A homeless man and dog sleep together on the street. The friendship between homeless people and animal companions provide a deeply needed source of love and acceptance in hard times. Photo by Tia Torres Cardello


by Joan Clair

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he connection between homelessness and animals arose for me when I found my dog, also named Clair, on the street in downtown Berkeley’s business district in 1995, after she’d been dumped out of a car. When I first found her, she was terrified of getting in a car and fearful in other situations as a result of her experiences.
Clair was a survivor who was healed of some of her fears over the years. I’m a survivor also, and we healed together. A part of my healing was writing many of the poems about homelessness which have now been published in my new book of poetry, Creature/Creator. In learning to face and accept Clair’s vulnerabilities, I learned to face and accept some of my own
All the poems about homelessness in Creature/Creator were written while I was with Clair. The poems were originally published in Street Spirit. All proceeds from Creature/Creator will be donated to groups that work on behalf of homeless people and animals.
The cover artwork for Creature/Creator was also done while I lived with Clair. It was created without an easel while I sat in the one comfortable chair in our trailer home holding a makeshift “board” on my lap.

Sharing a name and a home

Clair got her name from a man who thought he and his wife might want to keep her. He asked if he could name her Clair, not knowing that Clair also was my last name. When I eventually decided to keep Clair myself, we shared a name, a home, and many bonds. On the way to finding a home together, we also shared a period of homelessness.
I first took Clair to the mobile home park where I lived at that time. There was a “no dogs allowed” policy, but I told the manager I would either find another home for her or we would move out at the end of the month.
At the end of the month, having decided to keep her, I hired two people to move my trailer to a trailer park in Hayward. Clair and I traveled by car to Hayward while the men attached my trailer to their truck. In the course of the journey, the trailer went off the road because some bolts had not been secured. The movers towed it to a lot on High Street in Oakland. When we went to retrieve it, we found out the propane tank hoses had been slashed. We then moved the trailer to a storage lot in Oakland. The park in Hayward didn’t work out.
Now, not only was Clair homeless, but I was homeless as well. A friend allowed us to sleep in the basement of her home. We slept there on a couch for several days as I tried to find another park without success.
Finally, I found a space in a park in San Pablo, and Clair and I moved in. We had found a home together. Clair and I began our life together, a life which lasted for 17 years. She passed this past summer at the age of 18.

The full circle of life

Clair was home to me for 17 years, and I was home to her. She was indescribably sweet, a radiant presence. When she passed on June 28, 2012, our life together came “full circle.”
After living 18 full years, Clair had lost consciousness, and I could not lift her into a car. In the basement of the apartment building we had moved to in Berkeley, there was an old shopping cart covered with paint stains. No one knew who it belonged to or how it got there.
With the help of someone in the building, I lifted Clair into the cart, where we placed a blanket for her to lie on and covered her with an old jacket. I wheeled Clair towards the Berkeley Dog and Cat Hospital’s emergency service, hoping they could help her. We passed through the downtown Berkeley business district, right by the place where I had found her so many years before.
As I wheeled her in the old, battered cart, avoiding as much as possible the bumps on the curbs and on the streets, we passed many homeless people. I was also conscious of the pedestrians walking past us — avoiding us with their eyes as if we had fallen into the shadows.
By the time we got to the emergency service, Clair had taken her last breath. A friend of mine, a Franciscan brother, said that Clair’s passing this way was worthy of her namesake Clare, founder of the “Poor Clares,” a companion order to the Franciscans. Clare loved and embraced poverty, he said.
My book Creature/Creator is dedicated to Clair. Her spirit is reflected in these poems about homelessness that advocate and celebrate humans and animals, and the “other than human” creation.


A collection of poems by Joan Beth Clair

All proceeds from Creature/Creator will be donated to groups working on behalf of homeless people and animals. To obtain a copy of this book, send a check for $10.00 made out to one of the groups below. Please do not make out any checks to me. Send the check/s to: Joan Clair, Publisher, P.O. Box 7052, Berkeley, CA 94707. When I receive your donation, I will mail it to the group designated and send you a copy of the book.
Recommended Groups to make a donation to are:
PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), Investigations and Rescue Fund. The fund sends people undercover to expose abuses of animals in factory farms, research facilities, and other places.
SECOND CHANCE RESCUE (a project of Hayward Friends of Animals). This program offers help to animal companions of low-income people, including free dog food, free canine spay/neuter, money towards vet bills, free flea and tick treatments, free collars and leashes, free microchips and free shots. Second Chance founders say, “In these tough economic times many folks can barely afford to feed themselves. Yet their dog is their family, so he or she has to eat too.”
ST. MARY’S CENTER, Oakland. St. Mary’s provides a shelter, meals and services to homeless and low-income seniors, and also operates a preschool for eligible families. To find out more about St. Mary’s Center, contact Amy Vaughan, (510) 923-9600.
STREET SPIRIT. Vendors of Street Spirit receive 100 percent of all proceeds from sales of the newspaper. The newspaper offers information of concern regarding homeless humans rarely published elsewhere and has also reported on animal advocacy issues.