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Lifestyle // Island Matters
Mufi Hannemann

Caring For Homeless ‘Best Friends’

The loyalty of a friend is irreplaceable, especially if it has four legs, a wet nose and makes it a habit of sniffing its two-legged buddies.

It’s true, dogs are faithful – some to the very end and beyond. I ran across a story online of a faithful German shepherd in Argentina named Captain that refused to leave his best friend’s graveside. Captain ran away from his new owner’s home one week after his master died in 2006 and found his way to the cemetery. For six years, he remained faithful and did not let death part them.

Here at home, the bond between a dog and human being is just as strong, and some of the stories are heart-wrenching. One case in particular involves a battered wife who chose to live in her car because homeless shelters did not allow her Doberman Pinscher to be taken in. This woman’s story has a happy ending because relatives on Hawaii Island eventually housed her. But there are many homeless cases out there with not-so-happy endings. Many of them would rather live on the streets than give their pets up.

K9 Kokua is a nonprofit organization with a mission to help dogs in need. Executive director and senior volunteer Kale Lyman is very familiar with the ties that are solidified between dogs and human beings.

“We strive to keep good ohana together. The human and dog bond is powerful, and many of those who are homeless had their dogs before they lost their homes … their jobs, and even before they ended up on the streets and beaches,” says Lyman.

Kathy DoSantos Tam, an active supporter of K9 Kokua and owner of two German shepherds, says, “For some homeless people, their only source of warmth, companionship and protection is their dog. K9 volunteers spend the time teaching their owners to care properly for their animals and getting their pets microchipped, spayed or neutered.”

A program that K9 Kokua offers is ‘Ilio Hale. It specifically helps dogs that have been affected by domestic violence and was created to allow victims to leave their abusive situation with their dog.

“As long as the individual enters a proper domestic violence shelter, then we will provide foster homes for their dogs while they are receiving help and rehabilitation,” says Lyman.

Some of the canines have been beaten with brooms and other objects.

“In foster homes,” says Lyman, “K9 Kokua helps them build confidence and trust again, at the same time, their dog owners are undergoing medical assistance and similar rehabilitation at their shelters.”

The ultimate goal is reuniting master and best friend in a safe environment.

Lyman says her group is unique in that it is the only organization in Hawaii that goes “to homeless camps, on the streets, on the beaches, under bridges and in remote areas” to treat dogs of the homeless population on Oahu and Maui. “We supplement food, bring vets out to these camps, where they conduct wellness exams to prevent the possibility of diseases spreading,” she says. “In many of the areas we cover, there are no groups or authorities who know that these dogs we treat even exist.”

Unfortunately, K9 Kokua volunteers often witness many of the animals dying and enduring pain and suffering because their owners have no resources to call for help. The grim reality, according to Lyman, is that there are drivers out there who “literally veer to specifically hit the dogs of homeless people who are on roadways. Also cruel kids who take joy at whacking the animals with sticks, and many more who are cruel to the canines because of the way they judge homeless people.”

Another program K9 Kokua offers assists home-bound seniors who are too weak or financially strapped to care for their dogs any longer.

“We go to their homes to educate them and offer supportive assistance, such as nail trimming, supplemental food and wellness exams for their dogs,” explains Lyman.

The nonprofit relies solely on volunteers. The public is invited to log on to its web-site, k9kokua.org, for more information or mail donations (tax-deductible) to: K9 Kokua PO Box 2471 Waianae, HI 96792. To stay updated on current events, “like” K9 Kokua on Face-book, and for more information, call 853-7267.

Fundraisers are held regularly, such as the K9 Lokahi Tree, which continues until New Year’s Eve. The organization is visible at the Hawaii Pet Expo and educational events throughout the year. K-9 also has specialty products that are donated, including a jewelry collection line and T-shirts, in order to help raise sorely needed funds. The all-volunteer group says that 100 percent of its donations go directly to help Oahu and Maui dogs – proof positive that giving to K9 Kokua will make your holiday season a “pawsitively great experience” to help our at-risk community and their loyal friends and companions!

mufi@mufihannemann.com

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