra. To be there for the animals. And 100,000 animals later, 100,000 lives saved, that’s exactly what we’re still here to do. To be there for the animals.

To give you an idea of what it means for The Pongo Fund to do the work we do, the cost estimates for the next six surgeries top $10,000.00 in value.

We’re a tiny group with a lot of dedicated volunteers, but still, we’re pretty much just a speck in size. Small but mighty, that’s what we say, and we do all we can, stretching those dollars like they’ve never been stretched before. And then, stretching them again.

But thanks to you, and to your donations to our Emergency Medical Fund, and our volunteer medical team, we’re hoping to do all of those surgeries for FREE, using the operating suite and the labwork and the xray machine tucked happily inside PONGO ONE. Bloodwork, xrays, surgeries, medications, all of it for FREE.

And that $10,000? That’s just one day worth of surgeries. And there’s more waiting after that.

Please understand something, and this is important, because what I’m writing now has nothing to do with the cost of veterinary care. Because there are so many brilliant veterinarians who give it their all every single day. And it’s easy to forget that there’s a lot that goes into that care. Schooling, machines, diagnostics, supplies, rent, overhead; it’s all expensive. Bottom line is that good veterinary care sometimes costs more than we can afford. Just like everything else.

But thankfully we also know some vets who cut costs every chance they can, without ever cutting corners. Those are the vets we adore. And The Pongo Fund has several of them on our side.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

And this is why we Pongo.

Sit. Stay. Eat. Live.

#thepongofund #petfoodbank #veterinarycare #savinglives

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Dr. Melissa and Dr. Robin. These are bonafide Superheroes. Donating their time to provide a wide range of lifesaving veterinary care, including surgeries, dentals, xrays, bloodwork and more; all at no-cost to qualified pet owners in need, including the homeless, seniors, veterans, victims of domestic violence, residents of low income housing and more.

“One hundred years from now it will not matter what kind of car I drove, what kind of house I lived in, how much I had in the bank nor what my clothes looked like, but the world will be different because I was important in the life of the animals and the creatures on this earth.” ― Unknown

And this is why we Pongo.

Sit. Stay. Eat. Live.

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Hurting And Worrying

She was angry but respectful, almost like she was angry at herself for being angry, if that makes any sense. Like it was coming out even though she didn’t want it to come out. She needed food but something told us this was about more than food for a little dog. The dog, he was older, she got him when a friend died and even though she didn’t have the money, she knew she was his only hope. She was older too, but she counted her coins and thanks to social security, bottle returns and food stamps, she made it to the end of each month. It wasn’t perfect but it worked and now they were a team, these two, together for a couple of years now. He had some aches and pains, she was worried, she took him to the vet. The meds helped and he was ok, but that money was his food money.

We told her we could help. How soon did she need food? Yesterday, she said. Based on where they were and what they needed, we could dispatch the Emergency Kibble Response Team and get food to them fast. But we sensed there was more, it was just the way she spoke. There was almost a sense of defeat in her voice. So we threw caution to the wind and we asked if there was anything else going on besides her sweet boy’s aches and pains, and the food he needed?

The money she spent for her dog’s vet care, that was his food money. But she had a neighbor, an even older woman with a small dog, and that dog was in worse shape than her own dog, so she used her other money to pay for that dog to see the vet too. This woman, she was a Saint.

Yet in that moment she didn’t see that, she only knew her dog was hungry and she couldn’t help him. But her anger, it seemed like it was more than the food. And then we found out why. Her “other money” was her dental money that she’d been saving penny by penny so her dentist could do the work to fix what hurt. Everything built up and there she was, tired and in pain, and she couldn’t even feed her dog. She’d been up all night hurting and worrying and then she called us, and it just came out. She didn’t mean to, it just happened. We’ve all been there.

This woman who grew up during tough times but had parents who taught her kindness and respect despite those tough times, slowed down and all at once, she sighed. She still didn’t know what to do. But we did. She needed a do-over, a chance to turn back the clock a little bit. And thanks to you, those of you who say to let you know when you’re needed the most, we were able to help make that happen. This family is doing fine, with full tummies, no pain, everyone is sleeping well. The neighbor dog too. They’re all good because you were there for them when they needed you most.

And this is why we Pongo.

Sit. Stay. Eat. Live.

(Photo of dog is not dog mentioned above, but another dog The Pongo Fund helped)

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Domestic Violence

They’re secreted inside a Domestic Violence shelter. Can’t tell you their names because he’s found them before. Her call came at 8:30am on Saturday, she said her dog, her everything, had something wrong and she didn’t know what to do. She described the situation, said it started a few days earlier and was getting worse. Every time we asked a question her voice got lost and trailed off, in the softest voice possible she kept saying “I can’t lose him, I just can’t lose him, I don’t know what to do, please help us…”

Minutes later we’re already in communication with Dr. Alayson and her crackerjack team at VCA East Mill Plain Animal Hospital. It’s a busy Saturday and Dr. Alayson is at the front end of a 12 hour day. She made an opening and we grabbed it. This woman, she has no transportation, just the bus. She’s old enough to be your grandmother yet here she is, sequestered deep inside a safe house yet worried more about her dog than about herself.

She told us she should have had money set aside for a vet, but their names finally came up and there was a place waiting for them, their own place, and it was just a couple weeks away. She’d been saving every penny to pay the deposits and that just got done. Leaving them penniless. She’s old enough to know better, but sometimes knowing better doesn’t change things. When your life is at stake, you run. Sometimes from one end of the country to the other and back again, left to right and top to bottom.

Sometimes you don’t even know where you’re waking up because you’ve been moved so many times. But your dog, she’s here with you, but how do you help her when you haven’t got a penny?

She found The Pongo Fund, we said we would help. This super sweet dog is older, and despite it all you can see she receives excellent care. She even listens to classical music. Full of kisses and cuddles and we might as well name her “Therapy” for the impact she has on those around her. And we’re proud to report she is feeling lots better.

When you donate to our Emergency Care Fund, this is who you help. A grandmother battered from one end of the country to the other, and the support dog who keeps her going.

Sometimes you’re spinning so fast you don’t know where to turn and yet, somehow, you find The Pongo Fund. This was one of those times. Being there for others when they need us most.

And this is why we Pongo.

To read more stories like this, please sign up for our very occasional newsletter here:

Sit. Stay. Eat. Live.
#thepongofund #love #oregon #petfoodbank #newsletter

***The Pongo Fund is Oregon’s Pet Food Bank. Because hungry people have hungry pets. Our award winning and volunteer driven charity provides high quality food and vital veterinary care for the family pets of anyone in honest need, keeping them safe, healthy and out of the shelters. 100,000 animals helped; 10,000,000 healthy meals provided. We would be honored if you SHARE this post so that others will also know of our good work***

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You’re not an addict or substance abuser, you’re not mentally ill or anything like that. You just had some bad luck and now you’re working as hard as you can to turn things around. And the only thing to remind you of what love is, to keep you grounded, is your 14 year-old Yorkie named Gus.

Gus had no idea anything was different, he was tucked inside his Mom’s shirt just like always. They had a home, “had” being the key word. Then they fled violence, the kind of violence you never expect, and they drove north and now their home is their car. The night shelter they stayed in left them both with fleas. One call then another and she found Pongo.

She told us about the fleas but she needed so much more than that, but whether she was too stubborn or too proud, those were her words, not ours, she refused to ask for help. Because that’s how the beatings started, she asked someone for help. His help led to pounding her stomach, then her ribs, then her head and then he kicked Gus and they were gone.

She said she had a list and called everyone on that list and luckily The Pongo Fund answered the phone. We got there because we had to get there, because there was no one else. We knew we could handle the fleas, we also knew that wasn’t the biggest problem. Making this woman feel safe and respected was the most important thing and that was going to be a little bit harder because trust was not something that came easily for her.

The first thing we did was hold Gus, and once she saw that, how he burrowed in close to my Scooby hoodie, that was the moment she let the tears flow. Because she knew they were going to be ok.

They left their fleas in Portland, and we sent them on their way with enough medication to keep those fleas away. We provided Gus with a special backpack filled with his favorite foods, Lola sent along some of her favorite treats, we added a Gus-sized little dog bed, a teeny-tiny harness, new collar and leash, all the things he needed because Gus deserved more than a little rope leash but that was all they had.

For this moment in time they were safe, on their way north to stay with family, to sort things out. Low-on-air tires got some air, an empty gas tank got filled, an empty cooler bag got some snacks to help with the drive. And a hurting heart got a chance to trust again, if even only for a moment. She hugged me and said I’ll never understand just how hard it was for her to give that hug.

It won’t be long before she sees the envelope on her passenger seat, and she’ll open it and find some travelling money, and a couple of gas cards too. The tires got filled, the tank got filled. We hope her heart got filled a little bit too.

Being there for those when they need us most.

And this is why we Pongo.

Sit. Stay. Eat. Live.
(To protect their privacy, photo is not Gus)