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New Companion Animal Program cares for pets of people experiencing homelessness

Renee Acejo and her dog Brownie found hope for his seizures and a chance at more time together

As Renee Acejo, 49, and her 10-year-old boxer mix, Brownie, checked in at the Spring Wellness Clinic hosted by St. Vincent de Paul’s Companion Animal Program (CAP), Renee had tears in her eyes. Finally, she had hope for getting Brownie help with his recent seizures.

The pair had been living out of Renee’s car, and before learning about SVdP’s CAP services, she didn’t know where to turn for help for pets of owners experiencing homelessness. Among the first to arrive that morning, Renee and Brownie anxiously

awaited as the mobile clinic set up in a small SVdP parking lot off 3rd Drive. Partners like the Arizona Humane Society and Maricopa County Animal Care and Control formed a horseshoe of stations for pets and their owners to visit. SVdP also offered an outdoor pet pantry with sweaters, booties, collars, leashes and harnesses in addition to the welcome bag that all guests received with collapsible bowls, toys, treats and food. At the pantry, Renee picked out a bright orange, heavy-duty leash and a new dog bed.

“I’m just super happy to be here,” Renee said. “Look at all these goodies he’s got.”

The treats are an added bonus to the free access to veterinary services and care. Brownie’s vaccination records and licensing status were updated, and the CAP team scheduled him for a follow-up appointment with Midwestern University’s veterinary center for a more intensive treatment plan. That meant everything to Renee, who relies on Brownie for comfort and emotional support after losing her mother and son. Their deaths and a domestic situation spiraled Renee into homelessness.

“Brownie’s the only one that I have really to talk to. And he’s always happy to see me. I can’t see life without him.” 
– Renee Acejo, mom to Brownie and guest experiencing homelessness

“Brownie’s the only one that I have really to talk to,” Renee said. “And he’s always happy to see me. I can’t see life without him. But he’s been getting sicker. I don’t know what to do, and I’m just really happy that you guys are even able to see him.”

Renee’s newfound hope brings great joy to Marion Auray, the longtime volunteer and donor who helped found CAP at SVdP in order to connect vulnerable populations with existing veterinary organizations.

“I’ve worked in animal rescue for a number of years,” Marion said, “and it became apparent to me that there were no programs in all of Phoenix that cared for the pets of the homeless — not so much because they’re overlooked but because other wonderful pet organizations don’t have access to the people to get to the pets.”

“It became apparent to me that there were no programs in all of Phoenix that cared for the pets of the homeless — not so much because they’re overlooked but because other wonderful pet organizations don’t have access to the people to get to the pets.” 
– Marion Auray, volunteer and donor who helped found CAP

CAP aims to bring that connection and has a mission of keeping pet owners safe, together and sheltered with their pets. To do so, the program unites a diverse network of partners to host quarterly wellness clinics and maintains pet pantries at each of SVdP’s five charity dining rooms. That’s where Renee first encountered the program and got dog food for Brownie while getting a meal for herself. It’s also where she learned about the Spring Wellness Clinic. Now she’s hopeful that Brownie will regain his health so that she’ll have her companion for years to come.

“We’re growing old together,” Renee teased. “It’s unconditional love, that’s the thing you know.”


Volunteer with SVdP's Companion Animal Program by emailing CAP@svdpaz.org or donate at stvincentdepaul.net/CAP.


This article was originally published in the spring 2022 issue of Vincentian Connection.

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