k9 Connection, a program of The People Concern, offers teens the chance to breakthrough learning and life barriers by training and bonding with homeless dogs. Experiential learning enables the teens to find self-esteem, self-determination and empathy while they in turn enable homeless dogs to develop the skills to be adopted into permanent, loving homes.

Our k9 Connection team received an email from a woman named Virginia with the subject line, “Need Help“. She was referred to us by a pet grief counselor who was helping Virginia prepare to euthanize her 12-year-old sweet chihuahua mix, Martina. As a 53-year-old woman who had been homeless for eight years, the outset of Virginia’s journey seemed promising. “In 2012 I was completing my final session at East LA Community College and had plans to transfer to Cal State LA in the Fall. I was renting a small back house that I loved. I had three cats and my little Martina. I was grieving my father who passed away on Christmas morning only a few years ago. I honestly don’t know how I held it together. I cried a million tears but Martina was there to lick every one of them.” Everything changed when the owners of the property Virginia was living in received a foreclosure notice from the bank saying that all of the tenants were being evicted.

With no savings or family to fall back on, Virginia began living in her car, “I drove away from my small back house crying. Those first two years were very hard and so was my head – I had to learn to reach out for help when all I wanted to do was just crawl in a hole. I was embarrassed and ashamed of myself. Cars are not homes. It’s difficult to live in them.”  Virginia experienced homelessness for the next eight years. She was living in a tent when the Coronavirus pandemic hit. Because of her vulnerable conditions, Virginia was connected to Project Roomkey, an initiative to temporarily house medically vulnerable people experiencing homelessness in hotels during the pandemic so that they could have a safe space to shelter in place. While staying at a hotel, Virginia discovered that Martina had developed a mammary gland tumor that was half the size of her small body, “As Martina’s tumor grew so did my anxiety. Three veterinarians left me with little hope for her. I started praying, and in no time, I was connected to Juliet, Dr. Nick and Dr. Lavac from The People Concern’s k9 Connection program”. Together, our team treated Martina and was able to successfully remove the tumor!

Today, Martina is happy and healthy as she recovers from her surgery. Virginia recently received a Los Angeles County HUD voucher and is currently looking for permanent housing! “This Christmas was the best I can remember since childhood. I cannot express enough thanks for the gifts that I have been given. I bless you, each and every one of you, who have made this moment possible.”